World Report 2011 - Kosovo
|Publisher||Human Rights Watch|
|Publication Date||24 January 2011|
|Cite as||Human Rights Watch, World Report 2011 - Kosovo, 24 January 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d48283b2.html [accessed 24 July 2014]|
Kosovo's justice system remained weak in 2010, despite efforts to try perpetrators of war crimes and postwar abuses against minorities. Deportations of Kosovars from Western Europe continued, with a disproportionate impact on Kosovo's most vulnerable minorities: Roma, Askhali and Egyptians, the latter, a Romani Albanian-speaking group with mythical origins in ancient Egypt. The finding of the International Court of Justice that Kosovo's declaration of independence "did not violate general international law, Security Council resolution 1244 or [Kosovo's] Constitutional Framework," had little discernible impact on human rights in Kosovo.
Protection of Minorities
Minorities in Kosovo, including Serbs, Roma, and Albanian-speaking Ashkali and Egyptians, remained at risk of discrimination, marginalization, and harassment. According to the Kosovo Police Service, 40 inter-ethnic incidents (including four murders) were reported during the first eight months of 2010: 31 in the divided city of Mitrovica, which remains a flashpoint for violence; as well as five in Pristina, one in Gnjilane, one in Prizren, and one in Pec.
In April ethnic Albanians pelted stones at the tents of Serbian returnees to the village of Zac, in Istok municipality, and also staged protests against the returnees following rumors that there were war criminals among them. UNHCR denied these allegations, and Kosovar and international authorities robustly condemned the violence. But in August, in the same village, a bulldozer was used to demolish three houses of Kosovo Serb returnees. The police arrested two Kosovo Albanian teenagers in the incident, and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci condemned the destruction.
In July as Serbs in northern Mitrovica protested the opening of a Pristina government office, an explosion killed one demonstrator and injured 11. Nobody was arrested in the immediate aftermath of that attack. Just three days later Petar Miletic, a Serb member of the Kosovo Assembly, was shot and injured as he left his home in northern Mitrovica. At this writing the perpetrators remains at large. In September an ethnic Albanian man was shot dead in an ethnically mixed area of northern Mitrovica.
The government made limited progress implementing its Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian integration strategy. Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians continue to face persistent discrimination, particularly in employment and access to public services, and have the highest unemployment, school dropout, and mortality rates in Kosovo.
In June, 5,000 people demonstrated in the municipality of Pristina following the Municipal Assembly's adoption and implementation of a headscarf ban on both students and teachers in all public schools.
Return of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons
Voluntary returns to Kosovo increased, though the overall numbers remain small. During the first six months of 2010, UNHCR Kosovo registered a total of 1,036 voluntary minority returns: 417 Serb, 99 Roma, 257 Ashkali/Egyptian, 32 Bosniak, 152 Gorani, and 79 Albanian (to Serbian majority areas, mainly Mitrovica).
Meanwhile, deportations of Kosovars from Western Europe continued with little assistance for returnees once they are in Kosovo. According to UNHCR, 1,694 Kosovars were deported from Western Europe during the first nine months of 2010, including 347 people sent to areas where they were in a minority: 193 Roma, 55 Ashkali, 2 Egyptians, 7 Bosniaks, 25 Gorani, 5 Turks, 29 Albanians, and 1 Serb. Deportations have a particularly adverse effect on Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians.
The Kosovo authorities signed a bilateral readmission agreement with the government of Germany in late April 2010. It awarded Kosovo a better visa facilitation regime in exchange for accepting deportations of all persons originating from Kosovo. Around 16,000 people are expected to be returned under it, many of them Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian. Similar agreements were signed with Albania, Belgium, France, and Switzerland in late 2009 and 2010.
In October a lead-contaminated Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian camp in Cesmin Lug was closed and demolished after a decade. Most of its inhabitants are being rehoused in reconstructed homes in the original Roma neighborhood (Mahalla) in South Mitrovica, together with some residents from a second lead-contaminated camp at Osterode, which remains open at this writing. A group of Cesmin Lug residents unwilling to return to the Mahalla have been moved to Osterode and are pending their resettlement elsewhere at this writing. Funding comes from a €5 million European Commission project announced in December 2009, including medical treatment, education, community safety, and income generation, and a complementary project funded by the US Agency for International Development.
Impunity, Accountability and Access to Justice
In July the ICTY Appeals Chamber partially quashed the acquittals of Ramush Haradinaj, a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and former Kosovo prime minister; Idriz Balaj, a former member of the KLA in command of a special unit known as the Black Eagles; and Lahi Brahimaj, who served as a deputy commander of the KLA in the Dukagjin area of Kosovo. The appeals court ordered a partial retrial of the case, accepting the prosecution's contention that the trial court had failed to take adequate measures to secure the testimony of two crucial witnesses. In September the ICTY denied Haradinaj's motion for provisional release, citing the integrity of the trial.
In May the EU Rule of Law and Police Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) announced that its investigation into the so-called "Yellow House" case, involving the alleged transfers by the KLA in 1999 of around 400 Serbian and other captives to detention facilities in Albania, had failed to produce evidence to substantiate allegations of organ-trading. At this writing the status of the investigation into the other allegations remains unclear. Investigations into the case by Dick Marty, the rapporteur of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, and the Serbian war crimes prosecutor continued, but no new facts were made public.
EULEX investigations into separate allegations of abuses in KLA-run camps in Albania resulted in three arrests. In May EULEX police in Pristina arrested Sabit Geci for the alleged torture of civilians in a KLA-run camp in the town of Kukes, northern Albania, in 1999. The same month, EULEX police arrested Zhemsit Krasniqi in Prizren in connection with crimes against civilians of various ethnicities in KLA bases in Albania in 1999. The third arrest took place in June in the municipality of Djakovica. The suspect's name has not been made public.
In the year prior to September 2010, EULEX completed five war crime cases, with eight more ongoing and 27 in pretrial stages. EULEX completed eight cases related to the March 2004 riots during the same period.
The long-running trial of Albin Kurti, a leader of the Vetevendosje movement for self-determination, concluded in June. A mixed judicial panel including EULEX and Kosovo judges convicted Kurti of a minor charge and sentenced him to time served, releasing him immediately. There were credible allegations that the KPS used excessive force during Kurti's arrest earlier in June, prompting an investigation by the Ombudsperson Institution, which remains pending at this writing.
While EULEX took steps to improve collaboration with Kosovo police, judges, and prosecutors, the justice system continued to be hampered by longstanding problems including a lack of skill in judicial policing, the assisting of prosecutors in investigations, and the failure of court staff to systematically use electronic case management software. Witness protection and security remained serious concerns, with few Western states consenting to host witnesses (no new states agreed to do so during 2010), an inconsistent use of protective measures by the courts, and the continued lack of a comprehensive witness protection law.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, 1,837 persons remain missing from the 1999 conflict, the majority Kosovo Albanians.
In May EULEX and the Serbian authorities jointly announced the discovery of a suspected mass grave in southern Serbia believed to contain the remains of as many as 250 Kosovo Albanians who went missing during the war. In September the Kosovo authorities began excavating in a coal mine in the Vucitrn municipality, where the bodies of 20 Kosovo Serbs killed during the 1999 war are believed to have been buried. At this writing no human remains have been found at either site.
In February Vehbi Kajtazi, a journalist for the daily newspaper Koha Ditore, was allegedly threatened by Sabit Geci, a former KLA member, in response to Kajtazi's article criticizing an amnesty for a group of prisoners, including Geci's son, Alban. Kajtazi was discouraged by KPS when he tried to file a complaint against Geci.
In July an explosive device was thrown into the courtyard of the home of Caslav Milisavljevic, editor-in-chief of Radio Kosovska Mitrovica. The device exploded, damaging three vehicles. Nobody was injured. KPS opened an investigation into the incident but no perpetrators have been arrested at this writing.
Human Rights Defenders
In late November 2009 the Council of the EU agreed on the EULEX Human Rights Review Panel (HRRP). The panel reviews complaints of human rights abuse by EULEX from individuals. In May 2010 three members of HRRP (and one alternate) were appointed by the acting EULEX head of mission. The first regular session of HRRP took place in June. At this writing, HRRP had received 16 cases and deemed 12 admissible, including 7 relating to the functioning of the justice system.
The filling of a vacancy in the three-member UN Human Rights Advisory Panel, which hears similar complaints against UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), allowed it to resume functioning. But its effectiveness remained hampered following restrictions introduced by the UN in October 2009.
There were continued instances of the Kosovo authorities ignoring the interventions of the Kosovo Ombudsperson Institution, or responding late.
Key International Actors
In May 2010 peacekeepers from NATO-led Kosovo Force intervened in Mitrovica to assist KPS and EULEX police to quash the week-long civil unrest sparked by Serbian local elections in North Mitrovica.
An April report to the UN Security Council from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that deportations to Kosovo undermine the country's stability. Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, made similar statements and repeatedly called for a moratorium on deportations.
In June the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe released a critical report emphasizing the need for Kosovar authorities to cooperate with war crime investigations, combat discrimination and abuse against minorities, create conditions for the safe return of IDPs and refugees, ensure media freedom, promote women's rights, and take urgent steps to close lead-contaminated Roma camps in North Mitrovica.
In November the European Commission's annual progress report highlighted the ongoing weakness of Kosovo's justice system, inadequate attention to war crimes; continued threats to independent journalists; slow progress on missing persons; and widespread discrimination and marginalization of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians.