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AI INDEX: EUR 70/009/2004     1 April 2004


Serbia and Montenegro (Kosovo)
The legacy of past human rights abuses


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)(1) with the international military force in Kosovo (KFOR) led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) remaining the sole official military force.

On 17 to 19 March 2004 violence erupted in Kosovo after reports that three Albanian children had drowned after four of them had jumped into the river Ibar near the northern town of Mitrovica/Mitrovicë on 16 March. The fourth boy, who had survived, reportedly claimed that they had been attacked by Serbs and jumped into the river to escape, although the claim that they were attacked by Serbs remained unconfirmed. The previous day in Èaglavica/Çagllavicë near the capital Pristina/Prishtinë an 18-year-old Serb was seriously injured in a drive-by shooting, believed to have been perpetrated by Albanians, and resulting in road-blocks by Serbs in protest.

Following reports of the drowning of the three boys, large crowds of Albanians and Serbs gathered on 17 March in Mitrovica/Mitrovicë - which has been the scene of violent inter-ethnic clashes in the past - on either side of the bridge over the river Ibar which divides the town between the predominantly Serbian north and Albanian south. Violence broke out, including grenades thrown at KFOR soldiers, and reportedly seven people were killed and hundreds wounded. The wounded included 11 French KFOR troops attempting to keep order reportedly by using rubber bullets and stun-grenades. The situation appeared to have calmed by the evening of 17 March when a curfew of 7pm local time was imposed on the town. In the meantime, violence had spread to a number of places throughout Kosovo including the capital Pristina/Prishtinë and almost every major town.

The authorities estimated the violence involved some 51,000 people in 33 violent incidents throughout Kosovo - predominantly involving Albanians attacking Serb enclaves and communities, but also involving Albanians attacking other minorities, notably the Ashkali community in Vuèitrn/Vushtrii. There were also reports of Albanians forced to flee the Serb majority areas of N. Mitrovica/Mitrovicë and Leposaviæ/Leposaviq. The inter-ethnic violence resulted in at least 19 dead - 11 Albanians and eight Serbs - and over 900 civilians injured of whom 22 were seriously injured; over 100 international and domestic police officers and 61 KFOR troops were also injured. In addition the violence resulted in over 4,000 internally displaced people and widespread destruction of houses and Serbian churches. There were also serious allegations of complicity by Albanian members of the Kosovo Police Service (the domestic police force which while being multi-ethnic is predominantly Albanian reflecting the make-up of the population of Kosovo as a whole) in inter-ethnic attacks in Vuèitrn/Vushtrii, and elsewhere: allegations which, Amnesty International is informed, are currently being investigated by the authorities.

On 18 March a joint statement by the Provisional Institution of Self-Government, Kosovo political leaders, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General, the European Union presidency and the QUINT (a body comprising France, Germany, Italy, UK and USA) called for the violence to stop, and stated that police investigations to identify and locate the perpetrators were being conducted. NATO confirmed that it was to send extra troops to supplement the 17,000 KFOR members already stationed there and some 3,500 extra troops were deployed.

The continuing uncertainty over the question of the 'final status' of Kosovo has contributed to inter-ethnic tensions which, as noted below, have risen in the last year.

However, Amnesty International believes that a major factor in the recurrence of ethnic violence in Kosovo has been the failure of the UNMIK as well as the authorities in Serbia and Montenegro to seriously address the legacy of human rights violations and abuses in Kosovo, including in particular the continuing impunity for the perpetrators of inter-ethnic violence, and a continuing failure to resolve the fate of those who "disappeared" and were abducted during, and following, the conflict in 1999.

The legacy

Amnesty International's concerns

Amnesty International is extremely concerned at the lack of progress made in the last four years by the Serbian authorities in bringing to justice those suspected of the "disappearance" of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo when the province was administered by Serbia.(2) The organization is also extremely concerned at the lack of progress by UNMIK in bringing to justice those responsible for the abduction of some 1,200 Serbs, Roma and members of other minority communities.

Amnesty International considers that the continued suffering of the relatives of the "disappeared" in being denied the knowledge of the fate of their loved one amounts to a violation of their right under Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) and Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) not to be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.

Amnesty International is also seriously concerned about:

  • the apparent failure by the authorities to adequately investigate and bring prosecutions in relation to many ethnically motivated murders and the ensuing impunity this affords to the perpetrators;
  • incidents of arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention by personnel from the international military force in Kosovo (KFOR);
  • allegations of ill-treatment of detainees by KFOR personnel, as well as other violations of their rights while in detention;
  • discriminatory practices against minorities, inter alia with regards to inadequate protection against physical attacks from non-state actors as well as with regards to access to employment, medical care and education; and
  • the trafficking into, within and from Kosovo of women and girls for forced prostitution.


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