NINTH ASSESSMENT OF THE SITUATION OF ETHNIC MINORITIES IN KOSOVO
(Period covering September 2001 to April 2002)
- Joint OSCE / UNHCR document -
This, the ninth OSCE/UNHCR joint assessment on the situation of minorities in Kosovo, is published close to the third anniversary of the arrival in Kosovo of UNMIK and KFOR. During that time we have tracked the evolving situation of minorities, stressing the problems that continue to make the day-to-day life of many members of minority communities in Kosovo extremely precarious. This assessment covers a very important period for Kosovo, marked by the transition which began after the 17 November 2001 elections and the resulting establishment of the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG), including a Kosovo Assembly comprised of all ethnic groups as well as an Executive branch. The time period covered was also marked by a declining rate of general criminality and violent crime in Kosovo. It is within this lens that much of the forthcoming analysis will be framed.
The eighth joint assessment noted a gradual decrease in serious security incidents, representing a tentative step towards the overall stabilisation of many minority communities (at least in terms of basic physical security) following previously volatile periods characterised by unrelenting ethnically-motivated violence. The positive trend has continued during the period covered by this assessment. We note a gradual improvement in security with the continued decline in the frequency of serious acts of violence against minorities. However, we also note the continued existence of day-to-day intimidation and harassment, as well as the occasional, if now less frequent, occurrence of extremely violent ethnically-motivated attacks sometimes resulting in loss of life. Minorities continue to be vulnerable to attack, especially when moving outside circumscribed residential areas, even as numbers of incidents are on the decline.
We also look again at what remains a key problem for minorities: freedom of movement. The assessment of the period shows that freedom of movement remains the fundamental issue affecting the ability of minorities to live a normal life, and that the exercise of freedom of movement remains highly restricted due to both the objective security situation, as well as perceptions of security. Without freedom of movement, access to many of the essential services, employment and civil structures continues to be extremely difficult and in many cases impossible. The assessment does note an upward trend in mobility of minorities during this period which, while encouraging, should not be seen as synonymous with general freedom of movement, which will only be realised when any minority can travel to any location, including urban centres, without special escort arrangements and without fear of harassment or violence.
In this context we examine access to essential services and institutions, with an emphasis on the most important of these: the judicial system; education, health and social services; and public services as well as employment. Obstacles to the realisation of property rights, as well as the difficulties minorities have in accessing housing reconstruction assistance, are highlighted as key problems hindering stabilisation of minority communities and return of displaced minorities. With the Assembly Election in November 2001 and development of government structures, we also examine participation in political and civil structures as well as inter-ethnic dialogue.
A particular issue that is addressed, within the context of an emerging self-government in Kosovo, is that of the continued existence and entrenchment of parallel structures, which are becoming increasingly detrimental to ensuring access to essential services for minorities and which, in some cases, are perpetuating the isolation of minority communities. Parallel structures notably exist in the judicial system, education and health, particularly for Serbs, with both UNMIK-recognised structures (ambulantas and schools) as well as structures not approved by UNMIK (Serb courts) supported by the Belgrade authorities and often by international NGOs. Whilst perhaps in some cases (particularly in the health and education sectors) some parallel structures were and may continue to be inevitable as an interim measure due to insecurity and restrictions of freedom of movement, these structures ultimately provide an unsustainable second-class service for minorities and inhibit important forms of inter-ethnic interaction.
The use of parallel structures by minorities distracts attention from what should be the main issue, that is, the urgent need to address the causes of the continued inability of many minorities to fairly access the courts, hospitals, schools, centres for social welfare and other public services. With a decrease in levels of insecurity and increasing levels of mobility, it is important that UNMIK and the PISG, in consultation with all communities, begin to examine moving towards integrated structures that accommodate the needs of all communities and offer services on a non-discriminatory basis. Discrimination is pervasive and requires clear laws and effective remedies and sanctions, particularly through the justice system. Special temporary measures for minorities may be needed, and lessons can be learned from the measures that allowed access for minorities to the civil and political structures, particularly in the election to the Assembly.
With the formation of the PISG, we stress that assessing the situation of minorities requires not simply assessing the problems, but also the responsibility of authorities to right these wrongs and to find solutions. Therefore we look at what UNMIK, KFOR and the PISG have done to address security, freedom of movement, access to services and employment, property rights and civil and political structures, including KFORs actions to reduce static checkpoints.
One welcome development during this period, which should help produce a unified response from the international authorities on the issues described herein, was the formation of the inter-agency Advisory Board on Communities (ABC). In the 8th Minorities Assessment, UNHCR and OSCE recommended that a body should be established to ensure that the SRSG has access to reliable information on the situation of minority communities, to guide him in the exercise of his executive powers after the establishment of the Assembly of Kosovo.  The first meeting of the ABC was held in December 2001.  The ABC is a high-level advisory body whose function is to provide policy guidelines, advice and recommendations to the SRSG on minority stabilisation and integration in Kosovo. The ABC has had a strong start, generating policy directions on priority issues such as minority access to employment and measures required to improve freedom of movement. The ABC has also noted the importance of dialogue with the Kosovo Albanian political leadership in order to obtain a political commitment to minority integration and returns. It is to be hoped that the PISG leadership will place an equal emphasis on minority issues.
This joint assessment provides a more expansive and detailed analysis of the issue of return. Minority return was given increased priority and visibility during the period, with both the first organised returns facilitated by the international community, and the creation of the SRSGs Office of Return and Communities (ORC). Inter-agency efforts to facilitate the small-scale return of displaced minorities through the implementation of multi-sectoral return projects had an important ice-breaking effect. However, the return experiences of 2001 highlighted that facilitating return into an environment where ensuring security necessitates high levels of military protection is not sustainable for larger-scale return. Indeed, although this period witnessed new and unprecedented return initiatives for specific locations, fundamental societal problems (such as lack of inter-ethnic dialogue) and institutional deficiencies (such as lack of implementation of property legislation) continued to be largely neglected. The root causes of insecurity, discrimination and alienation between ethnic groups still remain to be addressed. The fundamental and underlying objective remains to ensure that refugees and IDPs have a free and informed choice about whether or not to return. Creating the option to return for substantial numbers of the displaced will require much more meaningful and broad progress in the main issues addressed in this report, namely: security, freedom of movement, property, essential services, employment, participation in civil and political structures and inter-ethnic dialogue. All actors involved in the return process will need to take particular care to avoid the politicisation of the return issue.
Finally, complementing the analysis of thematic issues covered in the report, we also examine the specific situation of each of the minority communities (including Kosovo Albanians where they are a minority). This analysis continues to show the highly varied experiences of (and within) different ethnic groups, particularly with regard to security and freedom of movement. But the findings also continue to point to common problems which are experienced to greater and lesser extents by all ethnic minorities, whether due to discrimination, inability to use their own languages amongst the majority community, or ongoing vulnerability to violence. The scale of displacement that persists today amongst each of these groups, as well as ongoing departures of minority families from Kosovo, points to the fact that the conditions faced by minorities in Kosovo today are still highly precarious. Only when Kosovos minorities feel confident in their long-term future and when all of Kosovos displaced populations are able to exercise the choice to return to their homes, feeling assured of their safety and confident in their ability to access institutions and participate in social, economic and political life in Kosovo on a non-discriminatory basis, will it be possible to say that the situation of minorities in Kosovo is acceptable.
 From 1999, the Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities was the only inter-agency forum comprehensively covering minority issues at the Kosovo-wide level. The Task Force was weakened by its ad hoc nature, the tendency towards being an information sharing forum rather than having a defined advisory role, and lack of senior-level participation of UNMIK and other agency structures. The Ad Hoc Task Force was initially chaired by UNHCR, and later was co-chaired by UNHCR and OSCE. The Task Force was discontinued in 2001.
 The ABC is chaired by the Principal Deputy to the SRSG and the secretariat function is performed by the UNMIK Office of Return and Communities (ORC). It meets on a monthly basis. Its membership includes the Office of the SRSG and heads or deputy heads of the four UNMIK Pillars, KFOR, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNHCHR, WHO, IOM, OCHA, ICRC, and CoE. The international NGO community has observed the meetings through a delegate of the Alliance for Rights and Tolerance (ART).