Five Years of Ethnic Cleansing of "Gypsies" from Kosovo
10 June 2004
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the ethnic cleansing of Roma, Ashkaelia, Egyptians and other persons regarded as "Gypsies" from Kosovo. In the wake of 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. In the course of the ethnic cleansing campaign, ethnic Albanians kidnapped Roma and severely physically abused and in some cases killed Roma; raped Romani 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. A number of Romani individuals who disappeared during the summer months of 1999 remain to date missing and are presumed dead.
Today, most Kosovo Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians are refugees outside Kosovo, or are displaced within the province. To date, according to international administrators in Kosovo, not one single person has been brought to justice for anti-Gypsy crimes occurring since 1999 as part of the on-going ethnic cleansing campaign. A number of EU governments have disregarded international arrest warrants for persons wanted in connection with crimes of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
International policy toward Kosovo, endorsed by the UN Security Council specifies that Kosovo must become "a multi-ethnic society where there is democracy, tolerance, freedom of movement and equal access to justice for all people in Kosovo, regardless of their ethnic background." As if to emphasise how far from that target today's Kosovo is, in March of this year, Kosovo's ethnic Albanians redoubled efforts to rid the province of minorities including Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians. During the upsurge in violence, nineteen people were killed, around 4,100 people were forced to leave their homes, and for the most part are currently displaced either in Kosovo itself or in neighbouring Serbia and Montenegro. Around 360 of those forced to flee during recent violence were reportedly Romani or from another group regarded as "Gypsies".
The latest wave of violence in Kosovo brought international media attention to the province. However, even prior to the recent violence, all was not well in Kosovo. The international administrators of Kosovo had not managed to end once and for all grenade attacks and other extreme forms of assault against minorities and their property. The destruction of building sites targeted for minority returns was frequent enough not to be listed as a major crime for the purposes of tracking racially motivated crime. Racial discrimination was then close to total and is still so today. And, as noted above, the organs of justice in Kosovo have been extremely inefficient with respect to bringing to justice those responsible for wholesale ethnic cleansing. At the same time, in an effort to maintain the fiction that all was well in Kosovo, as well as due to intense pressure for returns exercised by a number of governments of EU Member States, international administrators downplayed persistent indications that ethnic Albanians intend an ethnically pure province.
Thus, the events of March 2004 frequently referred to as "renewed violence", are more properly regarded as an intensification of an ethnic cleansing campaign ongoing since June 1999. The ethnic cleansing by ethnic Albanians of Roma, Ashkaelia, Egyptians and others regarded as "Gypsies" from Kosovo is the single biggest catastrophe to befall the Romani community since World War II.
The ERRC urges that:
- Without delay, the security situation of Romani and Ashkaeli communities throughout Kosovo be assessed and measures appropriate to the specific situation of each community, as well as to local community perceptions of the actual and potential risks in the given community, are swiftly undertaken;
- Prompt and impartial investigations into all acts of violence to which Romani, Ashkaeli 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;
- The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia redoubles its efforts to bring to justice individuals guilty of the persecution of Roma, Ashkaelia, Egyptians and other persons regarded as "Gypsies" in Kosovo;
- All governments honour the international warrants for the arrest of a number of persons wanted in connection with crimes of ethnic cleansing occurring in Kosovo;
- Sustained efforts be 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, Ashkaeli or Egyptian individuals to Kosovo 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.
- Any persons factually residing in a host country for a period of five years or longer be provided with real possibilities for integration in the host country if that person so chooses, including by making available the possibility of acquiring the citizenship of the host country.
- Suitable arrangements be made for the recovery of -- or compensation for -- any and all property destroyed or confiscated by force or coercion, including any property sold under conditions of duress.
The international community undertook military action in Kosovo and the rest of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to reverse the "humanitarian emergency" facing ethnic Albanians in early 1999. Failure to reverse the humanitarian emergency facing Roma, Ashkaelia, Egyptians, and also Serbs and other minorities would mean that in practice, NATO acted, with UN Security Council endorsement, in effect to assist ethnic cleansing. The preservation of an international human rights order requires that this status quo be swiftly ended. The ethnic cleansing of Roma, Ashkaelia, Egyptians and others regarded as "Gypsies" from Kosovo cannot stand.