20 July 2008 – In his most recent report to the Security Council, the UN Secretary General provides a brief account of the fact that the Kosovo Ministry of Communities and Returns has committed itself to “the overall responsibility and funding of the management of the Osterode camp” in Northern Kosovo, which were formerly assured by UNMIK. The report however remains entirely silent about the new lead crisis which erupted after tests carried out on the children in these camps showed that the lead levels in their blood has remained dramatically high.
Beginning of 2006, UNMIK urged the inhabitants of the IDP camps in Northern Kosovo, Roma, Ashkalija, and Kosovo Egyptians to move to the recently refurbished former French military compound “Osterode” (see UNMIK Press Release), after the lead-poisoning of their previous shelters had made international coverage. They had been placed at the former location by the UNHCR, after being chased from their homes in the Roma Mahala of Northern Mitrovica.
The residents of the camps were long-time reluctant to this move arguing that the Osterode camp was only fifty meters away from their old location, situated in the lead-polluted area around the Trepça mines. Most ironically, tests carried out in Osterode showed higher results, than those carried out in the old camps. UNMIK has so far failed to provide an explanation.
UNMIK has been repeatedly urged to find a solution to the health crisis experienced by the residents in these camps. In August 2006, the UN Human Rights Committee urged UNMIK not only to make sure that the remaining inhabitants of the camps were relocated and the victims of lead-poisoning received medical treatment, but also that they had “access to effective remedies and to seek and obtain compensation for any damage caused to their health.” (See UN Human Rights Committee: Concluding Observations).
In September 2006, the WHO well launched a chelation therapy in the newly opened Osterode camp, which stopped few months later. While UNMIK argued that this was done, because of a dramatic decline of the blood-lead levels in the blood of children (email reply to Romano Them, 3 June 2008), others, including UNICEF representatives, said that the project was discontinued on account of a lack of financing.
While the ERRC has taken legal action against UNMIK on the behalf of the residents of the camps, UNMIK seems to have ignored most of the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee. Almost eight years after the issuing of a first report, the health crisis in the lead-contaminated camps in Kosovska Mitrovica still persists with eventually irreversible consequences for the life of children.
N.B.: On 28 July 2008, Romano Them sent a letter to the UN Secretary General expressing its concerns that the UN is seeking to hide away from its responsibility on the lead-poisoning issue and asking for immediate action in close consultation with the inhabitants of the camps.