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Kosovo: Failure to protect rights of minorities


Kosovo/Kosova (Serbia and Montenegro): Failure to protect the rights of minorities

The violent clashes in Kosovo in March demonstrate the failure of both domestic and international forces to protect ethnic minorities. Five years after the international community took over control of Kosovo, minorities remain as vulnerable as ever, Amnesty International said today.

Amnesty International's new report Kosovo/Kosova (Serbia and Montenegro)The March Violence: UNMIK and KFOR fail to protect the rights of minority communities focuses on the violent clashes on 17-18 March 2004, which reportedly involved some 51,000 people in 33 violent incidents throughout Kosovo. These events predominantly involved attacks by ethnic Albanians on Kosovo Serbs and some other minority groups. Nineteen people died and over 950 were injured in the violence and there was large-scale destruction of property. Over 4,000 people were forced to flee their homes.

"The high number of people killed and injured shows the lack of a coherent and consistent response to public order incidents on the part of the international community," Amnesty International said.

"The NATO-led international military force (KFOR) and the civilian police (CIVPOL) failed to provide security and public safety for the minority communities. Their units acted with no apparent coordination and with different interpretations of their mandates."

"A civilian command structure for KFOR would help ensure greater accountability for human rights violations committed by KFOR personnel," Amnesty International said.

The report documents in detail a number of incidents including the failure of KFOR troops under German and French command to prevent attacks on the property of minorities. The report also details allegations of complicity and the failure to act by some members of the Kosovo Police Service (KPS) in the arson attack on the Ashkali community in Vucitrn/Vushtrri, resulting in their displacement from their homes.

"Over a thousand people from the Serb and Ashkali communities remain homeless and live in poor conditions as a result of the latest violence in Kosovo. Without the confidence that the UN Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and KFOR will protect them from further attacks, they refuse to be sent back to their homes," Amnesty International said.

Amnesty International is concerned that the problems underlying the inter-ethnic tensions have yet to be resolved:

"UNMIK as well as the authorities of Serbia and Montenegro have failed so far to resolve the fate of the 'disappeared' before, during and after the conflict in 1999. Perpetrators of inter-ethnic violence continue to enjoy impunity."

"The continuing uncertainty over the 'final status' of Kosovo has contributed to the rising inter-ethnic tensions in the last year," Amnesty International said.

Amnesty International calls on:

- UNMIK to bring all of those believed to be responsible for murder, arson and incitement of violence to justice;

- NATO and KFOR to carry out thorough and impartial investigations into the role and actions of French KFOR, German KFOR and the KPS;

- The provisional local authorities to initiate investigations and disciplinary procedures against members of municipal authorities who were either complicit in, or failed to act to prevent the violence;

- EU member states to provide third country asylum protection for members of the Vucitrn Ashkali community and to refrain from the forcible return of members of any minority group to Kosovo.

Background

Since the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1244/1999 of 10 June 1999, Kosovo, while officially remaining part of Serbia and Montenegro, has been administered by the UN Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) with the international military force in Kosovo (KFOR) led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) remaining the sole official military force.

The 17 March violent demonstrations on the bridge dividing the town of Mitrovica/Mitrovice between the predominantly Serbian north and Albanian south were sparked by reports from the previous day that three ethnic Albanian children had drowned in the river Ibar nearby, and that - according to a fourth child who survived - they had jumped into the river to escape an attack by Serbs. No evidence was ever found to substantiate this allegation. Serb communities were also angry about the serious injury of an 18-year-old Serb in a drive-by shooting, reportedly perpetrated by Albanians, and which had already resulted in a series of road-blocks across the main highway.

The violence in Mitrovica, in which seven people were killed and hundreds wounded rapidly spread throughout Kosovo including the capital Pristina/Prishtine and almost every major town. Albanians also attacked the Ashkali community in Vucitrn/Vushtrri resulting in their displacement from their homes. As well, Albanians were forced to flee the Serb majority areas of Northern Mitrovica/Mitrovice and Leposavic/Leposaviq.

Initially Kosovo Albanian politicians with very few exceptions failed to condemn the violence and many instead tacitly justified it or blamed UNMIK and Serbian actions and institutions.

For full text of the report see: Kosovo/Kosova (Serbia and Montenegro) The March Violence: UNMIK and KFOR fail to protect the rights of minority communities (AI Index: EUR 70/16/2004 http://amnesty-news.c.topica.com/maacqyhaa8ePubb0hPub/

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