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The Roma – Kosovo’s forgotten victims

28 March 2004

The recent upsurge in ethnically-based violence in Kosovo has unhappily returned this part of South-East Europe to the world’s headlines. However, attention has been exclusively focused on the Albanian and Serbian communities, ignoring the impact of the violence on all Kosovo’s communities (including the Turks, Bosniaks, Gorani, Ashkaelia and Egyptians), and in particular the most disadvantaged group, the Roma.1

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has received reports of attacks on Roma during the recent violence. In Gnjilane, one of Kosovo’s major towns, Roma allege that their houses were attacked and some burned by organized groups from 17-21 March. According to eye-witness accounts, none of the security forces charged with their protection (the Kosovan and UN police and KFOR, the international peacekeeping force), provided assistance until 20 March, although Roma report that they were helped by some of their Albanian neighbours. By this time at least 50 members of the Roma community had fled into Serbia proper, stating they had lost all hope of living in Kosovo. Similar attacks have been reported elsewhere in Kosovo, again with worrying reports that both Kosovan and international security forces did little to intervene to prevent attacks on minorities.

Such attacks follow a depressingly familiar pattern. During and immediately after the war in Kosovo in the late 1990s, Roma were attacked by both Albanians and Serbs, resulting in thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), and notoriously, the burning of the Roma Quarter in Mitrovica. Today, many of these Roma refugees and IDPs remain confined to camps inside and outside Kosovo with no prospect of returning to a safe and sustainable life. The protection of minorities in Kosovo remains weak due to its status as a UN protectorate. The Council of Europe’s Framework Convention on National Minorities, the only multilateral legally-binding minority rights document in the world, has a well-developed system of monitoring and protection, which is now being applied to Serbia and Montenegro, which ratified the Convention in 2002. However, the confusion over the international status of Kosovo has delayed the application of this monitoring mechanism within the province. It is ironic that the international community, which went to war in Kosovo in 1999 to protect minorities, now appears to be abdicating from its responsibilities to ensure even the physical protection of all the communities.2

MRG calls on the international community and the Kosovo authorities to fulfill their obligations to protect all communities in Kosovo, including the most vulnerable minorities, and ensure that members of minorities can return to their homes. Urgent measures should be taken to ensure the physical protection of minorities and protection of their property from illegal occupation or destruction. Kosovan leaders (particularly Albanian) should publicly condemn all attacks on minorities. Crucially, steps must be taken towards the implementation of European minority rights monitoring mechanisms, and a functioning anti-discrimination law.

Notes to editors

  1. In Kosovo there are three self-identified groups who are sometimes grouped together: the (largely Albanian-speaking) Ashkaelia and Egyptians, and the (largely Serb-speaking) Roma. The Roma are the most disadvantaged of all.
  2. All UN institutions, including peacekeeping missions, are legally bound to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.

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