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South Slavic: December 23, 1999

23 December 1999, Volume 1, Number 4

Human Rights In Kosovo. Part I

The following is a translation of a recent edition of Omer Karabeg's "Radio Most" (Bridge), which brought together a prominent Serbian human rights activist and one of her ethnic Albanian counterparts.

Today, we will be talking about the human rights situation in Kosovo with Natasa Kandic, director of the Fund for Humanitarian Law in Belgrade and Pajazit Nussi, president of the Human Rights Committee in Pristina.

International representatives, as well as Kosovo Albanian leaders, keep saying that situation in Kosovo is stabilizing in spite of reports about violence, especially against ethnic minorities. How do you explain that, Mr. Nussi?

Nussi: I would agree with representatives of international organizations who claim that the human rights situation has improved and that things are getting better in almost all parts of Kosovo. I am not only talking about rights and liberties for minorities, but of all those who live there. If, however, we take the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a standard, then we still have a long way to go.

You have just returned from Kosovo, Ms. Kandic. How do you see the human rights situation there?

Kandic: I have seen some changes but have also seen that the international community has not done anything to ensure basic conditions for personal security and the protection of property. It has been more than six months, and there is still no infrastructure for human rights protection, nor basic conditions for normal political and social life for ordinary people. There are no public utilities as well. When a new situation was established in Kosovo, everybody was expecting that the international community would also establish the rule of law, as much as is possible. They were expected to set up mechanisms for the protection of non-Albanian ethnic communities, as well as measures against those who commit acts of violence. The international community has failed to do so, and this is why it bears chief responsibility for human rights abuses against minorities.

The Albanians used to be intimidated during the reign of Milosevic's regime in Kosovo. Now the Kosovo Serbs, Roma, Muslims, and others have found themselves in that situation. Do you think, Mr. Nussi, that it is now the Albanians' turn--since they are the majority population--to be held responsible for protection of others' rights?

Nussi: The Albanians have, of course, special responsibility for the protection of all the national minorities--and not only of the Serbs, Montenegrins, and Roma, but also of the Croats, Turks, Muslims, and all the others who live in Kosovo. Protecting others, the Albanians are at the same time protecting their own rights.

Do you think that the Albanians, at this moment, are aware of that?

Nussi: It is difficult to judge all the Albanians in Kosovo. I would say that those who are familiar with basic human rights and liberties are aware of that. To tell you the truth, there are huge differences between individuals regarding the attitude towards other nationalities in the province. It ranges from the minimum typical for an average citizen, to the maximum typical for the Kosovo leadership and those in various political parties' forums.

Ms. Kandic, do you have an impression that the Albanian elite, i.e. the political leadership, is aware of the responsibility of the Albanian majority for the protection of minority rights?

I rarely have contacts with political parties' representatives or, as you call it, the political elite. I am focused on ordinary people who suffer from what the Serbian forces did to them. Many of them are still looking for some of their family members.

My Bosnian experience teaches me that those people do not seek revenge, they are overwhelmed with sorrow, with their misfortune. All they believe is that the Serbs can help them find members of their families, tell them what happened, or where the killings took place. I am sure that those people have no time for revenge. They are coping with their tragedy, they are wandering all over Kosovo trying to find out something. They are ready to pay huge amounts of money, thinking that this way they could get information about their dearest ones.

Otherwise, when you analyze the political scene in Kosovo, you can see that representatives of all the political parties share a view that can hardly be criticized. All of them are, in principle, against any kind of violence, and in particular, the violence against the Serbs.

But the real situation is somewhat different since there is a tendency to regard everything that belongs to the enemy--and the Serbian regime as well as Serbia itself are seen as enemies--as something that does not exist. I am talking about a complete separation from Serbia and a creation of a new society.

But not all the ties can be cut. There are many things in common, starting with the necessity to clear up those horrible crimes committed in Kosovo. Those who did not take part in those crimes must be encouraged to talk. Establishing the truth could start the process of reconciliation. The local Albanian population does not see the situation in Kosovo the way it is seen by the foreign journalists who keep reporting about what happens with the Serbs, Roma, and Muslims. The local population is overwhelmed with its own problems.... Their main problem is that they have not found out yet what has happened to their dearest ones who have disappeared, who were taken away.

As far as protection of minorities is concerned, I repeat, the responsibility lies with the international community. To protect human rights in Kosovo, it is not enough that the Kosovo Albanians regain their high moral standards they had during the ten years of a severe and very harsh repression, when they did not take revenge on Serbian civilians. A system of protection must be established, a system that would guarantee the protection of human rights without regard to nationality. Those who violate those rights must be punished by law--and this applies both to ordinary Albanians and to members of the transformed Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) forces.

There is no such system in Kosovo, and that has created a situation in which some groups have taken the law into their own hands. It has been six months since the international community has arrived in Kosovo, and yet it failed to create a situation in which those people who used to live in fear could start living normally. The fear has remained. There is no more fear of the Serbian police, but there is a fear of some powerful structures that cannot be openly seen. There is also a fear that, if you leave your home, someone could enter, or you could be attacked on the street just because someone thinks that you have money with you.

Mr. Nussi, would it be dangerous for an Albanian to try and protect his Serbian neighbor right now?

Nussi: I do not find it dangerous, except for some special cases, such as protecting those who committed crimes against Albanians or those who covered up the atrocities. To protect those kinds of people--either Serbs, Montenegrins, Roma, or a member of another minority--is a dangerous thing to do.

Tell me, are ordinary people protecting their innocent neighbors, those who did no harm to anyone but who are now being attacked?

Nussi: I know some of the cases. For instance, in Vucitrn, Vitina, Gnjilane, the Roma feel absolutely free and enjoy more security than the Roma in those parts of Kosovo where they were direct or indirect perpetrators of the crimes that were committed in Kosovo before and during the war.

Are there similar cases involving the Serbs?

Nussi: In Gnjilane and Kamenica there were cases of the Albanians who protected their Serbian friends, as well as those who were not involved, directly or indirectly, in the crimes against the Albanians.

A multiethnic life in Kosovo seems impossible at this moment. The Albanians live in their enclaves, Serbs in theirs, and only there they feel safe. Can the multiethnic community be restored, or will Kosovo end up as an ethnically pure region? What is your opinion, Mr. Nussi?

Nussi: Kosovo is populated by the Albanians, as well as by the Serbian, Montenegrin, Roma, Croatian, Muslim, and other minorities. It has always been and will remain a multiethnic region. According to our figures, there are still some 98,000 Serbs living in Kosovo. According to the UNHCR, their number is 108,445. The crimes that were committed in Kosovo during the war have provoked a lot of mutual distrust. I believe that it will take years, not months, to restore the trust among the people. The level of tolerance between those who belong to different nations is so low at this moment that the chances of them living together is very slim. In a situation where there is no system nor a mechanism for the protection of human rights--as Ms. Kandic has already mentioned--it is hard to believe that such a [multiethnic society] is possible at all. In order to restore mutual trust, there must first be means to ensure security as well as a suitable social and psychological atmosphere. If we create those conditions, I believe that it will be possible to live together again.

Ms. Kandic, could Kosovska Mitrovica, as a town that is now de facto divided into a Serbian and an Albanian part, become a model of a future life in Kosovo? That would mean: the Serbs with their fellow Serbs, Albanians with their fellow Albanians, but no way that they could live together?

Ms. Kandic: Kosovska Mitrovica has become the way it is thanks to the fact that it is very close to Serbian border. The Serbs who live in that town feel safe, they feel that they can speak up and call the shots. But, at the same time, Kosovska Mitrovica is suitable for manipulation, mostly by the Serbian authorities, since it is not possible to screen those who come to the town. People say that in the Serbian part of Kosovska Mitrovica and in neighboring villages there are many people who actually belong to the Serbian police forces. Some Albanians claim that those men were involved in crimes against Albanians.

The problem of Kosovska Mitrovica must not be resolved like Mostar, and it will take a lot of work. First, it must be confirmed whether there are Serbian police forces and whether they can move freely in the area between Mitrovica and Serbia. Mitrovica might become a model for the reconciliation process only after those facts are established.

But, you know, there is no reconciliation without justice. There will be no reconciliation without truth about those missing, since there are rumors that some inhabitants of Mitrovica have disappeared and that there is no trace of them. Those who want to stay in Kosovo must start talking about that. No one else can do it. I have visited both sides and I know that many of those who have traveled from Serbia and Novi Pazar [in Sandzak] to Mitrovica talked about gangs of thieves setting ambushes and robbing travelers. I know that many Serbs are missing as well.

Those are very complicated things that make the situation worse. We must talk about the situation the way it is. It is simply dangerous to protect or defend a Serb. I will give you an example of a village near Prizren. During the NATO intervention, Serbs from the village prevented the paramilitary troops from entering an Albanian village. (I personally do not believe there are truly paramilitary troops. I think that all those groups were organized by the police or the army.) When the local Serbs realized that they were unable to protect the Albanians, they found them busses and escorted them to the Albanian border. I have seen with my own eyes that not one Albanian house has been destroyed in that village. Yet, when the war was over, those Serbs left. This is what I want to say. The reign of fear made them go. Someone who must belong to an organized network intimidated the Albanians and imposed a dictum that all Serbs are criminals, and that all of them had committed crimes.