In the Aftermath of Ethnic Cleansing: Continued Persecution of Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians and Others Perceived as
31 January 2006
Memorandum of the European Roma Rights Centre
The memorandum following below was presented at a hearing at the European Parliament on 27 June 2005. The hearing was organised by MEPs Kallenbach and deGroen.1
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 tens of 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.
Living in an atmosphere of persistent threats to their security, unprotected against massive exclusion from jobs and denial of access to income sources, exposed to extremely substandard and hazardous living conditions; marginalised in the public sphere, the RAE communities today experience levels of oppression which render the necessity of providing them with international protection unquestionable. Oppression of RAE is further aggravated by failure of the United Nations administration to bring to justice the perpetrators of even the most egregious crimes committed against RAE since June 1999.
A brief summary of some particularly extreme issues facing Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians and others considered as "Gypsies" in Kosovo follows:
Failure to Provide Just Remedy for Gross Violations of Fundamental Human Rights: RAE are denied the right to 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 and severely physically abused and in some cases killed Roma, Ashkalis and Egyptians; raped 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.1 In the following years numerous RAE returnees were targeted for violent assaults such as the brutal killing of four Ashkali returnees in Dashevc/Doševac in November 2000, the numerous explosions causing deaths and destruction of newly rebuilt houses for returnees. The perpetrators of these crimes have not been brought to justice to date. The ethnic cleansing of the RAE remains 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; after Germany, Italy, Sweden and other states, considering Kosovo to be safe, terminated the international protection of many RAE and started their forceful repatriation to Kosovo, the renewal of mass violence against minorities in Kosovo in March 2004, demonstrated that forces in Kosovo intent on expelling non-Albanian minorities continue to control the course of events. 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.
Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians and others considered as "Gypsies" in Kosovo today live in a state of pervasive fear, nourished by routine intimidation and verbal harassment, as well as by occasional 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 indeed that the persons primarily responsible for these crimes are the new powers in Kosovo.
A Vacuum of Protection against Discrimination: Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians and others considered as "Gypsies" in Kosovo are subjected to exclusion and marginalisation as a result of systematic racial discrimination. RAE remain the only communities which still live 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 Right to Return in Safety and Dignity: Numerous Roma, Ashkalis and Egyptians 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 in the IDP camps in Northern Mitrovica and Zveçan to lead poisoning.
- The Right to Work: Discrimination against Roma, Ashkalis and Egyptians in 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 homeland. Out of a community of about 150,000 individuals before 1999, the estimated number of RAE in Kosovo today is 30,000-35,000. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who fled persecution in 1999-2000, several dozens of Ashkali families left Kosovo after the March 2004 pogroms. A number of voluntary and forced returnees with whom the ERRC recently spoke were preparing to leave the province. Many of these individuals are threatened to become victims of human trafficking and other gross human rights violations. Forced returnees in 2003 and 2004 have left Kosovo in a matter of months after their forced repatriation. For many RAE, the only reason to remain in Kosovo is reportedly lack of money to arrange their leaving 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 European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) has conducted a number of field missions to Kosovo after the end of the NATO bombing. Beginning in June 1999, the ERRC has undertaken regular documentation of violent crimes against RAE committed by Kosovo Albanians, crimes including murder, rape, arson and destruction of property and looting, all undertaken with the intention and effect of enforcing the ethnic purity of Kosovo as a place for ethnic Albanians only. Most recently, in the period May 25-June 5, 2005 the ERRC carried out field research in Kosovo to assess the human rights situation of the RAE minorities,2 as a result of renewed efforts by Western governments to assert that there are no major human rights issues in Kosovo which might obstruct the agenda of forcible expulsion of refugees from Western Europe. In these most recent documentary undertakings, the ERRC spoke with voluntary returnees and forced returnees to Kosovo; RAE community leaders, including municipal officials, in the following Kosovo municipalities: Prishtinë/Priština, Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje, Ferizaj/Uroševac, Pejë/Pec, Gjakovë/Đakovica, Shtimje/ Štimlje, Prizeren, and Obiliq/Obilic. The ERRC also met representatives of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and the Kosovo Ombudsperson. Officials of these institutions acknowledged continuing violations of the rights of RAE individuals in Kosovo. Mr Kilian Kleinschmidt, head of the UNMIK Office for Returns and Communities, told the ERRC: "The real issue is the high levels of discrimination. Access to social services on a non-discriminatory basis is not working now."3 These are, however, apparently considered issues of not such compelling urgency as to preclude forcible return. A recent report of UNMIK to the Council of Europe reinforces the tendency to downplay the gravity of the human rights situation of RAE communities in the post-conflict period in Kosovo. In one particularly flagrant instance of understatement, the violent expulsion of RAE and other minorities from Kosovo in the aftermath of the NATO bombing is described as "mass departure of non-Albanians from Kosovo."4 The ERRC observes that the reasons for such approach have nothing to do with the actual situation in Kosovo. Rather, they are driven by the priority of Western European countries to expel as many Kosovo refugees as possible, regardless of the actual threats to their fundamental human rights in Kosovo and regardless of the degrading treatment they will experience as a result of such expulsions.
On the basis of field research conducted in May-June 2005 as well as other recent research, the ERRC present the following concerns:
Continuing Failure to Prevent Exposure to Extremely Hazardous Conditions
In June 1999, the Roma from Fabricka neighbourhood on the south bank of the Ibar River in Mitrovicë/a were driven away from their homes and the houses in the community burned to the ground. In response to the refugee crisis the UNHCR established three camps for the RAE IDPs in northern Kosovo – Cesmin Lug and Kablar camps in Mitrovicë/a municipality and Žitkovac/Zhikoc camp in Zvečan/Zveçan municipality. The IDP camps in question were set up near a toxic waste site, in the vicinity of the Trepca mine, and were reportedly meant to shelter the persons placed there for only several weeks. Six years later, however, around 700 RAE remain in the camps, where they have lived since 1999. These persons are constantly exposed to very high levels of lead and other metals and toxins. In July 2004, the World Health Organisation (WHO) conducted an environmental health risk assessment for lead and heavy metal contamination in the Mitrovica region revealing extremely harmful blood lead levels ("BLLs") in Romani residents of the camps. In fact, the first random blood testing for lead poisoning for Mitrovica area was first carried out in August-September 2000 by Dr. Andrey Andreyev, a Russian consultant to the UN. He submitted a report in November 2000 to UNMIK and the World Health Organisation (WHO), which revealed that the only dangerous levels he found were in the RAE IDPs camps and recommended the evacuation of those camps.5 In spite of this report, there was no reaction to this situation. Indeed, UNMIK authorities suppressed the report, and refused to allow its distribution.
WHO conducted further blood tests at the IDP camps in July 2004. Lead has chronic multisystem effects in the human body, but the most significant effect is on IQ levels where meta analysis of numerous studies shows increases in blood lead from 10 to 20 micrograms/dl was associated with a decrease of 2.6 IQ points. These impacts are irreversible. According to the 2004 WHO report, out of a total of 58 children tested, 34 were found to have BLLs above acceptable levels. The report states that: "Twelve children were found to have exceptionally high levels. Six of them possibly fall within the range described by the United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) as constituting a medical emergency (=> 70 ug/dl). (Our instrumentation is only able to read up to 65 micrograms per deciliter)."6
Jenita Mehmeti, a four-year-old Ashkali girl died in the Žitkovac/Zhikoc camp after being treated for two months in a Serbian hospital for lead poisoning, in July 2004. Her two-year-old sister, Nikolina, shows similar symptoms and has been in and out of hospital in Belgrade for treatment. However, without immediate evacuation, medical treatment will likely have little effect.
A second WHO report produced in October 2004 noted that the Roma case is urgent. According to the report, Romani children have consistently had the highest blood levels in the entire population sampled. 88.23% of soils in the camps are unsafe for human habitation and for gardening and are a major source of exposure to the Roma population.
Despite being aware of the extreme health hazards persisting in the area of the camps, UNHCR, UNMIK and local government officials have failed to take actions to ensure the safety of the affected families. Moreover, the Mitrovica municipality and other authorities in Kosovo have failed to provide conditions for the return of the Mitrovica Roma to the Fabricka neighbourhood. Several building projects in the neighbourhood aimed at facilitating return of the expelled persons have been reportedly destroyed by grenade or arson, with the intention and effect of enforcing fear of return among the Roma concerned. To their credit, the Roma currently residing in the three camps for displaced persons have not wavered in their demand to return to the neighbourhood, causing some frustration among those who have sought to impose a compromise ghettoising solution of placement in substandard housing elsewhere.
Denial of the Right to Return to Place of Origin in Safety and Dignity
To date, authorities in Kosovo have failed basically to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and assure the safe and unimpeded return of RAE refugees and displaced persons to their homes in Kosovo. As of June 2005, numerous persons belonging to RAE communities remain in internal displacement inside Kosovo. Some of them feel that return to their old neighbourhoods would be unsafe, and these are currently completely deserted. Many are unable to return to their previous homes which have been destroyed and not rebuilt or are now illegally occupied by other persons. Roma in internal displacement live in extremely substandard conditions in prefabricated houses in the IDP camps; crowded in the houses of relatives; or occupying houses of RAE currently outside Kosovo. RAE IDPs are denied the right to return as a result of numerous factors:
- Individuals are unwilling to return to their old places of residence because they believe them to be unsafe. Some of these – such as the Dalmatinska neighbourhood in Prishtinë/Priština, for example – are now completely deserted by their former RAE inhabitants and occupied by Kosovo Albanians – but housing in other parts of Kosovo is unavailable;
- Proceedings for reinstating the legal owners of houses which have been illegally occupied are slow, and enforcement is ineffective;
- Reconstruction of houses is unduly delayed and in some instances altogether stalled;
- Individuals cannot prove title to the land on which their houses used to be due to lost or invalid property ownership documents;
- Social housing is unavailable;
- Municipalities have failed to allocate land for construction of houses;
- Municipalities want to use land where RAE houses were located for more lucrative purposes and propose unacceptable for RAE solutions to housing;
The ERRC is not aware of any data about the number of displaced RAE; in several municipalities visited by the ERRC, however, the numbers of displaced RAE reported by local community leaders ranged between 2-3 families to several dozens of families.
The IDP camp Plemetina, near Obiliq/Obilic, built in 1999, remains standing and inhabited until today, despite commitment of the Kosovo authorities to dismantle the camp by mid-2005. According to Bajrush Berisha, leader of the RAE communities in the camp, the camp is currently home to 116 families or about 464 persons which originate from five Kosovo municipalities. According to Mr Berisha, only two out of the five municipalities have so far allocated land to build houses for the Roma. Even in those places where land had been allocated, however, reportedly no construction of housing has started. The explanation by authorities for the failure to provide durable housing is "lack of donors". According to local RAE, in the whole Obiliq/ Obilic municipality there are around 50 reconstructed houses of RAE out of about 1,000 houses destroyed in 1999-2000.7
In Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje municipality, according to the local community leader Mr Mefail Mustafa, there are at least 70 internally displaced RAE families. These people have found a solution to their housing situation by occupying the empty houses of relatives or other RAE persons who are outside Kosovo. The displaced families reportedly include around 20 families who in 2001 voluntarily returned, assisted by the UNHCR, but were not brought to their original places of residence – many of them came from Prishtinë/Priština, for example. According to information provided to the ERRC by Rexhep Hyseni, community leader, in the whole municipality more than 200 houses belonging to RAE have not yet been rebuilt. Around 144 houses have been rebuilt thus far.8
In Gjakovë/Đakovica, according to Nexhip Qehaja, head of the municipal office for communities, around 15 RAE families currently in Montenegro, cannot return to their homes which were destroyed and have not yet been rebuilt. These families, as well as many other families in Gjakovë/Đakovica do not possess property ownership documents and therefore cannot prove ownership of the land, while the municipality claims that the land is municipal property.9
In some instances the construction of RAE houses has been stalled and the families of returnees have to live with relatives or other persons. Abdullah Presheva neighbourhood of Gjilan/Gnjilane used to have a population of about 4,000 Roma before 1999 of whom today there are about 250 individuals. Out of 360 Romani houses, some 290 were destroyed. According to Ms Shpresa Agushi, local community leader, about 20 out of 30 Romani families who recently returned to Gjilan/Gnjilane currently live in rented accommodation. The construction of 30 houses for Roma families from Abdullah Presheva neighbourhood in Gjilan/Gnjilane, was reportedly suspended with only 9 houses rebuilt or reconstructed. The rebuilding of the houses, which started in mid-2004 and for which reportedly total of Euro 1,500,000 had been donated by the Dutch government and the municipality, stopped reportedly due to lack of money to complete the rebuilding. RAE leaders from Gjilan/Gnjilane expressed the belief that there had been misuse of money and that part of the money was spent for the reconstruction of Albanian houses in neighbouring villages, despite the fact that the project was specifically meant for houses of Roma in Abdullah Presheva. Although part of the amount (reportedly Euro 800 per family) also covered expenses for legalisation of the property ownership documentation of all the thirty families, according to RAE representatives, the amount of Euro 1,500,000 should have been enough to complete the project.10
Roma from Abdullah Presheva also reported thefts of building material for the reconstruction of Romani houses. In at least one instance, the investigation into alleged thefts conducted by the Kosovo Police Service (KPS) has reportedly been biased. According to the testimony of Seburan Ramadani to the ERRC, on an unspecified date in March-April 2005, he reported to the KPS some thefts of building material and equipment for his house. Mr Ramadani told the ERRC that he lived across the street from the place where the reconstruction of his house was ongoing. He stated that he observed that some material which used to be stored near the house was missing and that a boiler which was installed the previous day had disappeared on the following day. When he reported the thefts to the police, he was allegedly accused of having committed the thefts himself and was told that he might be brought to court. According to his testimony, there is a pending investigation against him for theft.11
Another example of failure to guarantee the right to return has been reported to the ERRC in Pejë/Pec. The Crystal neighbourhood in the town used to be the home of more than 100 RAE families. Currently only 2-3 families live in the neighbourhood. Most of the houses were burned and destroyed in 1999-2000. According to a local official, in 2002 the then UNMIK administrator of the municipality had promised to clean the area and start rebuilding the houses but failed to fulfil the promise. According to the same source, donors have been overwhelmingly reluctant to fund projects for rebuilding houses fearing that the houses would be vandalised. In 2003, for example, two RAE houses were reportedly rebuilt and immediately after that burned down. At least 10 RAE families currently live with relatives in Pejë/Pec while waiting the municipality to act on their request for rebuilding their houses. In this as in other cases reported to the ERRC, the municipality reportedly insisted to build blocks of flats rather than individual houses for the RAE families. RAE representatives believe the reason behind such proposal is the interest of the municipality to use the land for more lucrative purposes, regardless of the fact that RAE had lived for several decades on that land.12
Ineffective Procedure for Reclaiming Illegally Occupied Houses
Many RAE reported to the ERRC that they are denied access to their houses which in most of the cases have been occupied by Kosovo Albanians. According to RAE, proceedings before the UN Housing and Property Directorate (HPD) Claims Commission – the organ which has jurisdiction over claims raised by persons who were the owners or occupancy right holders of residential real property and who do not enjoy possession of the property, are lengthy and sometimes decisions are not effectively executed. For example, Alihajdar Krekaqe, 53, from Prizren owned a house in the town. In July 1999, while he and his wife were in their house, four persons in uniforms of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) broke into the house, tried to strangle Alihajdar with an electric cord and forced the family to leave. Alihajdar Krekaqe complained to the German KFOR in Prizren, who responded to him that the Albanians would leave his house within one month. As of June 2005, the family has nevertheless been unable to repossess their property and rents a house for Euro 100 per month in Prizren. Alihajdar filed a complaint with the HPD on November 9, 2001. As of the end of May, 2005 there has been no decision on his case. In the meantime, he filed a complaint with the Ombudsperson's institution in September 2002, as well as sought assistance from the municipality of Prizren. According to Mr Krekaqe, each time he inquired about the status of his claim with various authorities, he was told that "his complaint is being processed".13
In another case, the ERRC interviewed the daughter of a RAE woman who used to live in Dalmatinska neighbourhood in Prishtinë/Priština. After the end of the air strikes in Kosovo, as a result of repeated attacks and intimidation by Kosovo Albanians, the RAE woman had to leave the house and move to live with her daughter in Pejë/Pec. Shortly afterwards, she left Kosovo, authorising her daughter to regain possession of her property in Dalmatinska neighbourhood. In July 2003, her daughter reported the case to the HPD. In December that year the HPD issued a decision allowing the daughter to repossess her mother's property. The occupiers were evicted by the Kosovo police but reoccupied the house shortly afterwards. A second eviction apparently had not discouraged the occupiers, who reoccupied the house for a third time. As of the time of the ERRC research, the house had reportedly been still occupied and the owner was unable to sell it for that reason.14
In many instances, owners of occupied residential property are afraid to reclaim their property due to continuous intimidation by the occupiers. For example, in Gjakovë/Đakovica, a local community leader told the ERRC that one RAE individual who is currently in Montenegro, has his house occupied but is afraid to reclaim it because the occupier – a Kosovo Albanian teacher, accused the RAE individual of collaboration with the Serbs and contributing to the death of the teacher's two sons who were killed by Serbian military. According to the RAE representative in the municipal office for communities, Mr Xhevdet Neziri, currently there are at least around 10 occupied houses of RAE in the town of Gjakovë/Đakovica.15
Denial of Access to Social and Economic Rights
Discrimination in Access to Employment
Exclusion of RAE individuals from jobs and other sources of income is massive and has resulted in severe deprivation of many families. Although unemployment in Kosovo is generally high, in the case of RAE minorities it is close to 100% in many places. Apart from an insignificant number of individuals in the civil service and the municipal offices for communities, very few other have permanent employment. The situation is radically different as compared to the times before 1999, when many RAE worked for various Kosovo enterprises. Discriminatory exclusion of RAE from employment is systematic all over Kosovo. According to testimonies of RAE in all municipalities visited by the ERRC, RAE (as well as minorities in general) are entirely or nearly entirely excluded from the workforce after the privatisation of Kosovo enterprises.
For example, Mr Gani Elshani, 45, used to work in a pharmaceutical factory in Prizren for 18 years together with other RAE. In 2004, when the privatisation of the factory started, he was released together with the other workers. When the factory started working again, Mr Elshani was not employed with the explanation that there had been a reduction in the workforce. According to him, none of the other RAE workers were employed after the privatisation of the factory either. In Shtimje/Stimlje municipality, according to a local community leader, currently there are reportedly 7 individuals who have permanent employment – 2 are in the municipal office, 2 are teachers and 3 are cleaners. Around 50-60 RAE from Shtimje/Stimlje municipality worked in factories before 1999. None of them has reportedly been re-employed after the privatisation of the factories. Roma are being denied both high skilled and low skilled jobs. For example, a professional operator of a milling machine in Gjakovë/Đakovica found it impossible to get back to work in 2000 despite the fact that, according to the testimony of a local community leader, the whole town knew the person for his high professionalism. According to Mr Qerim Gara, RAE representative in the Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje municipal office for communities, none of several dozen of low skilled labourers (cleaners, repairmen) in the Kosovo parliament is RAE. Mr Gara also told the ERRC that in 2004, around 30 RAE applied for a job as a driver at Prishtinë/Priština airport. Many of them had finished high school, one was a university student. None of them was given a job.
According to a number of RAE community leaders, as in all other areas, the employment of RAE is not of concern for the Kosovo authorities. For example, an activist from Gjilan/Gnjilane told the ERRC that, according to unofficial information given to her by a municipal official, positions announced for minorities are usually meant to be filled by Kosovo Serbs.
High levels of unemployment and lack of access to social benefits have resulted in severe deprivation of numerous RAE families. Families with unemployed persons are reportedly entitled to Euro 52 per month per person, given that they have children under five. Persons above the age of 65 receive Euro 37 per month. These amounts are extremely inadequate especially where families have several children at school age. In Obiliq/Obilic, the ERRC spoke with Ms Mihone Krasniqi, 53, who lives together with another 17 members of her family in their newly rebuilt house. None of the family members work and only three of them receive social benefits. The income of the 18 persons is around Euro 150 per month, total. Ms Krasniqi's husband and elder sons do occasional physical work earning 3-4 Euros per day. The family of Ms Krasniqi was part of a voluntary return project together with another 20 RAE families in 2001. According to Mr Jetulah Bajrami, leader of the returnee community, most of the people are unemployed and do not have money to buy food. Some collect food leftovers from garbage containers. There have been reportedly several cases of people who got sick as a result of eating food from the garbage. Mr Bajrami as well as a number of other RAE returnees felt that the organisations which arranged their return to Kosovo had been unfair to them. In his words, "they would promise everything to make us agree to return, and after that no one cared about us". "It is not enough to have a house to live normal life. You cannot eat the house", said Mr Berisha Hajrush, who returned in December 2004 from Macedonia to Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje. He also told the ERRC that "after several months living in Kosovo, he realised that the decision to return was a big mistake" and he has decided to sell his house and leave for Zagreb, where he used to live in the mid-1980s.
The economic situation of the families in the Plemetina camp is also very difficult. Most of the families in the camp live on social aid. About 6-7 families, however, do not qualify for social aid and live on whatever they can earn doing occasional, mostly physical work, outside the camp.
Extreme impoverishment of the RAE families is reportedly a major obstacle for many parents to send their children to school. Some 87 children of 1-4 grades go to classes organised in the Plemetina camp. Some 20% of the students in the higher grades who are supposed to attend the Albanian school in Obiliq/Obilic, however, cannot attend because their parents cannot support them.
Extremely Substandard Housing Conditions
Numerous RAE families in Kosovo are confined to inhumane housing conditions in marked contrast to housing conditions in the rest of the province. Such for example is Bata neighbourhood in Pejë/Pec, home to some 120 families. There is no sewage and running water; some parts of the neighbourhood do not even have roads. The houses are tiny, many are dilapidated and in many cases cramped, housing family members from several generations. RAE had lived in this place for 3-4 decades. None of them, however, has property documents and the municipality claims ownership of the land. According to local RAE leaders, the municipality refuses to build infrastructure insisting that the families should be moved in social housing. The prospect of building social housing however, is unclear. About 50-60 houses in Bata neighbourhood were destroyed in 1999-2000. Local leaders told the ERRC that after huge pressure exercised by them, 10 houses were rebuilt.
In Gjakovë/Đakovica, the Colonia neighbourhood is home to about 117 RAE families. According to Nexhip Qehaja, none of the families have property ownership documents although the people had been living there for several decades. The families in this neighbourhood, located near the city dump site, live in extremely substandard conditions – in dilapidated houses of one or two rooms with over 10 individuals crammed into one room; there is no sewage; many families do not have electricity and running water; children play on the dumpsite, while their elderly siblings and parents collect food leftovers, tin cans and other garbage to sell in order to buy food. The municipality reportedly refuses to undertake any infrastructure projects in the neighbourhood because it is planning to remove the RAE families from there. Around 10 houses in the neighbourhood are destroyed. Some houses are empty and a number of families have moved to live there. There is fear and panic that when the owners of the empty houses return many people would have no place to go. Similar is the situation in Sefës neighbourhood, which is home to around 3,000 people. Some of the families in this neighbourhood have contract for purchase of land which however, are invalid and not recognised by the municipality.
Continuous Intimidation and Harassment
A sense that they live in a state of danger and precariousness remains very high among RAE in Kosovo. Many RAE told the ERRC that it was hard to believe that ethnic violence would not erupt again, particularly after the experiences of March 2004. In the event of such violence, RAE told the ERRC that they did not believe they would be effectively protected. The largest non-Serbian community which was subjected to a violent arson attack in March 2004 – some 70 Ashkali families from Vushtrri/Vučitrn – is now outside Kosovo or in internal displacement inside and outside Kosovo. According to Hamid Zymeri, one of the few individuals who returned to Vushtrri/ Vučitrn in April 2005, after the burned houses were rebuilt, only six Ashkali families returned. Over 50 newly built houses are reportedly currently empty. Mr Zymeri himself described his life in Vushtrri/ Vučitrn after the pogroms as "home-prison".16
The ERRC met RAE individuals who noted a general decline in the number violent racist attacks taking place. Most persons with whom we spoke, however, described a situation of numerous invisible barriers which RAE are afraid to cross: people do not leave their neighbourhoods in the dark; do not travel alone; fear of retaliation deters many from reporting human rights violations cases to police or other authorities. Verbal harassment and intimidation have been described as routine practices. A number of recent racist assaults on RAE individuals were also reported to the ERRC. According to the testimony of a RAE representative in the Plemetina IDP camp, a day or two before May 6, 2005, Ramiz Ĺ abani, 16-year old boy from the camp, was attacked by Kosovo Albanians outside the camp.
The boy, who was riding a bicycle, was reportedly knocked down by several people and beaten. About a week later another youth from the camp had been allegedly intimidated by Kosovo Albanians in the vicinity of the camp who told him that they would deal with him when he goes out of the camp.
In another instance, according to the testimony of a RAE community leader in Shtimje/Stimlje, on an unspecified date in 2004, Gazmend Jakupi, 21, from the same town, was beaten by a group of Albanians. Gazmend, together with another RAE youth, was walking through an Albanian quarter where a large group of people had gathered for a funeral ceremony. The two youths were reportedly physically attacked by the group. The ERRC was not able to meet Gazmend Jakupi, who had reportedly left Kosovo in April 2005.
In Prishtinë/Priština, the ERRC spoke with Agim Stolla, 51, whose twenty-year old son Mexhit Stolla, was reportedly attacked and beaten by a group of 15-16 Kosovo Albanians in mid-April 2005. The boy sustained light injuries in the head and the body. The incident took place not far away from a place where the boy used to sell empty Coca-Cola cans. According to the testimony of Mr. Stolla, the boy had been intimidated several times by the people and these eventually attacked him. He stated that he believed the attack was racially-motivated. The incident was reported to the police, however Mr Stola told the ERRC that since he knew the parents of some of the attackers, he did not want to press charges. At a meeting with some of the parents of the attackers and the police, he stated that he forgave the perpetrators. Mr Stolla also told the ERRC that the police requested from him the X-ray of his son taken after the attack, as well as his medical certificate in order to make copies. He provided these, but these documents had not been returned to him as of May 28, 2005, when the ERRC spoke with him.
In Prizren, according to the testimony of Admir Paličko, an activist of Initiative 6 Romani nongovernmental organisation, a Romani youth Ramo Mandinki, 17, was attacked by Albanians and hit with the handle of a shovel around May 26, 2005. The man reported the case to the police and was allegedly told that if the he had more problems with the individuals who attacked him, they would be put in prison. According to Osman Osmani, leader of the Initiative 6 NGO, Romani children are often harassed and chased away by Albanian children from a sports facility in the town where the Roma go to play football. According to Mr Osmani, many Roma are afraid to walk in the streets of the town at dark.
Security concerns, especially in the case of Romani families, continue to pose obstacles for the integration of Romani children in education. According to Ms Shpresa Agushi, Romani children in Gjilan/Gnjilane, most of whom speak Serbian, are reportedly afraid to attend the Serbian school in the town fearing problems with Albanians. Some 90 Romani children attend a separate Roma-only school organised for them in Abdullah Presheva neighbourhood. The school was organised in private houses starting from February 2000. In the period 2000-2003, however, many Romani children did not attend any school. Romani children who lived outside Abdullah Presheva neighbourhood were reportedly not provided with an escort to the improvised school in the neighbourhood. They did not go to the Serbian school either being afraid to be seen attending a Serbian school by their Albanian neighbours.
Marginalisation in Public Life
RAE are underrepresented in elected positions and have a token participation in civil service. There are three members of parliament and four members of the municipal assemblies. Inadequate participation of RAE in public administration apparently affects the communities' access to financial resources available from the municipal budgets. Many RAE representatives with whom the ERRC spoke, claimed that RAE receive disproportionately low portions of the municipal funds from the so called Fair-Share Financing mechanism – a special budget allocated proportionately to the percentage of all minorities in each municipality. The major portion of this budget reportedly goes to other minorities. The distribution of the funds is done on the basis of projects submitted by the municipal community offices. The budget is then approved by the Board of Directors of the municipality. Usually, RAE are symbolically represented in the board or not presented at all. For example, in Pejë/Pec out of 12 directors of the various departments, only one is RAE.
Although the UN Standards on Kosovo require that each municipality which has a non- Albanian majority should involve representatives of the non-Albanian minorities, some municipalities are still reluctant to do so in the case of RAE. For example, in Giljan/Gnilane, where there are about 500 Roma, the only Romani representative in the office for communities is reportedly not paid by the municipality but by an NGO. All other minority representatives in that office are reportedly paid by the municipality. In some instances there are major discrepancies between the proportion of the RAE minority in a given municipality and the number of their representatives in comparison to other minorities. According to information provided by Mr Osman Osmani, leader of the Prizren-based non-governmental organisation Initiative 6, about 5,500 RAE in the Prizren municipality have one representative in the municipal office for communities, while about 270 Serbs have two representatives.
In a recent interview with the ERRC, Mr Nowicki, Ombudsperson of Kosovo, stated that "There are no conditions for long-term security in the province."17 With regard to the actual and expected forced returns of RAE from a number of European countries, his comment was as follows: "The answer to the question whether Kosovo is prepared to accept people is 'no'."18 The Ombudsperson's concerns, expressed also in open calls to western European governments to suspend deportations of RAE to Kosovo, as well as the ERRC findings presented in this Memorandum, stand in contrast to the recent UNMIK report to the Council of Europe on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the provisions of which are directly applicable to Kosovo. The report presents very significant understatements and other distortions and omissions about the past, as well as about and ongoing abuses against RAE communities. What it has to say about the rights of RAE is reduced to a list of the geographic locations with RAE communities, compounded with explanations that the "withdrawal of the Yugoslav forces triggered not only movement of the Serb population but also the departure of Kosovo Roma." Most notably, in its special section entitled "Incidents of ethnically motivated violence in Kosovo, June 1999 - April 2005", the report fails to mention even a single incident of the series of violent crimes committed against RAE after the end of the NATO intervention.19 The absence of any information about past, current or future investigations and prosecutions of the massive wave of ethnically-motivated crimes committed against RAE in this period is indicative of current priorities for Kosovo: no matter what the factual situation on the ground may be, authorities there will describe it in the most positive possible terms, because they are under pressure from Western governments to allow the expulsion of minorities to Kosovo, and to move quickly toward "final status" for Kosovo.20
The ERRC deplores the lack of an impartial and objective presentation of the persistent human rights violations in the UNMIK report, as well as other, similar information being made available now. The corruption of UN authorities, as indicated by these developments, into instruments in the service of whitewashing the human rights situation in Kosovo, is among the saddest chapters chapters in the development of events in Kosovo, events which today as yet appear to have few prospects for resolution.
Forced returns of RAE in the past several years, especially from countries such as Germany, Sweden, and Italy have never ceased. Most recently, on April 26, 2005, the German state and the UNMIK made the so called "Agreed Note" according to which between 300-500 Ashkalis and Egyptians will be forcefully returned per month from Germany to Kosovo by the end of 2005. Regarding Romani communities, the Note says: "In view of expected improvements of the situation of Roma in Kosovo, UNMIK agrees to the possibility of allowing the return of criminal offenders of the Roma community who have been sentenced to imprisonment for at east 2 years or to several prison sentences amounting to a total of at least 2 years and who are not in need of protection."21
Given the apparent failure of the UNMIK and the Provisional Institutions of Kosovo government to guarantee access of RAE to fundamental rights on a non-discriminatory basis, the forced returns are bound to provoke a wave of catastrophic human rights deprivation.
The threats to the human rights of the forced returnees are reinforced by the fact that they are apparently not entitled to any aid upon their repatriation. The ERRC met a number of forced returnees, experiencing serious obstacles to access fundamental rights: they had no employment and social aid and were relying on aid from relatives; some of them had no access to their houses; children did not speak the languages spoken in Kosovo and could not attend school. For example, Mr Sadri Ramadani, 47, together with his wife and two children, was returned from Sweden to Belgrade on March 26, 2005. Mr Ramadani's request for permanent residence in Sweden was rejected, despite evidence that his wife and daughter had undergone serious post-traumatic disorders and were treated in psychiatric hospital in Sweden. Mr Ramadani went to Kosovo, in Gjilan/Gnjilane, where he originates and where some of his relatives still live. At the time of the ERRC interview with him, Mr Ramadani did not have access to his own house, which had been illegally occupied. Mr Ramadani's son, Arben Ramadani, 13, reportedly spoke only Romani and Swedish, and could not attend Serbian or Albanian schools for that reason (education in Romani language is unavailable in Kosovo).22 In another case, Mr I.H., was deported with his family from Germany on December 9, 2004 to Podujevë/o. Mr I.H. has a 12-year old daughter born in Germany, who went to school in Germany and reportedly spoke little Albanian. The girl suffered serious trauma upon return to Kosovo and the whole family left Kosovo to go to Novi Sad, Serbia and Montenegro, shortly after their return, to plan their departure to an EU country.23
Forced returnees increasingly will have to rely on the Kosovo authorities to settle their lives back in Kosovo. According to the UNMIK Office for Returns and Communities, UNMIK is currently transferring responsibilities to and building capacity of the Provisional Institutions of the Kosovo government to deal with returns. It is unclear how long this process will take. Even if such mechanisms are in place, however, the persistence of high levels of anti-Gypsy sentiment, the widespread discrimination against RAE, compounded by lack of functioning safeguards against discrimination, as well as the almost total absence of rule of law in Kosovo today, render virtually impossible the integration of RAE minorities in the Kosovo society in the near future.
In view of the present human rights situation of the RAE communities in Kosovo, the ERRC urges 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.
- Detailed documentation of the crimes committed against Roma, Ashkalis and Egyptians in that period is available from: http://www.errc.org/Archivum_index.php.
- The ERRC is grateful to Ms. Frederika Sumelius, for her voluntary assistance accompanying the May-June 2005 ERRC field research mission in Kosovo.
- ERRC interview, May 30, 2005, Prishtinë/Pri?tina.
- See Report Submitted by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Pursuant to Article 2.2. of the Agreement Between UNMIK and the Council of Europe related to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, Strasbourg June 2, 2005, p. 4.
- Document on file with the ERRC.
- Document on file with the ERRC.
- ERRC interviews, May 26, 2005, Plemetina camp.
- ERRC interviews, May 28, 2005, Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje.
- ERRC interview, June 2, 2005, Gjakovë/?akovica.
- ERRC interviews, June 4, 2005, Gjilan/Gnjilane.
- ERRC interview, June 4, 2005, Gjilan/Gnjilane.
- ERRC interview with D.N., June 1, 2005, Pejë/Pec.
- ERRC interview, May 31, 2005, Prizren.
- ERRC interview, June 1, 2005, Pejë/Pec.
- ERRC interview, June 1, 2005, Gjakovë/?akovica.
- ERRC interview, May 29, 2005, Vushtrri/ Vu?itrn.
- ERRC interview, June 3, 2005, Prishtinë/Pri?tina.
- ERRC interview, June 3, 2005, Prishtinë/Pri?tina.
- See Report Submitted by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Pursuant to Article 2.2. of the Agreement Between UNMIK and the Council of Europe related to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, Strasbourg June 2, 2005, p. 76-84.
- The records of a German Interior Ministers meeting of November 2004, leaked to the ERRC, is indicative of what kinds of pressures UN authorities in Kosovo are under. The meeting concludes with a resolution to recommend that the German Foreign Ministry be urged to proceed quickly to final status negotiations for Kosovo, so large numbers of expulsions to Kosovo may proceed.
- Document on file with the ERRC.
- ERRC interview, June 4, 2005, Gjilan/Gnjilane.
- ERRC telephone interview with Mr I.H., May 29, 2005, Prishtinë/Pri?tina and interviews with his relatives, May 29, 2005, Podujevë/o.