MINELRES: ERRC: Victims of Kosovo Poisoning Bring Lawsuit at European Court of Human Rights
Fri Feb 24 17:57:08 2006
Original sender: European Roma Rights Centre <email@example.com>
Roma Seek Justice Internationally After Complete Failure by United
Nations to Prevent or Remedy Extreme Environmental Harms
20 February 2006: Budapest, Hungary. The European Roma Rights Centre
filed today an application with the European Court of Human Rights in
Strasbourg on behalf of 184 Romani residents of camps for Internally
Displaced Persons (IDPs) in northern Kosovo.
In 1999, the camps were built on land known to be highly contaminated.
Although the camps were intended as temporary housing for victims of the
1999 looting and burning of the Romani settlement in southern Mitrovica,
today they continue to exist under the United Nations supervision,
despite known and documented extreme health hazards arising from toxic
The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has known of the scale of
the health emergency since as early as 2000, when the World Health
Organization (WHO) issued its first report analyzing the effects of lead
pollution on the Mitrovica region. The report found that all children
and most adults living around the industrial site had blood lead
concentrations exceeding the permitted limits. Specifically, the
researchers found higher than average lead concentrations among the
Roma, as compared with the non-Romani population. By October 2004, the
WHO had declared the area in and around the IDP camps uninhabitable,
issuing a report that revealed that the soil in Zitkovac camp was 100.5
times above recommended levels, while in the Cesmin Lug camp, the levels
exceeded by 359.5 times those considered safe for human health.
A WHO analysis of numerous studies has shown that increases in blood
from 10 to 20 micrograms/deciliter (µg/dl) were associated with a
decrease of 2.6 IQ points. In 2004, WHO sampled 58 children living in
the IDP camps, of whom 34 were found to have above acceptable blood lead
levels. None of the Romani children sampled had a blood lead level below
10 µg/dl. Twelve of the Roma children were found to have exceptionally
high levels, with six of them possibly falling within the range
described by the United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry ("ATSDR") as constituting a medical emergency (=>70µg/dl). At
the time of the report, in the summer of 2004, the WHO recommended
urgent action for the twelve children mentioned above, including
immediate diagnostic testing, aggressive environmental interventions and
ongoing evaluation according to ATSDR guidelines. They did not receive
that treatment. By October 2004, the WHO recommended the immediate
removal from the camps of children and pregnant women and called the
case of the Roma "urgent". They were not removed, save for a few women,
for two days.
On 19 October 2005, the Society for Threatened Peoples of Goettingen,
Germany, brought Dr. Klaus-Dietrich Runow to Kosovo to test for toxic
heavy metals in the three IDP camps near Mitrovica. Hair samples were
collected from 48 children between the ages of 1-15. The readings range
from 20 to 1200 µg/g while "normal" readings would be in the range 3-15.
In spite of the volume of evidence indicating the extreme harms to the
inhabitants of the camps caused by their continued residence there, the
Roma concerned have still not been moved to a safe place after 6 years.
The application to the European Court of Human Rights alleges violations
of the right to life (Article 2), prohibition of torture and inhuman or
degrading treatment (Article 3), right to a fair hearing (Article 6),
right to respect for private and family life (Article 8), right to an
effective remedy (Article 13), and discrimination (Article 14). In
addition, the application asks for interim measures or emergency action
due to the immediate need for removal of the victims from the
lead-contaminated camps and medical treatment.
The application is filed against UNMIK as the acting government or
"state" in Kosovo. While UNMIK has granted itself immunity in Kosovo and
the UN has certain immunities, the situation in Kosovo is unique and
calls for an examination of the application of immunity in terms of
international human rights norms. In this specific case, UNMIK has
accepted that the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights
and Fundamental Freedoms applies to it and that it will abide by it. The
UN has also accepted that international human rights laws apply to
United Nations officials in the course of UN operations. The UN has
legal personality and the concomitant rights and responsibilities that
go with that. The right to life and the right to freedom from torture
are universal norms, jus cogens, from which no derogation is permitted.
These obligations apply to States as well as organizations and
individuals. No one is exempt from universal norms.
In Kosovo, UNMIK is acting not only as an international organization,
but also as a surrogate state authority. It administers the territory,
enters into international contracts, appoints judges, and makes law. As
the "government" it cannot avail itself of wholesale immunity but
rather, as every sovereign, must be answerable for its conduct under the
law. Further, human rights flow to individuals, not to States. Residents
of Kosovo are citizens of Serbia and Montenegro, a party to the
Convention. At present, however, the authorities of Serbia and
Montenegro do not have authority over the territory of Kosovo, and thus
their ability to guarantee implementation of the Convention on the
territory of Kosovo is limited. Individuals in Kosovo cannot be denied
their human rights because a different government is in charge.
While ERRC has attempted to resolve the matter locally, this has to date
proven fruitless. As a result, the victims have turned today to Europe's
premiere human rights tribunal, seeking justice and due remedy for the
extreme harms they have suffered.
As the clients stated in a public appeal issued on 3 February 2006, "We
ask to be relocated to a safe place for survival and medical treatment.
We ask for safe and humane living conditions for those in all IDP
For further information on the case, please contact Dianne Post, Legal
Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 36 1 413 2226, mobile 36 20 935
The European Roma Rights Centre is an international public interest law
organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal
defence in cases of human rights abuse. For more information about the
European Roma Rights Centre, visit the ERRC on the web at
European Roma Rights Centre
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Phone: +36 1 4132200
Fax: +36 1 4132201
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