European Roma Rights Centre Presses for Criminal Charges Related to Extreme Harms in Northern Kosovo

01 February 2006

The European Roma Rights Centre filed a request on 2 September 2005 for criminal investigation into the continued danger to human life being caused by the placement and retention of approximately 550 Roma people in three camps contaminated by lead poisoning in Northern Mitrovica, Kosovo.

In 1999, following the cessation of military action by NATO against Yugoslavia, Roma and others regarded as "Gypsies" in Kosovo were ethnically cleansed by ethnic Albanians. In Mitrovica, while KFOR units looked on, mobs of ethnic Albanians took the Romani quarter to pieces, chased out local inhabitants, and plundered wholesale their possessions. Those Roma who did not escape Kosovo to other countries or to Serbia and Montenegro were placed in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), Chesmin Lug, Kablare and Zitkovac. At the time, this arrangement was purportedly supposed to last for 45 days. It was known at the time that these camps were in toxic areas, situated near the tailings of the Trepca mine complex. More than 6 years later, the Roma concerned are still living at the contaminated sites.

In 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) undertook a report on the issue, noting extremely high levels of lead in the bloodstreams of a number of camp residents. The WHO recommended to UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) officials, that the Roma be immediately evacuated. No action was taken. In July 2004, WHO again tested a number of persons and subsequently stated that there was now a medical emergency and recommended immediate evacuation. In spite of a number of expressions of goodwill by UNMIK officials, the Roma are still there today.

At least one death – that of Dzenita Mehmeti, a 2-year-old child – can be directly attributed to the lead contamination. The deaths of several other persons living in the camps may also have been caused by toxicity arising from heavy metals in the camps. The health consequences of lead poisoning are severe, and the harms suffered by the remaining several hundred camp inhabitants mount daily.

The complaint filed by the ERRC under Article 291(5) of the Provisional Criminal Code of Kosovo asks for the general prosecutor to identify any culpable persons and to bring criminal charges against them. If the perpetrators are international personnel who have immunity, then immunity must be lifted in order to bring justice to those who have suffered from these criminal acts. A copy of the complaint is available at:


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