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Kosovo Assembly warned to ensure minority rights or risk further segregation

25 October 2004

As elections for a Kosovo Assembly are hailed a success by United Nations officials the situation regarding minorities, minority rights and security remains ‘bleak’ in the province which has been under UN administration since June 1999. A low turn out of minority voters including Kosovo Serbs, many of whom felt intimidated and afraid to vote, or were urged to stay away by Serb leaders, highlights persistent problems that must be urgently addressed to ensure a stable future. ‘The overall situation of minority rights in Kosovo remains the worst in Europe, with persons still afraid to speak their mother tongue on the street’, stated Minority Rights Group International (MRG).

Addressing recent ethnic tension and violence in Kosovo, MRG Head of International Advocacy, Clive Baldwin stated: ‘We would ask all the states involved in UNMIK and KFOR to ensure that a clear and public understanding is reached as to why, after 5 years of international administration, what amounted to organized ethnic cleansing took place in March. ‘Many members of minorities have said that international peacekeepers told them in March that they could not protect them, only assist them to evacuate’.

Fewer than 1% of eligible Serbs cast a vote in the elections, highlighting the deep insecurities and divisions that persist in the province. MRG suggests that part of the problem stems from a lack of understanding of minority rights in Kosovo by those in power, both local and international. Much could be achieved through rigorous application of the international standards and understanding of how they have been applied in similar situations elsewhere in Europe. MRG has further warned on the recent promotion of the idea of ‘decentralization’ as a solution to the minority problems. According to MRG there is a real danger that without an understanding and implementation of minority rights, this will lead to a further entrenchment of the segregation of Kosovo into Albanian and Serb areas.

‘This recalls the mistakes made in 1999 when a ‘temporary’ acceptance of ethnic division was thought to be necessary but has proved to be permanent’, suggest Baldwin. ‘Accepting segregation ignores the experience of the rest of Europe where the only solution to inter-ethnic conflict has been integration with diversity and the elimination of discriminatory practices’, he stated. ‘Even worse, such an Albanian-Serb division ignores all the other vulnerable minorities in Kosovo’.

MRG’s key recommendation to the new Kosovo Assembly and all those involved in Kosovo is that minority rights, not decentralization, are placed at the forefront of dealing with the current situation. In particular MRG urges speedy implementation of non-discrimination laws. MRG has also highlighted the situation of often overlooked minorities, including the Roma, Turks, Bosniaks, Gorani, Ashkaelia and Egyptians, who would feel under particular threat in any ethnic division of Kosovo.

Addressing the recent OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, MRG paid tribute to some of the work of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo in promoting minority rights, particularly in promoting the passing of an Anti-Discrimination law. MRG suggests that the situation in Kosovo would greatly benefit from the experience and expertise of the OSCE, Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities. MRG urges all member states of the OSCE to promote the involvement of this office in Kosovo.

Notes for editors

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].