MINELRES: ERRC/ENAR/ERIO Joint Statement: Roma Rights in Kosovo

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Mon Sep 26 08:13:21 2005


Original sender: European Roma Rights Centre <errc@errc.org>


Joint Statement to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in
Europe Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, 19-30 September 2005: 
Human Rights 

Situation of Roma in Kosovo

Warsaw, 19 September 2005.      
Three organizations today presented at a meeting of the Organization for
Security and Co-operation in Europe
(OSCE), convened in Warsaw, a statement detailing the need for justice
for Roma in Kosovo, where despite six years of United Nations
administration, extreme abuses prevail. The European Roma Rights Centre
(ERRC), European Network Against Racism (ENAR) and European Roma
Information Office (ERIO) tabled a document urging the international
community to end the impunity for ethnic cleansing of Roma in Kosovo and
to bring the perpetrators to justice. The statement also describes very
worrying developments in the northern town of Mitrovica, where
authorities have failed to date to move approximately six hundred
displaced Roma currently living on a toxic waste site. The statement was
brought before the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, an
annual event addressing human rights concerns in the OSCE region. The
full text of the joint statement follows:

It is now more than six years since the summer of 1999, when, in the
wake of the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, the entry of NATO
troops into the province, and the establishment of UN administration
there,
ethnic Albanians chased Serbs and Roma from their homes in Kosovo, using
methods including torture in impromptu detention, rape, arson, targeted
killings, and pervasive threats of mass violence. NATO troops looked on
as mobs took to pieces Romani settlements in many cases several hundreds
of years old, and plundered the possessions of the inhabitants
wholesale.

For a number of years following the events which began in June 1999,
Kosovo was a place where houses belonging to minorities regularly burned
down; where the foundations of houses intended for minority returns
exploded in the middle of the night; where violence and threats of
violence against persons regarded as "Gypsies" were the norm; and where
in general it was made known that minorities viewed as "collaborators"
with the previous regime were not welcome.

NATO action against the former Yugoslavia was justified by human rights
reasons; it was feared that, in undertaking "Operation Horseshoe" in
Kosovo, Serbian forces aimed at a repeat of the massacres and other
extreme abuses carried out by the Milosevic regime and its allies in
Bosnia.  Today, Kosovo is again under discussion, but not for human
rights reasons. Rather, whispers of "final status" are heard in the
halls of power. Other priorities around the globe have come to take
precedent over resolving the very serious problems there.

Where Roma, Ashkalia, Egyptians, and others regarded as "Gypsies" are
concerned, Kosovo is a human rights vacuum. Roma and others regarded as
"Gypsies" were a late human rights priority of the international
community, and have never been viewed as meriting action on the scale of
previous human rights actions in Kosovo. Justice in matters related to
the ethnic cleansing and other serious human rights violations affecting
these groups has been denied and/or severely delayed.

In brief sketch, seen through the prism of Roma rights, this is Kosovo
today:

- Ethnic Cleansing Not Yet Remedied: Roma, Ashkalia, Egyptians (RAE) and
others regarded as "Gypsies" continue to be denied access to just remedy
and due compensation for the violent crimes committed against them in
the years which followed NATO action against Yugoslavia. In most cases,
the perpetrators of such crimes have not been brought to justice. The
ethnic cleansing of the RAE remains almost totally unremedied. Efforts
to provide real possibilities for individuals to return to pre-ethnic
cleansing property in safety and dignity have yet to provide
significant, durable results.

- Racially Motivated Violence and Threats of Further Violence: After
several years during which UN officials and others assured the public
that the worst violence in Kosovo was over, the renewal of mass violence
against 
minorities in Kosovo in March 2004 demonstrated that there are no
effective barriers against the forces in Kosovo intent on expelling
non-Albanian minorities. 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, Ashkalia
and Egyptians in Kosovo today live in a state of pervasive fear,
nourished by routine intimidation and verbal harassment as well as by
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 that there has
been no justice delivered in connection with the massive wave of violent
crimes committed against them, and because the persons primarily
responsible for these crimes are the new powers in Kosovo.

- Systemic and Pervasive Racial Discrimination: Roma, Ashkalia,
Egyptians and others regarded as "Gypsies" in Kosovo are subjected to
exclusion and marginalisation as a result of systematic racial
discrimination. Discrimination against RAE in the field of 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.  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 above matters have been significantly complicated by the United
Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the fact of
immunity from prosecution  and therefore for true accountability for
members of
the administration. These issues are evident in the matters leading to
ERRC filing, on September 2 of this year, a request for criminal
investigation into the long-term exposure to lead poisoning of hundreds
of displaced Roma in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica:

In June and July 1999, while NATO units looked on, mobs of ethnic
Albanians destroyed the Romani quarter on the south side of the River
Ibar in Mitrovica, chased out local inhabitants, and stole massive
quantities of their possessions. Those Roma who did not flee Kosovo to
other countries were placed in camps for internally displaced persons in
Northern Mitrovica, called Chesmin Lug, Kablare and Zitkovac
respectively. At the time, this arrangement was purportedly supposed to
last for 45 days.  It was known that these camps were in highly toxic
areas, situated near the tailings of the Trepca mine complex. In the
intervening years, security concerns  meaning the failure by any
authority to guarantee that persons returning to the quarter would not
be violently attacked  precluded return to the Romani quarter. There
have been persistent rumours that the mayor of Mitrovica desired to
develop the property and had no intention of assisting with the return
of the Roma to their homes. Evidently, no action by any authority has
garnered sufficient energy to see the Roma return to their homes in
safety and dignity, and to see those homes rebuilt. Today, more than 6
years later, the Roma 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 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.

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

In November 2004, the ERRC sent a letter to officials calling attention
to the situation and urging immediate action. To date, despite
expressions of good will, most of the persons concerned continue to live
in the three toxic camps. On September 2, 2005, the ERRC and local
counsel submitted a criminal complaint on the matter with the Kosovo
Public Prosecutor's office. Previously, in July 2005, the ERRC sent a
letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, urging him to lift immunity
for any persons culpable of crimes as a result of the negligent or
malicious failure to move these several hundred Roma out of areas which
seriously threaten their lives. To date that letter remains unanswered.

One matter has remained consistent throughout the episode: the Roma
concerned have been excluded from participation in decision-making about
their future. UN officials have repeatedly taken decisions without
adequate consultation with the Roma. Full information concerning the
health risks posed in the camps has not been provided.

Today, as discussions concerning a final status for Kosovo proceed, the 
issue of exclusion of Roma from participation in decision-making in
Kosovo threatens to become magnified to the international level: it is
not clear how, if at all, Roma, Ashkalia and Egyptians will be included
in talks concerning Kosovo-s future. In this regard, the organisations
named above note that the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF), a
high-level pan-European consortium of Romani representatives, has
recently addressed a letter to UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, urging
him to ensure that RAE representatives are fully included in discussions
of matters related to Kosovo's future.

Indeed, to the extent external powers have been involved in matters
related to Kosovo and Roma, these have frequently been to work with
UNMIK officials to forcibly expel Roma from western European countries.
Leading in this matter is Germany, which, following talks with UNMIK
officials on April 25 and 26, 2005, concluded an agreement with UNMIK on
the "forced return" of certain categories of persons regarded as
"Gypsies" and therefore targeted for attack or other exclusionary
treatment in Kosovo. A number of countries in Europe have indicated that
they follow Germany's approach on these matters, in part because persons
threatened with forced expulsion from Germany may flee to other
countries. The message now being sent to UNMIK officials and others
locally is that human rights issues in the province may now be secondary
to the requirement to forcibly return persons to Kosovo.

At issue now are:
- Tens of thousands of persons still in Kosovo, either in their place of
origin or displaced within the province, including approximately 600
Roma living daily in inhumane conditions in Northern Mitrovica on land
that is killing them and their children;
- Tens of thousands of persons displaced in rump Serbia and Montenegro,
living in extreme conditions and in a very large number of cases
excluded from one or more goods and services required for the
realisation of fundamental human rights, including goods and services
such as employment education, housing, health care and social support;
this number of persons reportedly grows, as Roma are expelled from other
countries and, unable to settle in other countries, flee to Serbia and
Montenegro;
- Approximately 2000 de facto refugees in Macedonia whom the Macedonian
government to date has refused to provide any form of durable status and
who therefore live under permanent threat of forced expulsion from the
country;
- A number of hundreds of Romani refugees from Kosovo in other countries
of the former Yugoslavia, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina;
- Tens of thousands of persons displaced throughout Western Europe,
under regular and permanent threat of forced expulsion to Kosovo.

The organisations joining this statement urge the following minimum
measures:

- 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.

- 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;

- Without any further delay, the inhabitants of camps for internally
displaced persons in and around Mitrovica are evacuated from their
highly toxic environs; in the very near term, return to their homes in
the Mitrovica settlement is facilitated and adequate funding made
available for the reconstruction of their houses; security is guaranteed
by relevant authorities and all relevant infrastructure provided; long
term health care is made available, such that the effects of the extreme
toxicity to which they have been exposed for long periods of time can be
ameliorated, to the best extent possible; all persons concerned are
involved in discussion of decisions taken about them, and compensation
is provided for the harms already suffered.

- 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 and violence for all in all parts of the province.

_____________________________________________

The European Network against Racism (ENAR), a network of European NGOs 
working to combat racism in all the EU member states, is a major outcome
of the 1997 European Year Against Racism. ENAR is determined to fight
racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, to promote equality
of treatment between EU citizens and third country nationals, and to
link local/regional/national initiatives with European initiatives.

ENAR, European Network Against Racism
43 rue de la Charite
B-1210 Brussels,
Belgium
Tel: +32-2-229 35 73
Fax: +32-2-229 35 75

The European Roma Information Office (ERIO) was founded in 2003 with the 
aim to establish and maintain a Romani presence in Brussels. ERIO aims
to contribute to the political and public discussions surrounding Roma
by providing factual and in-depth information in order to counteract
discrimination and exclusion which the Romani communities have been
suffering from for centuries and to contribute to their equal
representation and participation in political decision-making. Further 
information about ERIO is available at www.erionet.org.

European Roma Information Office
Av.Eduard Lacomble 17
Brussels
Belgium
Tel + 32 27333462
Fax +32 27333875

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) is an international public
interest law organization engaging in a range of activities aimed at
combating anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma, in
particular strategic litigation, international advocacy, research and
policy development, and training of Romani activists. For more
information about the European Roma Rights Centre, visit the ERRC
website at http://www.errc.org.

European Roma Rights Centre
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Hungary
Tel.: ++ (36 1) 413 2200
Fax: ++ (36 1) 413
2201

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