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UNHCR CDR Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Kosovo

Publisher UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Author Centre for Documentation and Research
Publication Date 1 February 1996
Cite as UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR CDR Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Kosovo, 1 February 1996, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
Comments This information paper was prepared in the Country Research and Analysis Unit of UNHCR's Centre for Documentation and Research on the basis of publicly available information, analysis and comment, in collaboration with Regional Bureau Responsible for Somalia and the UNHCR Statistical Unit. All sources are cited. This paper is not, and does not, purport to be, fully exhaustive with regard to conditions in the country surveyed, or conclusive as to the merits of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

1.   Introduction

Situated in the heart of the Balkans, Kosovo makes up the southern part of the current territory of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, on the border with Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It covers about 11,000 square kilometers. Throughout its history Kosovo has been at the centre of a cultural and religious struggle, as well as a crossing point for movements of tribes and populations.

The population of Kosovo is predominantly ethnic Albanian. Over the past years there has been a steady decline in number of ethnic Serbs living in the area. Before World War II Serbs constituted nearly 50 per cent of the population of Kosovo, but an estimate in 1988 claimed that the proportion had declined to just 10 per cent with Albanians accounting for 85 per cent of the population (Vucelic, 1990, 8). Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo claim that they make up 92 per cent of the population (International Herald Tribune, 19 May 1993). The majority of the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo has always expressed the wish to form a separate political entity on the basis of the current territory of Kosovo in the form of either autonomy, independence or union with Albania.

Since 1990, Kosovo no longer enjoys the autonomous status provided for in the 1974 Constitution of Yugoslavia and is controlled by the central government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). This control is reportedly exercised "with an iron fist" (Human Rights Watch, May 1994, 2). Some observers allege that "Serbia is clearly exhibiting all the characteristics of an occupying regime since its all-pervasive presence and excessive power is very evident in all areas of life. The Serbian regime is increasingly seeking to isolate Kosov[o] in the area of politics, culture, the media, communications and travel . . . thus creating a ghetto the like of which has not hitherto been seen" (Organisation Suisse d'Aide aux Refugies (OSAR), January 1995, 7). This statement mirrors many others containing harsh criticism levelled at the policies and practices of the Yugoslav authorities in Kosovo. The official response of the Government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has been that "[m]uch has already been written and said about the many elements relevant to an assessment of their [Albanians of Kosovo] situation; however, only the Albanians' 'truth' has received wide publicity, while everything has been done to cover up the root causes of this problem" (U.N. Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/1994/72, 13 December 1993). These causes relate to what the Serbian side alleges to be the "Kosovo Albanian persecution of the Serbs" (Chronicles, April 1995). Nevertheless, most human rights observers agree that "the Republic of Serbia, faced with a powerful challenge to its sovereignty in Kosovo, has responded through means that violate rights protected by international law" (The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, January 1991, 3). Apparently, the methods employed by Serbs to impose their agenda in Kosovo have "the vast majority of the population live in constant fear" (U.N. Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/1995/57, 16 January 1995).


2.1   The Historical Importance of Kosovo

What divides the Serbs and Albanians is the respective claim to the territory of Kosovo, and the ways of administering it. Both sides resort to differing interpretations of history in order to justify their claims, a history that has been highly politicized. Referring to the area as "the cradle" of their respective civilizations, they espouse opposing views on the ethnic development of Kosovo with the most divisive issue centering on whether it was the Albanians or the Serbs who were the first to settle in these lands. This discussion focuses on events as far back as the sixth century or even before that, with the Serbs claiming that the Slavs migrated to a virtually unpopulated area at that time, while the Albanians claim descent from the Illyrians, the original inhabitants of Kosovo. From the perspective of the twentieth century this debate may seem of little relevance. However, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights writes in this respect that

[e]ven if the question is of little relevance for any contemporary political arguments, both sides continue to place great emphasis upon its importance. This also provides the basis for both the Serbs and the Albanians to regard Kosovo as the cradle of their national and cultural identity, a fact which fuels the Kosovo crisis today (November 1993, 2).

Two historical events carry a particularly emotional content in the consciousness of the Serbs and the Albanians respectively. The first, of special importance to the Serbs, is the battle of Kosovo Polje of 1389, which was fought between Serbs and Turks. The Serbian Kingdom enjoyed its zenith during the thirteenth century when Serbian Christians created an independent church within the Eastern Orthodox tradition; in 1346, the archbishop of Serbia was recognized as the patriarch of the Serbian church with headquarters in Pec, a town in the Metohija region of Kosovo. After losing the battle of Kosovo Polje, the area of Serbia, including Kosovo, gradually fell within the Turkish sphere of influence (The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, January 1991, 3). One human rights monitoring organization, highly critical of the Serbian record in Kosovo, writes that the impact of the events of the fourteenth century is still strong:

Beyond the polemics surrounding the question of who was the first to settle in Kosovo, it is necessary to emphasize the profound emotional grip on the Serbs of this defeat that marked the end of a state which they considered the golden age (MAN, aout 1993).

One source, of apparently Serbian background, claims that "Kosovo at the time of its capture by the Ottoman Turks in 1389 was ethnically entirely Serbian" (Chronicles, April 1995).

Of similar historical proportions, this time for the Albanians, is the founding in Kosovo in 1878 of the "League of Prizren", which is considered as the beginning of the Albanian national revival aiming to achieve independence for Albanians from Ottoman rule (Poulton, 1991, 57).

It is necessary to note that in the five centuries between these two notable events, Islamized Albanians and Serbs "lived together with Turkish peasants who were officially brought to Kosovo from their homeland and no notable clashes between the various ethnic groups are documented in the history, probable due to the fact that the Ottoman Empire did not distinguish among nationalities, only according to religion: all Muslims were equated with Turks" (IHFHR, November 1993, 2-3).

The aspirations of the ethnic Albanians for independence were ignored. In 1878, the year of the "League of Prizren", the Berlin conference of the Great Powers granted mostly Albanian ethnic territories to Serbia and Montenegro (UNPO, February 1993, 4). The National Albanian Assembly did proclaim the independence of an Albanian state (which included Kosovo) in 1912, but the London Conference of Ambassadors of the Great Powers of 1913 recognized only half of the proclaimed Albanian state and allocated the Kosovo area once again to Serbia and Montenegro. Except for a brief period during World War II, Kosovo has remained a part of what came to be known as Yugoslavia (Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918-1929; Kingdom of Yugoslavia from 1929, and Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia after the war) (Ibid.).

The twentieth century history of Kosovo is one of cross population movements. The years between the two world wars were allegedly marked by a "Serbo-Montenegran policy of colonization and the emigration - albeit small scale - of Albanians in the direction of Albania and, especially, Turkey" (MAN, aout 1993). More precisely, during the inter-war period "an estimated 40,000 Orthodox Slav peasants (mostly Serbs and Montenegrins) moved into Kosovo while over half a million ethnic Albanians were forced to emigrate. The new settlers received good land and benefits from the authorities resulting in two separate communities in Kosovo: a small, relatively prosperous Serb/Montenegrin settler community, and a mass of less well-to-do Albanians" (Poulton, 1991, 59). The process of settlement did indeed seem like one of colonization, and, according to one observer, "the entire period between 1913 and 1941 was marked by a policy of massive repression towards the Albanians in Kosovo with the aim of either assimilating them or of expelling them. The Albanian language was prohibited as the medium of teaching in schools and in cultural institutions. Albanians were harassed or terrorized and entire villages were destroyed" (UNPO, February 1993, 4).

2.2   Post World War II Developments

After World War II the process seems to have reversed. The Communist Party of Yugoslavia, led by Marshal Tito, during the war had formulated a policy of recognition of the "basic principle of self-determination" in the "hope of securing the political support of ethnic Albanians and other minorities" (The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, January 1991, 13). One analyst considered this approach as "creating a nation on the basis of religious adherence" which "cut across the formal consistence of Titoism and weakened the legitimizing power of its ideology, while it simultaneously moved ethnic criteria to the foreground of the public stage" (Schoplin, 1993, 193). The principle of self- determination was incorporated in the 1946 Constitution of Yugoslavia and contributed to an accelerated departure of Serbs from Kosovo, a movement that started during the war when Albania and Kosovo were under Italian control (MAN, aout 1993). Another reason for this outward movement during the post-war years was the alleged harassment of the Serbian population by Albanians. One source indicates that the attempt by the Albanians of Kosovo

at "ethnic cleansing" was initially made easier by Tito's explicit order forbidding the return of Serbs who had fled the area during World War II to escape Albanian and Bulgarian persecution. Moreover, Tito, who had promised the Kosovo Albanians much in the hope that they would help him seize power, wittingly or unwittingly encouraged large-scale immigration from Albania as a way of changing the ethnic composition of Kosovo (Chronicles, April 1995).

As a result, between 1961 and 1981 the number of Serbians and Montenegrin inhabitants of Kosovo dropped from just over 27 percent to below 15 percent. The movement of Serbs/Montenegrins out of Kosovo was occurring as the ethnic Albanian birthrate reached the highest rate in Europe, dwindling by the mid-eighties the Serbian population of Kosovo to 200,000, while the ethnic Albanian population had grown to approximately 1.7 million (The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, January 1991, 15). Poulton writes that the post-war period saw major improvements in the official status of ethnic Albanians in Yugoslavia (although a large number, declaring themselves to be Turks, emigrated to Turkey, taking advantage of emigration agreements). For the first time, Albanians were recognized as a distinct national group; their language was recognized as one of Yugoslavia's official languages and Albanians gained the right to education in the vernacular (1991, 59). This amelioration was accompanied however by repression from the Serbian police under the control of Alexander Rankovic. Not until the mid-1960's had the Albanian representation in various Yugoslav institutions improved and the police repression reduced. The IHFHR writes that "in 1966, when Tito dismissed Rankovic the Albanians gradually "albanized" the region in accordance with Tito's new political line. In 1968, demonstrations broke out in which Kosovo Albanians protested the economic backwardness of their region. Also, at this time, the issue was raised of granting republican status to Kosovo within the Yugoslav Federation (1991, 5).

2.3   The 1974 Constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

The 1974 Constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia did not go as far as declaring Kosovo a republic, but Kosovo nevertheless benefitted significantly from the considerable power devolution from the federation to the republics and provinces. A closer look at the Constitution of Yugoslavia is warranted because a return to its provisions for autonomy is now being considered by some representatives of both, Serbs and ethnic Albanians, as a possible compromise solution for the current crisis in Kosovo.

The text of the 1974 Constitution defined Autonomous provinces (including Kosovo), together with the Republics as constituent parts of the Yugoslav Federation, but only a Republic had the right to secede from the Federation. Kosovo was given a seat in the Federal Presidency and on the Federal Constitutional Court, as well as the right to send its own representatives to the National Assembly (The Constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, 1974, 79, Articles 1, 291, 292, 321, 381). The powers and responsibilities of the Autonomous Provinces within their own territory were not specified, and were defined by the Constitution of Serbia. Nevertheless, "Kosovo enjoyed virtually the same rights as federal republics and could to a large extent decide independently about local affairs" (Poulton, 1991, 60). The danger was that this Constitution provided for "the effective disintegration of Serbia. Serbia was divided into three constitutional units, allowing Vojvodina and Kosovo to become de facto republics. In addition, the Constitution, which now left Serbia largely undefined, allowed Kosovo and Vojvodina a say in Serbian affairs but ensured that Serbia had no say in the affairs of its former provinces" (Griffiths, 1993, 41). The other caveat was the fact that the powers of the Provinces were defined by the Constitution of Serbia. This provided Serbia with a formal legal justification for attempting in 1989 to change the constitutional status of Kosovo by amendment of the Serbian Constitution, without the prior consent of the other Republics of Yugoslavia (The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, January 1991, 19), setting the scene for the subsequent conflictual state of affairs. Yet the situation in Kosovo was deteriorating even prior to these changes.

2.4   The Degradation of the 1980's

In the 1980's, the gravity of the Kosovo issue increased. According to the U.S. Department of Army Area Handbook on Yugoslavia, this occurred for several reasons:

Kosovo's drive for republic status or total separation increasingly was supported by blatant Albanian intervention; Yugoslavia's richest republics were frustrated by federal investment requirements designed to improve Kosovo's economic situation without any return for their money; and uncontrollable nationalism in one part of the federation threatened to encourage similar bursts of independence elsewhere in the multinational state. The use of the Kosovo issue to reinspire Serbian nationalism was especially worrisome to other republics, while it radicalized most of Yugoslavia's Albanian population (1993).

Another source explains that in the early 1980's

[t]he Titoist system was widely perceived to be, if not exactly bankrupt, certainly eroding in its capacity to command loyalty and support. . . The catalyst was Kosovo, where demonstrations by the Albanians in 1981 were followed by a rising outmigration of local Serbs. This outmigration produced a deep shock in Serbia, something that was enhanced by the result of the 1981 census, which returned an Albanian population in Kosovo of around 90 per cent. The reaction was an outraged Serbian opinion, which could not bring itself to accept that ethnically they had lost the game and that the most sacred of Serbian lands was now in no way culturally Serbian (Schoplin, 1993, 197).

The same author qualified the anti-Albanian response of the Serbs to this turn of events as "visceral and racist" (Ibid.). This approach of the Serbs was part of a general resurgence of Serb nationalist feelings that grew hand in hand with the rise to power of the current president of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic. "In the mid-eighties, writes UNPO, Serbia tried to reassert control over Kosovo by means of constitutional changes designed to limit the province's autonomy and by appealing to Serbian national sentiment" (February 1993, 6). Kosovo Albanian reaction to these attempts in the form of mass demonstrations was answered by Serbia with the imposition of a state of emergency in Kosovo in 1989, and later the suspension of the Kosovo parliament and government in July 1990. This followed a declaration by the Kosovo Assembly (parliament) of Kosovo as an "independent and equal unit" within Yugoslavia. It also announced the secession of Kosovo from Serbia (Keesing's Record of World Events, 1990, 37621). In September 1990, a newly adopted Constitution of the Republic of Serbia revoked Kosovo's autonomy and provided direct Serbian rule from the capital of Yugoslavia, Belgrade. It "abolished completely the attributes of statehood which the 1974 Yugoslav Federal Constitution had granted to the provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina within the Serbian republic. Nominally they retained their autonomous status, but their provincial assemblies effectively became mere rubber-stamp bodies, and the powers of their provincial governments and judiciary were drastically curtailed" (Ibid., 37725). As a result of the measures announced by the Serbian parliament, "the Kosovo Albanians' status changed from that of the majority population in Kosovo which had been largely in charge of the administration and economy of an autonomous province, to that of a minority group in Serbia" (IHFHR, November 1993, 9).

The ethnic Albanian population, nevertheless, "kept up its campaign of open defiance in the face of an intensifying Serbian crackdown" (Keesing's Record of World Events, 1990, 37725). In September 1991, they organized an unofficial referendum which voted in favour of a sovereign and independent state of Kosovo. According to official Kosovo records, the turnout among voters was 87% of which 99.8% were in favour of independence. The Government of Yugoslavia called this move "illegal" and in contravention of the Charter of the United Nations and other international agreements (U.N. General Assembly, A/50/854, 29 December 1995).

The new regime imposed upon Kosovo Albanians, wrote the Eastern European Newsletter in 1992 "not surprisingly, is the most ridiculous establishment. Albanian radio and television have been closed for a long time. Primary schools are open for Serbs in the morning, for Albanians in the afternoon. Albanians are barred from secondary schools and from Pristina University. Albanians are forced to have lessons underground... At present [May 1992], out of 900,000 people of working age among ethnic Albanians, only about 100,000 have jobs - such is the severity of the Serbian regime" (25 May 1992). The situation has not improved since.


Most international monitors of human rights practices agree that the Serbian authorities have over the years committed serious violations of the human rights of the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo. The level of these violations has apparently increased in the past several years in connection with the renewed drive of Serbia to impose its authority in Kosovo and the response of the Kosovo Albanian population to these actions. There is an abundance of evidence that documents Serbian abuses of the human rights of the ethnic Albanians.

The main violations of the rights of the Albanian population are related to arbitrary arrest and detention for political activity, Serbian police force violence and ill-treatment in detention, restrictions on freedom of association, on freedom of speech and expression, employment discrimination and mass dismissals of Albanians, discrimination in education and the medical profession. The former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the former Yugoslavia Tadeusz Mazowiecki in one of his first reports noted that "the situation of human rights has been constantly worsening since Kosovo lost its status as an autonomous province in July 1990. The Albanian population has been enduring various forms of discrimination as a result of new laws adopted by the Republic of Serbia and the economic situation has deteriorated to the extent that even the subsistence of many Albanian families is threatened" (1993/50, 10 February 1993). The annual (1994) report on human rights practices by the U.S. Department of State concurred, finding that

[p]olitical violence in Serbia-Montenegro, including killings by police, resulted mostly from direct and indirect efforts by Serbian authorities to suppress and intimidate ethnic majority groups. Leaders of minority communities in Kosovo and Sandzak, and to a lesser extent Vojvodina, reported numerous acts of violence and intimidation aimed at repressing non-Serbs and Muslims. The level of violence was most severe in the Albanian-populated region of Kosovo, where police repressed expressions of political and community life (1995).

The report stressed that "the use of excessive force in Kosovo and Sandzak was both routine and capricious" (Ibid.).

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch/Helsinki have published several reports over the last four-five years relating to the state of human rights in Kosovo. Both organizations agree that "there were numerous reports of police ill-treatment and torture. The majority of victims were ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province but they also included Serbian and Montenegrin political opponents of the government" (Amnesty International, 1995). Human Rights Watch /Helsinki stated that the "Serbian authorities keep a tight lid on Albanian aspirations for independence through a programme of forced displacement, harassment, arrest, interrogation and torture" (March 1993, xii-xiii). Among other developments, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki singled out the detention and arrests by the Serbian police force of Albanians with former Yugoslav military experience and Albanian intellectuals; the little recourse those tortured or beaten by police have in Kosovo as a result of the virtual absence of the rule of law; and the harassment by Yugoslav armed forces and paramilitary troops of Albanian civilians with increasing frequency (Ibid.).

In the words of the Organisation Suisse d'Aide aux Refugies (OSAR), "the individual and collective rights of Kosovo-Albanians are being brutally violated in all areas of life by the systematic use of force and by unpredictable measures. Since 1981 more than 50 percent of the Albanian population of Kosovo have been subjected to some form of police harassment. The numbers of registered and documented cases of human rights violations have seen a consistent increase in recent years (January 1995, 8). The trend apparently continued in 1995. The Pristina-based Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms is the most vocal defender of the rights of the Albanian population of the region. Recently, the organization in its annual report has accused the Serbian authorities of "intensifying their repression" in Kosovo which reportedly resulted in the deaths of 16 Albanians in 1995. The Council has registered 11,175 "cases of repression" over the course of the year (Le Devoir, 26 janvier 1996).

Amnesty International and the U.S.Department of State concur that the situation in Kosovo deteriorated since the departure in 1993 of monitors from the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Yugoslavia linked cooperation with the CSCE to the revocation of the July 1992 suspension of Yugoslavia from the CSCE (Keesing's, 1993, 39565).

3.1   The Judicial System

The IHFHR writes that "[t]he judiciary in Kosovo has since May 1990 come progressively under near-total Serbian control" and that "the concepts of the independence of the judiciary and of fair trials have largely been abandoned in Kosovar courts" (November 1993, 56). There seems to be agreement on this issue since the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the former Yugoslavia in his report describes the continued polarization of the Albanian and Serbian populations in Kosovo and states that "[o]ne area affected by this polarization is the judicial system. Albanians lack confidence in the will and ability of the courts to provide an independent and effective remedy and point to the small number of Albanian judges" (E/CN.4/1994/47, 17 November 1993). The Special Rapporteur quoted the following comment made by CSCE monitors investigating this issue:

A major reason for the lack of Albanian judges is the refusal of most Albanians to serve in the courts. Judges must take an oath to the government, which most Albanians feel would give recognition to what they see as an illegal Serb regime. However, the situation is in reality more complex and is illustrated by the experience of the Prizren District Court. Three Albanian judges have refused to serve as judges, but in June 1993, two others, both well qualified, were rejected by the Serbian Assembly in June 1993 after being described as "separatist murderers" (Ibid.).

The U.S. Department of State adds that in Kosovo, "court proceedings, formerly conducted in the defendant's language, are now conducted in Serbian; an interpreter is provided if necessary" (Country Reports for 1994, 958).

3.2   The Media

Restrictions imposed by the Serbian authorities also involve the press and the media. After the state of emergency was declared in Kosovo, writes the United Nations Special report on the media in the former Yugoslavia, "the Serbian Government attempted to stifle the freedom of the Albanian-language media. The main targets of these efforts were TV Pristina and the Rilindja publishing house. On 5 July 1990, the Government prohibited RTV Pristina from broadcasting in Albanian. Approximately 1,300 journalists and other technical staff lost their jobs. A month later, the Serbian Parliament banned Rilindja, the only daily newspaper published in Albanian in Yugoslavia. Rilindja later resumed publishing abroad. At present, the only programme broadcast in Albanian in Kosovo merely translates information already broadcast in Serbian (E/CN.4/1995/54, 13 December 1994). Another source states that "persecution of journalists has been the most severe in Kosovo. Almost all former editors of Albanian origin have been persecuted by the police. Some 16 cases have been reported within the period 1992-1993. (International Federation of Journalists/International Federation of Newspaper Publishers, 21-25 November 1993). At the same time, in 1994, the only Albanian-language newspaper, Bujku, continued to be published, and a number of new Albanian-language weeklies began publication (Country Reports for 1994, 1995, 955).

3.3   Police Repression and Other Abuses

One of the most acute problems in Kosovo is Serbian police harassment of ethnic Albanians. The former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture had "received reports indicating that ethnic Albanians living in the province of Kosovo were vulnerable to beatings and torture by the police and the State Security Service (SDB). According to information received by the Special Rapporteur, victims of ill-treatment were frequently said to be political activists, persons formerly imprisoned for political reasons, and school and university staff. Members of the extended families of those targeted were also said to be at risk of ill-treatment" (E/CN.4/1995/34, 12 January 1995). The report specified that:

since the police forces were placed under the supervision of the Serbian Government in April 1990, most of the ethnic Albanian police officers had resigned or been dismissed, many for refusing to recognize the Serbian authority. It was also alleged that the almost entirely Serbian police force singled out persons of the majority ethnic Albanian population for ill-treatment. In this regard, an aim of the police was alleged to be to intimidate ethnic Albanians into leaving Kosovo . In the absence of any reply from the Government and in the light of the consistency of the allegations received, the Special Rapporteur is disposed to consider the thrust of the allegations as reflecting an extensive practice of torture and similar ill-treatment, especially in Kosovo (Ibid.).

Amnesty International asserted last year that "[i]n Kosovo province there have been daily reports of police beating and ill-treating ethnic Albanians held in custody or during arms searches (July 1995). Altogether, it appears that Serbian police repression in Kosovo has intensified at the end of 1995 (Kosova Communication, 19 December 1995). Serbian actions against the Albanian population are wide-ranging. For example, the U.S. Department of State wrote in its annual report covering 1994 that

[i]n February 1994, local authorities in Pristina shut down both the independent Kosovo Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute for Albanian Studies. . . As of midyear, police conducted some 420 raids on schools in the parallel Albanian educational system. . . The authorities also severely restricted Albanian political organizations. . . Police routinely searched human rights offices in Kosovo, confiscated documents, and harassed their employees (Country Reports for 1994, 1995).

The former U.N. Special Rapporteur on the former Yugoslavia singled out "a drastic increase in the number of violent house searches, raids and arbitrary arrests by the law enforcement authorities, and undue delays and serious irregularities in connection with court proceedings against ethnic Albanians. Another cause for concern arose from the extremely difficult circumstances under which schools and other educational institutions work in Kosovo" (U.N. Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/1995/57, 16 January 1995). There have been reports of forced conscription of ethnic Albanians for military service in the Yugoslav army (Albanian Television, 8 March 1995, from BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 10 March 1995). Apparently, the practice of forced conscription has resulted in over 1,000 Albanians fleeing the country (Albanian Telegraph Agency, 24 February 1995, from BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 27 February 1995). This situation seems to please the Serbian authorities: "no Albanians in the [Serbian] army; no young Albanians with the potential of being organized into an army and a good transfer of the Albanian population out of Kosovo. The most elegant ethnic cleansing" (War Report, March 1995, 10).

Human rights violations by Serbian authorities also involve children, mostly through the disruption of the health care and educational systems. According to the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms in Pristina, the right to education is denied to all Albanian children and that school programmes, forced by Serbia, prohibit anything Albanian (BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 2 June 1995).

One of the most publicized recent events involving questionable human rights practices on the part of the Serbian authorities was the trial of former Albanian police officers in Kosovo in the summer of 1995. The police officers on trial were part of a group of 200 people arrested before the end of 1994 from among the 3,500 policemen who had been dismissed in 1991 after the abolition of the autonomy in Kosovo. The government charged the officers with forming a parallel "Ministry of the Interior" in Kosovo, stockpiling weapons and police equipment, with the goal of "creating the conditions for secession of Kosovo from Yugoslavia" (Transition, 3 November 1995, 37; Centre d'Information de Kosovo, decembre 1995). In these cases the authorities invoke articles 134, 136, 138 in conjunction with 116 of the Yugoslav Criminal Code under which sentences of up to 10 years are allowed for "undermining the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia". This article is often "used selectively to convict Kosovar Albanians and Sandzhak Muslims on flimsy or circumstantial evidence" (Country Reports for 1994, 1995, 953). Apparently, the evidence produced against the former police officers "was not convincing" (Transition, 3 November 1995, 38; War Report, June 1995, 10).

3.4   Harassment of Serbs in Kosovo

The picture would not be complete without the mentioning of the claims by the ethnic Serbs of persecution and harassment by ethnic Albanians. The Serbian population of Kosovo and the authorities of Yugoslavia often refer to wide-spread abuses by the ethnic Albanian population of the Serb minority in Kosovo. One Serbian author writes:

The Kosovo Albanian persecution of Serbs included the desecration of historic Orthodox Christian monasteries, churches, and cemeteries; the burning of barns and haystacks; the theft or mutilation of cattle and other livestock; the destruction of Serbian houses; pressure to force Serbs into selling their properties; as well as rape and other physical assaults (Chronicles, April 1995).

The IHFHR acknowledged that "many Serbs have left the province [Kosovo] in the course of the last decades" (1993, 10). However, the Federation stated that the reasons for this were mainly economic, though it also found that "there were many Serbs who decided to leave having experienced intimidation, pressure and violence. Proof exists that ethnic Serbs in some cases have been subjected to severe human rights abuses for reasons of their ethnicity. These incidents, however, cannot be regarded as having been officially supported by the local Albanian government but can be rather regarded as the actions by extremist groups and individuals striving for an "ethnically clean", i.e. purely Albanian, Kosovo" (Ibid.).


The ethnic Albanians of Kosovo have chosen the path of passive resistance to Serbian actions, creating shadow political and educational structures. In Kosovo today there are virtually no Albanians working in any public institutions. Albanian teachers, doctors and other professionals provide their services either from home or in makeshift surgeries and offices. In 1994 Albanian sources claimed that their parallel education system was attended by 335,000 pupils taught by more than 18,000 teachers. The ethnic Albanian leadership "has advocated that the creation and administration of this parallel state should be pursued peacefully and by and large this has been achieved" (Bennett-Jones, October 1994, 7). The RFE/RL Research Report asserted that the "Albanian government has tried to exert a moderating influence on the Kosovars. [President] Berisha's policy is to avoid conflict while at the same time promoting self-government among Albanian communities of the former Yugoslavia and regarding his government as representative of all Albanians (5 November 1993, 37).

There are a number of political parties representing the ethnic Albanians, among them, the Peasants' Party of Kosovo; the Parliamentary Party of Kosovo; the Albanian Christian Democratic Party; the National Unity Party and the Social Democratic Party. The largest of the parties is, however, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) led by the President of the Writer's Union, I. Rugova. His victory in the unofficial 1992 elections made him the President of the self-declared 'Republic of Kosovo'.

Distinctions between the ethnic Albanians' different organizations are, in political terms, not important (Bennett-Jones, October 1994, 7). The ethnic Albanian leadership has been able to remain more or less united. There is a Coordinating Council of the Albanian Political Parties and there seems to be tacit agreement that national solidarity is more important than individual party interest (RFE/RL Research Report, October 1993). However, there is a continuing debate among different political currents about how to achieve the goal of independence for Kosovo. This goal is not really in question - as the President of the 'Republic of Kosovo' put it: "we look forward to seeing our country [Kosovo] becoming a fully-fledged member of the UN" (Kosova Information Center, 30 October 1995).

This political activity takes place despite what the U.S. Department of State calls a "capricious fashion", in which the Serbian authorities apply provisions for peaceful assembly and association, that singles out Kosovo with particular restrictions, "target[ing] so-called parallel ethnic Albanian social structures for harassment" (1995, 955).


One of the points that has caused considerable debate over the past months is the programme adopted by the Serbian parliament for the resettlement in Kosovo of 100,000 Serbs and Montenegrins who are refugees and returnees from other parts of the former Yugoslavia. The Serbian Commissioner for Refugees, B. Morina, said in November 1994 that the Government of Serbia would do everything to provide permanent accommodation in Kosovo for Serb refugees from war-affected areas and that Serbia "has the absolute right to determine how to settle its own territory" (Yugoslav Telegraph Service News Agency, 10 November, 1994, from BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 12 November 1994). Serbia has been offering incentives to persuade refugees to actually resettle in Kosovo, including interest-free credits for building houses and buying flats (Reuters, 5 February 1995; OMRI Daily Digest, February 1995). According to a German radio station, 3,600 Serbian refugees have so far arrived in Kosovo (reference in OMRI Daily Digest, August 1995). Yet apparently the possibility of settling Serb refugees in Kosovo has caused outrage among ethnic Albanians, as well as among the refugees themselves (Inter Press Service, 23 February 1995). According to another source, many refugees have reportedly refused to be settled in the economically poor region of Kosovo. Previous efforts to settle Serbs in Kosovo have failed. Out of a total of 500,000 refugees to rump Yugoslavia, only about 4,000 have so far been settled in Kosovo and have been accommodated mainly in school buildings" (OMRI Daily Digest, 14 August 1995). Kosovo, it seems, "is the least desirable place of settlement" (War Report, September 1995, 16). Also, "colonizing Kosovo with refugees" is regarded as economically unfeasible (Ibid.). Nevertheless, it seems that so far Serbia has not relinquished its plans for resettlement (OMRI Daily Digest, 10 August 1995).

One should take note of Serbian statements as regards the return of ethnic Albanian refugees to Kosovo. The Yugoslav authorities speak of the need to be "vigilant" with regard to Albanians being returned to Kosovo by countries in Western Europe to prevent the arrival of "confirmed criminals" (Yugoslav Telegraph Service News Agency, 10 November, 1994, from BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 12 November 1994). Western governments, however, appear to be encouraging the return of ethnic Albanians to Kosovo. The Organisation Suisse d'Aide aux Refugies (OSAR) confirms that the basic intention of the Swiss refugee authorities is "to complete the repatriation procedure, doing everything in their power, by way of negotiations with Belgrade and other affected West European countries, to encourage the Serbian regime to repeal its entry restrictions" (January 1995). Several Western countries are apparently seeking to provide financial assistance to Serbia in return for its acceptance of departed Kosovo Albanian refugees (Inter Press Service, 12 April 1995).


There seems to be little room for accommodation between the Serbian and Albanian communities of Kosovo. However, despite continued tensions, human rights violations, outright confrontation and predictions of rapid deterioration, chances are that the situation will not lead to open conflict in the near future (Bennett-Jones, October 1994). At present is seems unlikely that the opposing parties to the conflict will have the means or courage to balance the scales in favour of the fulfillment of their respective separate agendas. Some compromise arrangement along the lines of autonomy for Kosovo on the basis of the 1974 Constitution might therefore be possible. Such an approach could be strongly encouraged by other countries. For instance, the U.S.Government "strongly supports autonomy for Kosovo but not an independent state" (U.S.Department of State, Country Reports for 1994, 1995). The European Union Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and Security, H. van den Broek, also said recently that the European Union "maintains its stand that Kosovo should be returned its autonomy, which was taken away by Milosevic before the conflict in former Yugoslavia began (Kosova Communication, 19 December 1995).

The Serbian side appears to be taking a more conciliatory attitude. President Milosevic of Serbia visited Kosovo in July 1995 and called for "a policy of national equality" in which "every citizen will be equal". Hinting at charges of atrocities allegedly committed by Albanians in the 1980's, he said "we must get away from such cruelties and never return to them, no matter whoever they be against, Serbs, Albanians, Turks or Muslims" (Reuters, 19 July 1995).

It is interesting to note a comment made by the Head of Mission of the CSCE in 1992. An interim report made the following observation:

Some Kosovo Serbs are ready to admit the existence of serious problems in the field of human rights in the area, and agree to the need for a normalization of the situation. However, they are unwilling to accept a return to the previous autonomous regime (1974 Constitution) which they consider to be discriminatory against them. In case of a serious escalation of tension, it is likely that these moderate Serbs would accept some form of autonomy which protects their rights (11 December 1992).

The Kosovo Albanians harbour deep suspicions as regards any Serbian actions. Leaders of the ethnic Albanian community in Kosovo have reported a "significant increase in Albanian emigration from the region since the Dayton peace agreement" (Voice of America Digest, 4 December 1995). This has been taking place despite Serbian assurances that the rights of the Albanian community will be respected (Reuters, 7 December 1995). The Kosovo Albanians responded sharply to the statement by President Milosevic in July 1995 that Kosovo will become "a region of mutual understanding, cooperation and coexistence", stating that S.Milosevics' visit to Kosovo has been aimed at mobilizing the Serbian minority against the Albanians (OMRI Daily Digest, 21 July 1995). Later, the Kosovar "shadow-state" Prime Minister B.Bukoshi was quoted as saying that ethnic Albanians in Kosovo will never give up their demand for independence and as rejecting the idea of reestablishing the province's autonomy. Bukoshi apparently noted that "there will be no change in our political attitude toward the future of Kosovo" (OMRI Daily Digest, 6 December 1995). There appears to be a split in the ranks of the Democratic League of Kosovo between those who believe that autonomy for Kosovo is the best medium-term goal and those who want independence, perhaps within a confederation with Albania and the ethnic Albanian-dominated region. Apparently B.Bukoshi earlier did support autonomy as a first step (Eastern European Newsletter, 18 October 1994). Among other proposals offered for a solution of the Kosovo issue was the suggestion by shadow-state President I. Rugova to place Kosovo under international control as part of a peace plan for former Yugoslavia (OMRI Daily Digest, 30 August 1995). The Dayton peace agreement for Yugoslavia, however, did not include the question of Kosovo because "Clinton administration officials were reluctant to press the issue of Kosovo too hard" (The Christian Science Monitor, 13 December 1995). The Eastern Europe Newsletter analyzing the current state of affairs in Kosovo as regards the change in its status and Albanian Kosovo policy towards Serbia, comes to the conclusion that over the past year "nothing has happened other than a discernible decrease in international interest in Kosovo. Rugova continues to fly around the world - apparently to little effect - and the tensions within the LDK have reached breaking point again" (Eastern European Newsletter, 16 January 1996).

In mid-December 1995, the Third Committee of the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution on the human rights situation in Kosovo, strongly condemning the measures of discrimination against ethnic Albanians. The resolution called for an immediate end to all human rights violations in Kosovo, the release of all political prisoners, and the establishment of genuine democratic institutions (A/C.3/50/L43, 5 December 1995). That human rights abuses are still wide-spread in Kosovo was confirmed by the Serbian Helsinki Committee in its annual report released on 15 December 1995, when the Committee concluded that minorities in Serbia are subject to repression, discrimination, and "ethnic cleansing". It accused the Serbian authorities of staging political trials in Kosovo, but also noted that residents are subject to pressure from the Kosovar "shadow state" (OMRI Daily Digest, 18 December 1995).

Recently, Yugoslav authorities have agreed to open a U.S. Information Office in Kosovo. This took place after U.S. Secretary of State W. Christopher pressed the issue of Kosovo strongly with President Milosevic. "We believe that Kosovo should have a status that will ensure respect for human and political rights of its citizens", the Secretary of State said. Yugoslavia "will never achieve full integration, will never achieve full acceptance into the international community, will never receive full approbation by the United States until it reconciles the status of Kosovo" (International Herald Tribune, 5 February 1996). It appears that it is accepted by Mr. Milosevic that Kosovo will have to be offered autonomy again along the lines of the 1974 Constitution (Eastern Europe Newsletter, 18 January 1996). According to the War Report, "Milosevic's regime is currently not interested in worsening the situation in Kosovo, or the creation of a new war, whose consequences for Serbia could be even worse than those of the current war (September 1995, 16). On the other hand, the "consensus among the Albanians and their extensive diaspora is that since Kosovo was excluded from the Dayton agenda, action must be taken now by the Kosovar Albanians themselves - while the spotlight is still on Serbia" (Eastern Europe Newsletter, 18 January 1996).


Albanian Telegraph Agency,

"Ethnic Albanians fleeing Kosovo to avoid call-up", 24 February 1995, from BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 27 February 1995

Albanian Television,

"Kosovo Albanians being forcibly recruited for FRY army", 8 March 1995, from BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 10 March 1995

Amnesty International,

Amnesty International's Concerns in Europe, January-June 1995", July 1995

The Association of the Bar of the City of New York,

"The Kosovo Crisis and Human Rights in Yugoslavia", January 1991

BBC Summary of World Broadcasts,

"Ethnic Albanians issue report on poor state of children's rights", 2 June 1995

Bennett-Jones, O.,

"Albanians in Kosovo: Prospects for the Future", Writenet, U.K., October 1994

Centre d'Information de Kosovo,

"Proces politiques de 1995 contre les ex-Policiers albanais de Kosovo", decembre 1995

The Christian Science Monitor,

"Tension Rises in Kosovo, Site of Kickoff for Balkans War", 13 December 1995


"The Future of Kosovo", April 1995

Conference on Security and Confidence-Building Measures in Europe,

Seventh Interim Report from the Head of the Missions of Long Duration to Kosovo, Sandjak and Vojvodina, 17 December 1992

The Constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia,

Belgrade, 1974

Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms in Prishtina,

Human Rights Violations in Kosova, August 1992-August 1993, August 1993

Le Devoir,

"N'oubliez pas le Kosovo", 26 janvier 1996

Eastern Europe Newsletter,

"After Dayton", 18 January 1996


"Kosova", 18 October 1994


"South Balkan Fronts", 25 May 1992

Griffiths S.I.,

"Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict. Threats to European Security", SIPRI Research Report No.5, Oxford, 1993

International Federation of Journalists/International Federation of Newspaper Publishers,

"Information Under Control: The Media Crisis in Montenegro and Kosovo", 21-25 November 1993, appendix 2.

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights,

"From Autonomy to Colonization: Human Rights in Kosovo 1989-1993", November 1993

International Herald Tribune,

"U.S. Demands that Belgrade Help Extradite Bosnian Serbs", 5 February 1996.


"Act Now to Save Kosovo", 19 May 1993

Inter Press Service,

"Refugees: Serbia offered sweeteners to accept Kosovo", 12 April 1995


"Yugoslavia-Refugees: Displaced face resettlement, not return", 23 February 1995

Helsinki Watch,

"Yugoslavia: Human Rights Abuses in Kosovo 1990-1992, New York, October 1992

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki,

Human Rights Abuses in Kosovo, March 1993

Keesing's Record of World Events for 1993,

Longman, Harlow, 1993

___, for 1991,

Longman, Harlow, 1991

___, for 1990,

Longman, Harlow, 1990

Kosova Communication,

"UN Resolution on Kosovo", 19 December 1995 (Internet)

Kosova Information Center,

Daily Report, "FII and AWL demands Kosova be included in Peace Talks", 31 October 1995 (Internet)


"President Bericha's address to the U.N.", 30 October 1995 (Internet)

MAN (Mouvement pour une Alternative Non-violente),

"La resistance civile au Kosovo", aout 1993

OMRI Daily Digest,

"Serbian Helsinki Committee Accuses Belgrade of Oppressing Minorities", 18 December 1995


"Bukoshi insists on independence of Kosovo", 6 December 1995


"Rugova Proposes Independent Kosovo for Peace Plan", 30 August 1995


"Situation in Kosovo is a "Serious Problem", 24 August 1995


"Serb Refugees Settle in Kosovo", 14 August 1995


"Serbia to Settle Refugees in Kosovo", 10 August 1995


"Milosevic Calls for National Equality in Kosovo", 21 July 1995


"...Kosovar Information Ministry Denounces His Statements", 21 July 1995


"Press Campaign for Serbian Colonization of Kosovo", 7 February 1995


"Serbia Offers Interest-Free Credits for Settlers in Kosovo", 17 January 1995

Organisation Suisse d'Aide aux Refugies (OSAR),

Feuille d'Information sur les pays, Kosovo, novembre 1995


"Repatriate the expellees?, 6 February 1995

Poulton H.,

"The Balkans. Minorities and States in Conflict", Minority Rights Group, London, 1991


"Rugova asks for mediation in Kosovo conflict", 7 December 1995


"Serbia fails to alter ethnic balance in Kosovo", 5 February 1995

RFE/RL Research Report,

"Has the Kosovo Crisis Been Internationalized?", vol.2, No.44, November 1993


"Kosovo: The Time Bomb that Has Not Gone Off", vol. 2, No. 39, October 1993


"The "Albanian Question" in the Former Yugoslavia", vol. 1, No. 14. April 1992

Schoplin G.,

"The Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia", in McGarry J., O'Leary B., "The Politics of Ethnic Conflict Regulation", Routledge, London, 1993


"Show Trials in Kosovo", 3 November 1995

U.N. Commission on Human Rights,

"Former Yugoslavia: Report on the Human Rights Situation", E/CN.4/1995/57, 16 January 1995


Report on Torture and Other Cruel or Inhuman Treatment, E/CN.4/1995/34, 12 January 1995


"Former Yugoslavia: Special report on the Media", E/CN.4/1995/54, 13 December 1994


E/CN.4/1994/72, 13 December 1993


"Former Yugoslavia: Fifth Periodic Report on the situation of human rights in the territory of the former Yugoslavia", E/CN.4/1994/47, 17 November 1993

U.N. General Assembly,

Letter dated 18 December 1995 from the Charge d'affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of Yugoslavia..., A/50/854, 29 December 1995


Third Committee Resolution A/C.3/50/L43, 5 December 1995

U.S. Department of Army,

Area Handbook, 1993

U.S. Department of State,

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1994, Washington, 1995

Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO),

"A UNPO Report on the national and human rights situation of the Albanians in Kosova", The Hague, February 1993

Vucelic, M.,

Kosovo and Albanian Separatism: the Defence of Kosovo, The Secretariat for Information of the Socialist Republic of Serbia, Belgrade, 1990

Voice of America,

Daily Bosnia Report, 4 December 1995 (Internet)

War Report,

"The Least Desirable Place of Settlement", September 1995


"The Pristina Show Trials", June 1995


"Blues for 78", March 1995


"Athens Anti-Albanian Campaign", September 1994

Yugoslav Telegraph Service News Agency,

10 November, 1994, from BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 12 November 1994


All sources are cited. This paper is not, and does not, purport to be, fully exhaustive with regard to conditions in the country surveyed, or conclusive as to the merits of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


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