31 January 2006

By Dimitrina Petrova

The Editorial of issue No.2/1999 of Roma Rights ended with these words:

"We devote this issue to the Roma of Kosovo, who – in the circumstances – will be the last to ever read it. We cannot mail copies to them either: they are scattered all over the continent, and given Europe's 'hospitality' to Roma, it will take a very long time for them to obtain mailing addresses anywhere. As to Romani readers inside Kosovo, our mail would be going to empty neighbourhoods and ruins."

Six and a half years passed. So it is time to update. Let us try: We devote this issue of Roma Rights to the Roma and others perceived as "Gypsies" from Kosovo, the people hidden under the bureaucratic abbreviation RAE (Roma, Ashkali, Egyptians). In the present-day circumstances, as the talks on the final status of Kosovo are starting, they will again be the most difficult to reach. RAE are scattered throughout Europe and all over the world, and few have been fortunate to obtain a permanent address. Read the typical story of serial asylum seeking failure in the "Testimony" section in this issue.

Violence against Roma and others perceived as Gypsies in Kosovo after the end of the NATO bombing was part of a politically motivated systematic effort to "cleanse" Kosovo of non-Albanians and to bolster claims for an independent state. Almost seven years later perpetrators of crimes against humanity remain unpunished. As one can see from some of the material in this issue, unblocking the road to justice is so hard that it would take an immense effort and a very long time before we begin to see results.

Regarding "RAE" currently inside Kosovo, very few have returned to their empty and ruined neighbourhoods. Despite efforts by the international community to resettle "RAE" returnees, the lack of genuine peace has forced most of them to leave the province again. Of those that remain, many still live the lives of IDPs – internally displaced persons dependent on external powers. "RAE" IDPs live in permanent fear, rarely agree to speak to visitors due to years of empty promises, and deplore the missed chance

In here comes the biggest disgrace of all, incomprehensible to any reasonable outsider. This is the case from hell known to most of those who still follow Kosovo. Roma IDPs in three camps in Northern Mitrovica have been living since the autumn of 1999 on sites heavily contaminated by lead and the UNMIK, the responsible institution in charge of the province, has failed to relocate them despite being aware of the health hazard. Over six hundred people, more than half of them children. A complicated case it may be, due to conflicting agendas, indifference, lost faith by Roma that anyone could ever care, and the eternal "lack of resources" complained of by UNMIK. An ERRC statement – one of several that have been sent out to international governmental actors – is published in this issue. The ERRC has filed a criminal complaint, too. And we as an organization are determined to continue to deal with this case as long as it takes. Negotiations are in progress and many institutions are now involved. But the fact is that as this issue is going to press, the Roma are still in the same poisoned environment, despite the combined powers, past and present, of KFOR, UNMIK, EU, OSCE, Council of Europe, UNOHCHR, UNHCR, not to mention the Kosovo authorities and all the international and domestic NGOs. And despite the new spotlight on Kosovo due to the pending official start of the status talks.

Well, this is my update. Lead poisoning causing debilitating effects on brains and a medical misery for life. Since 1999.

Whether democracy, human rights and the rule of law have made progress in Kosovo since it became a de facto western powers' protectorate depends on whom you ask. But there are some encouraging developments as well, such as the entry into force of one of the strongest and most comprehensive anti-discrimination laws in Europe, fully in compliance with European standards (See article by Gregory Fabian in this issue). Though shaky and untested, the machinery of democratic rule is emerging. The rights of Serbs, RAE and other minorities in Kosovo will most likely be guaranteed in whatever status solution lies ahead. But time is out for the Roma IDPs. The responsible bodies must end the current humanitarian disaster for which no future democratic heaven can justify.


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