Since Kosovo’s declaration of independence on 17 February 2008, there has been a vacuum in effective international protection for minorities in Kosovo. A lack of certainty over the status of the territory has limited the practical application of international human rights law.

There is a danger that the new international organizations operating in Kosovo, including the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) and the International Civilian Representative (ICR), will compound the failure of the United Nations’ Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to ensure a tolerant, multi-ethnic society in which equality, non-discrimination and the rights of minority groups areprotected.

An international protectorate since 1999, Kosovo has suffered engrained hostility between ethnic Albanian and Serb communities, and continued segregation. Restriction of movement and political, social and economic exclusion are particularly experienced by the smaller minority groups – Bosniaks, Croats, Gorani, Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians, and Turks – as well as by Serbs and Albanians living outside the main areas of population of their respective communities.

A lack of political will among majority Albanians and poor investment in protection mechanisms have resulted in minority rights being eroded or compromised in the post-independence period. Smaller minority communities have yet to see resolution or redress for oppression and human rights violations since the late 1990s, such as attacks and occupation of the homes of Bosniaks, Croats and Gorani, and an inability to exercise their language rights in public for fear of harassment. Many smaller minorities, such as Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians, who were displaced from their homes, have faced severe difficulties in returning.

Smaller minorities also suffer from lack of access to information or to tertiary education in their own languages, and discrimination due to association with the former Serb majority. This, combined with tough economic conditions, means that some members of minority communities, including Bosniaks and Turks, are starting to leave the new Kosovo altogether.

Shortcomings in minority rights protection should be addressed by the new guarantees for minorities under Kosovo’s post-independence Constitution and in the implementation of the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement (the ‘Ahtisaari Plan’) by the ICR and his Office. While affirmative action policies for under-represented communities exist in some areas, for example the judiciary, the actual recruitment of minorities in many cases is weak. The focus of the Ahtisaari Plan on local autonomy in Serb areas may also have had the effect, perversely, of entrenching segregation at the local level, creating police forces divided by ethnicity, for example, rather than an integrated force in which all communities are represented.

Far from addressing Kosovo’s deep-seated problems, in the period since the declaration of independence, the actions of the new Kosovo authorities and the international community have instead created uncertainty and confusion, with increasingly complex, multi-layered executive governance structures in Kosovo. As a result there are currently numerous international and domestic actors with interrelated yet conflicting mandates operating in Kosovo. Since independence, the international community has been preoccupied with resolving legal and institutional complications surrounding the status of their international missions. Yet structures put in place have also perpetuated international actors’ lack of legal accountability and complicated minorities’ access to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and to other international legal remedies against Kosovo authorities.

They have also made engagement with and formulation of policy toward Kosovo’s smaller minority communities a low priority. Given the history, the European Union (EU) and other international actors should instead accord a central role to promoting the rights of minorities in Kosovo, including by improving the critical assessment of Kosovo’s record on minority protection as part of the EU accession process.

The full text of the report is available here.

May 2009