Members of European Parliament Hear Testimonies of Rights Abuse of Roma in Kosovo
In the Aftermath of Ethnic Cleansing: Continued Persecution of Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians and Others Perceived as "Gypsies" in Kosovo
Brussels. The ERRC testified today before Members of the European Parliament about the state of human rights of Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians and others regarded as "Gypsies" (RAE) in Kosovo. On the occasion of the hearing, the ERRC also presented a memorandum summarising the main conclusions of ERRC monitoring, including documentation of extreme levels of rights deprivation of RAE in Kosovo. The hearing was organised by MEPs Kallenbach and deGroen. Also testifying at the hearing were partner organisations, including notably members of the European Roma and Travellers Forum.
Six years ago, after the end of the NATO bombing of former Yugoslavia, Roma Ashkalis, Egyptians and others regarded as "Gypsies" (RAE) were violently cleansed from their homes in Kosovo by means of arson, mass destruction of houses, killings and rape. Today, persecution of the members of these communities continues manifested in their systematic exclusion from access to fundamental human rights. Racial discrimination against RAE communities in Kosovo is pervasive, depriving thousands from even a bare minimum of dignity. Anti-Gypsy sentiment among the majority is widespread, ranging from assaults on RAE individuals to verbal abuse and dissemination of defamatory images, including images stigmatising RAE as perpetrators of crimes against Albanians, in the media.
A summary of some particularly extreme issues facing RAE communities in Kosovo follows:
Failure to Provide Just Remedy for Gross Violations of Fundamental Human Rights: RAE are denied access to just compensation for the violent crimes committed against them immediately after the end of the NATO bombing in June 1999 and the following years. In the course of the ethnic cleansing campaign, ethnic Albanians kidnapped Roma and severely physically abused and in some cases killed Roma; raped Romani women in the presence of family members; and seized, looted or destroyed property en masse. Whole Romani settlements were burned to the ground by ethnic Albanians, in many cases while NATO troops looked on. In the following years numerous, RAE returnees were targeted for violent assaults, including killings. In most cases, the perpetrators of such crimes have not been brought to justice to date. The ethnic cleansing of the RAE remains almost totally unremedied.
Continuing Violence, Intimidation, and Harassment: After several years during which UN officials and others assured the public that the worst violence in Kosovo was over, the renewal of mass violence against minorities in Kosovo in March 2004, demonstrated that there are no barriers for the forces in Kosovo who are intent to expel non-Albanian minorities. Several hundreds of Roma and Ashkalis were targeted for violent attacks; at least 75 houses belonging to Romani and Ashkali families were set on fire. In Vushtrri/Vucitrn alone, some 70 houses belonging to Ashkalis were burned and destroyed. RAE minorities in Kosovo today live in a state of pervasive fear, nourished by routine intimidation and verbal harassment as well as by racist assaults by Kosovo Albanians. Most of these incidents remain unreported to the authorities due to lack of trust and fear of retaliation, reinforced and affirmed by the awareness among RAE that there has been no justice delivered in connection with the massive wave of violent crimes committed against them, and because the persons primarily responsible for these crimes are the new powers in Kosovo.
A Vacuum of Protection against Discrimination: RAE communities in Kosovo are subjected to exclusion and marginalisation as a result of systematic racial discrimination. Many RAE remain in camps for internally displaced in inhuman conditions; levels of unemployment and impoverishment among them are grossly disproportionate compared to the rest of the Kosovo population; housing conditions are markedly inferior; access to social and public services is seriously restricted. The impact of racial discrimination against RAE is particularly visible in the exercise of the following:
- The Right to Return in Safety and Dignity: Numerous Roma remain in internal displacement throughout Kosovo and outside Kosovo unable to return due to fear for their security; due to failure of the authorities to rebuild their houses and ensure other necessary conditions for a dignified return; due to failure of the authorities to ensure that the legal owners of houses can reclaim their property which had been illegally occupied. Most poignantly, the failure of authorities in Kosovo to ensure access to fundamental rights of RAE has been demonstrated by the continuing exposure in the last six years of some 700 RAE individuals from the IDP camps in North Mitrovica to detrimental lead poisoning.
- The Right to Work: Discrimination against RAE in the field of employment is massive: With the privatisation of the Kosovo enterprises, hundreds of RAE are excluded from jobs; other opportunities for access to income sources are also largely unavailable to them; RAE involvement in the civil service is token. Discrimination in employment condemns large numbers of RAE to degrading poverty. Severe impoverishment of RAE families is also a major obstacle for access to education and health care.
- The Right to Adequate Housing: For numerous families housing, is extremely substandard, in marked contrast to housing conditions of any other ethnicities currently in Kosovo. In a number of RAE neighbourhoods, located on the margins of towns, individuals are exposed to serious health risks due to lack of basic facilities and their access to employment, education and public services is severely restricted.
The conditions described above deter tens of thousands of individuals from returning to their homes. Out of a community of 100,000-150,000 individuals before 1999, the estimated number of RAE in Kosovo today is 30,000-35,000. Many of these are displaced within the province. The underlying cause of these issues is the persecution of Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians and others regarded as "Gypsies" in Kosovo, a persecution undertaken under the auspices of international administration in Kosovo.
The ERRC reiterates its call on the representatives of the international community and the Provisional Institutions of the Kosovo government to act within the powers available to them to ensure that:
- Prompt and impartial investigations into all acts of violence to which Romani, Ashkali and Egyptian individuals and other persons regarded as "Gypsies" in Kosovo have been subjected are carried out; all perpetrators of racially-motivated acts of ethnic cleansing are brought swiftly to justice and victims or families of victims receive adequate compensation; justice is done and seen to be done;
- Individuals guilty of the persecution of Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians and other persons regarded as "Gypsies" in Kosovo are swiftly brought to justice via the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, or through other mechanisms;
- Sustained efforts are undertaken by all authorities in Kosovo and involved in the administration of Kosovo to ensure that no discussions of Kosovo's final status are embarked upon until such a time as all stakeholders achieve durable and lasting consensus in practice that Kosovo is a multi-cultural society in which all individuals can freely exercise in practice all of their fundamental human rights;
- Any forced returns of Kosovo Romani, Ashkali or Egyptian individuals to Kosovo, or to the rest of Serbia and Montenegro are rendered impossible and impermissible until such a time as authorities in Kosovo are able to demonstrate durable and lasting security and freedom from racial discrimination for all in all parts of the province.
The full text of the Memorandum tabled today at the European Parliament is available at: http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=2271.