UN Human Rights Committee Reviews Kosovo

24 March 2006

ERRC Provides Detailed Comments on Human Rights Situation of Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians and Other Persons Regarded as “Gypsies”

Budapest, New York. Today, the United Nations Human Rights Committee reviews in closed session a report by the Task Forces on UNMIK, the UN interim administration in Kosovo.

In the run-up to the review, the ERRC sent detailed comments on the human rights situation of Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians (“RAE”) and other persons regarded as “Gypsies” in Kosovo, based on ERRC monitoring and field research into the situation of Roma in Kosovo. These include media monitoring during the period 1997-present, intensive field missions in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2005, as well as six months of durable field presence in 2000. The ERRC also testified before Committee members and answered questions prior to today's review.

The ERRC submission focuses on the following issues:

Following the cessation of NATO action against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in June 1999 and the subsequent return of predominantly ethnic Albanians from abroad, ethnic Albanians violently expelled approximately four fifths of Kosovo's pre-1999 Romani population -- estimated to have been around 120,000 -- from their homes. Abuses documented include killings of Roma by ethnic Albanians; abduction and illegal detention of Roma by ethnic Albanians; torture, beating and other physical abuse; rape; expulsions of Roma from homes and communities; house burnings; forced labour; forced entry into Romani houses; and confiscation of houses and other property. RAE and others considered “Gypsies” in Kosovo today live in a state of pervasive fear, nourished by routine intimidation and verbal harassment, as well as by periodic racist assaults. Following systemic violence in 1999, under UNMIK administration, persistent threats and impunity for perpetrators are the norm. There is now a permanent, persistent and pervasive threat of anti-minority, including anti-RAE violence in Kosovo in the context of possible independence or altered status for Kosovo. Despite more than six and a half years of UN administration, there has been no effective effort by any authority in Kosovo to disarm extremists.

RAE have been placed by UN authorities in camps for internally displaced persons ("IDP") in the towns of Zitkovac/Zhikoc, Cesmin Lug/Cesminlukë and Kablare, approximately two kilometers from the Trepca Mines factory complex and situated on highly contaminated land. The World Health Organization ("WHO") has declared a health emergency on the camp grounds. Although the camps were reportedly intended as temporary housing for victims of the 1999 looting and burning of the Romani Mahala settlement in the town of Mitrovica, these camps continue to exist today under UNMIK supervision, despite known and documented health hazards arising from toxic lead contamination. In the more than six years since the camps were established, dozens of inhabitants have fallen ill from lead-related illnesses, and two people, including at least one young child, have died.

RAE are denied the right to compensation for the violent crimes committed against them beginning in June 1999 after the end of the NATO bombing, and continuing in the following years. Efforts to bring the perpetrators of gross human rights abuses against RAE and others have begun late and for the most part have had little success. In all or most of the cases at issue, the perpetrators of these crimes have not been brought to justice to date. In general, the ethnic cleansing of the RAE remains totally unremedied, with the result that RAE are afraid to report incidents of violence because they have plausible reasons to believe they will not be protected against retaliation. Additionally, the court system in Kosovo remains at best only somewhat accessible to the RAE minority.

To date, authorities in Kosovo have failed to ensure the safe and unimpeded return of RAE refugees and displaced persons to their homes in Kosovo. As of now, numerous persons belonging to RAE communities remain in internal displacement inside Kosovo, while tens of thousands of Roma from Kosovo are displaced in rest-Serbia and Montenegro, or are outside these international borders and are refugees (de facto or recognised) in other countries. Some of these persons report that return to their old neighbourhoods would be unsafe and consequently many of these are currently completely deserted. Others are unable to return to their previous homes which have been destroyed and not rebuilt or are now illegally occupied by other persons. Persons belonging to RAE minorities currently in internal displacement live in extremely substandard conditions, including in prefabricated houses inside IDP camps and crowded into houses living with many relatives. In many instances, owners of occupied residential property are afraid to reclaim their property due to intimidation by the occupiers.

RAE in Kosovo face systematic discrimination as a result of widespread antipathy toward persons regarded as “Gypsies” and related forces giving rise to systematic exclusion of RAE individuals and communities. Discrimination apparently plays a very significant role in the exclusion of RAE from employment throughout Kosovo. Although unemployment in Kosovo is generally high, it is close to 100% in many places for RAE minorities. Apart from an insignificant number of individuals who work in civil service and the municipal offices, very few others have permanent employment. Many RAE individuals lack any form of work at all. Kosovo currently has among the most comprehensive and detailed domestic laws banning discrimination – including racial discrimination – to be found anywhere in the world. While Kosovo authorities must be commended for adopting the Anti-Discrimination Law (“ADL”) of September 2004, similar praise is not merited with respect to efforts at implementation of that law: as of late 2005, there were no known efforts to apply the ADL, and no one had been brought to justice under it.

A number of Roma in Kosovo today lack important personal documents and are therefore unable to take advantage of public services necessary for the realization of fundamental human rights, and/or are de facto stateless. Documents at issue include personal identity cards, passports, documents required in order to access the public health system, drivers’ licenses, as well as other personal documents. In addition, in many cases RAE also lack registration documents for their now-destroyed housing or documents of title for land on which they may have factually lived for years or decades, or for housing they may continue to inhabit. Many RAE have never obtained birth certificates, a fact which may trigger failure to secure any form of personal documentation and lead to a phenomenon whereby persons may have literally no administrative existence.

The full text of the ERRC submission is available at: http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=2531.

For further information on the situation of RAE and others regarded as “Gypsies” in Kosovo, please contact the offices of the ERRC.


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