19 August 2009 – In a report about a series of recent assaults, on Roma in Gnjilane, Eastern Kosovo, which might be ethnically motivated, the human rights organisation Chachipe expressed serious about the quality and objectivity of the reporting on ethnically motivated crime against Roma in Kosovo. During the last weeks of July, several Roma have reportedly been assaulted and abused by Albanian neighbours in a traditional Roma neighbourhood in Gnjilane, without this being properly followed-up and reported by international organisations.
Following reports on a violent incident, during which several Roma had allegedly been injured, Chachipe started an inquiry among international organisations aimed to identify the background and extent of the incident. Even though the reported incident dated back already several days, none of the contacted organisations including UNMIK, EULEX, the OSCE, and the UNHCR, claimed to have any information about its occurrence. But even after taking information from their field offices, the organisations were either unable or unwilling to inform Chachipe about it.
“The information which we received were most sketchy. They ranged from a list of a couple of police reports, which referred to apparently minor incidents such as “pushing” and theft, to a remark according to which the security situation for Roma has recently deteriorated in Kosovo, and a complaint that the police does not properly report about assaults on Roma,” Chachipe said.
The picture changed drastically following a TV feature which was broadcasted, last Thursday, by Yekhipe, the Roma programme of the Kosovo public TV. Yekhipe reporters visited the Roma neighbourhood and interviewed several victims and witnesses. From their reports it appeared that a series of serious incidents had taken place in Gnjilane during which several Roma had been assaulted and abused for no apparent motive other than hatred.
Talking to the reporters, the Roma claimed that the situation in Gnjilane had recently deteriorated what they linked with the arrival of ethnic Albanian returnees in the Roma neighbourhood. One of the witnesses alleged that the attacks were organised and coordinated. All of the Roma claimed that the members of their community were regularly assaulted or verbally abused, and expressed serious fears regarding their security.
It also transpired from their statements, that their confidence in the police was only limited. Out of six cases, which have allegedly taken place, in July, only three were reported to the police. Yekhipe reporters interviewed a senior police officer working with the KPS who qualified two of the reported cases as simple neighbourhood conflicts and alleged that another was eventually linked with “open bills” between black marketers, disqualifying thus the victim.
Chachipe said that, against this background, it was hard to understand the passivity and lack of concern which went out from the reactions of the international organisations to its inquiry. The organisation reminded that one of the tasks of the international security in Kosovo was protecting and promoting human rights, and that the organisations have an explicit mandate to monitor the situation. It showed most concerned about the fact that the EU Police appeared to have little information about the situation in the Roma neighbourhood in Gnjilane.
Chachipe highlighted the consequences of the underreporting of ethnically motivated violence against Roma for the Roma in Kosovo and the refugees and asylum seekers abroad. “As it appears from the recent incidents in Gnjilane, which is also confirmed by accounts we received before, Roma in Kosovo have no one to turn to, when they feel under threat. Those who left Kosovo are at odds to document the risks to which they are exposed upon their return.”
Chachipe criticized the decision of several West European countries including Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Austria, to forcibly repatriate Roma, on the basis of on an incomplete and biased assessment of the security situation. “It appears that that the recent UNMIK reports to the UN Security Council are essentially based on police reports, whereas UNMIK itself acknowledges that ethnic minorities have no confidence in reporting to the police,” Chachipe said.
Chachipe called on the international organisations to try immediately to dilute the tensions in the Roma neighbourhood in Gnjilane and to resolve the problems which are apparently linked to the return process. It further requested an comprehensive inquiry into the background of the recent attacks on Roma as well as an objective and unbiased monitoring and reporting on the security situation in Kosovo.
Chachipe finally urged the governments of the host countries to refrain from forcibly returning Roma to Kosovo as long as the security situation for Roma remains fragile and to grant refugees, who have been in their country for a longer period, a permanent residence status.
Errata: An error occured in the first version of the attached report regarding to an apparently mistake in a reply by EULEX regarding the date on which one of the attacks took place. After verification, we found that the information provided by EULEX is correct, and that it was our mistake for which we apologize.