Watch our campaign video for a brief explanation of the crisis and how the ERRC wants to take action to gain compensation for the victims of lead poisoning as well as a formal apology from UNMIK.
In 1999, a UN mission (UNMIK) took over the administration of Kosovo. The mission was legally required to respect the human rights of the people – Serb, Albanian, and Kosovar – under their jurisdiction. This was not the case.
A Roma settlement in Mitrovicë/Mitrovica was destroyed at the end of the war, so the UNMIK moved the Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps next to a dangerously polluting lead smelter. The UN officials knew the area was dangerously polluted. French soldiers with incredibly high levels of lead in their blood were evacuated from the area, but the Roma, Ashkali & Balkan Egyptians– including children and pregnant women – were allowed to remain.
For the next decade their health worsened under UNMIK’s watch. Women regularly miscarried or terminated their own pregnancies however they could. It was hell on earth, and the UN knew what was happening and how to stop it. Instead, they made some periodical, half-hearted attempts that probably only made things worse.
Exposure to lead in any amount is dangerous. But the levels in the blood and hair samples of the Romani children living in these IDP camps were off the charts – European and American scientists had never seen anything like it. These children, many of them now adults, are condemned to a short life of mental and physical health problems because of the inadequacy of the UNMIK.
Needless to say, this did not happen to non-Roma living in the same area as they were safely relocated.
In February of this year, the victims got some measure of justice. With the help of former ERRC legal director, Dianne Post, 138 Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians secured an opinion from the UN Human Rights Advisory Panel in their favour.
The 80-page opinion is damning. It slams the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for not cooperating with the process, including actively withholding key documents. It finds that the SRSG officer relied on their own discriminatory stereotypes by accusing the Roma of being responsible for their health problems because of their “lifestyle”. And it condemns UNMIK for violating a litany of human rights obligations: the right to life; the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment; the right to health; the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to be free from race discrimination; the right to be free from gender discrimination; the rights of the child…
The SRSG’s response? On 22 April 2016, he expressed his regret and said he’ll think about it.
That’s not good enough.
The Roma, Ashkali & Balkan Egyptians exposed to the horrors of long-term lead poisoning deserve an unreserved apology and compensation for the hellish conditions they endured at the hands of the UNMIK administration.
Mr. Secretary-General – we call on you to take up this matter directly and give these Roma what they deserve. The way you are handling this matter brings shame on the UN and discredits your organisation’s stated commitment to the human rights of women, children, and ethnic minorities.
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