65. From 28 June to 4 July the Representative carried out a visit in follow-up to a mission he had undertaken in 2005 to then Serbia and Montenegro.25 During the course of the visit, the Representative met with internally displaced persons in Belgrade, Kraljevo, Pristina, Mitrovica/Mitrovicë and other locations, and was able to have an open and constructive dialogue with senior officials of the Government of Serbia, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Kosovo and other international actors, as well as the Kosovo authorities, including the President of Kosovo.

66. Many of the 200,000 persons initially registered as internally displaced from or within Kosovo in 1999 and subsequent years have yet to find a durable solution. The vast majority are persons of Serb ethnicity, although the Representative also met some internally displaced persons of Albanian ethnicity awaiting their return to northern Kosovo. In addition, there are several tens of thousands of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian ethnicity who were internally displaced. They often remain in particularly difficult situations, not least since they formed part of a minority often living on the margins of society even before their displacement.

67. Only several thousand internally displaced persons have returned to or within Kosovo and it is uncertain how many returns have proven to be sustainable. The Representative noted with appreciation the stated commitment of all relevant authorities to allow and facilitate returns of internally displaced persons, regardless of their ethnicity. However, entrenched patterns of discrimination, lack of access to employment and livelihoods, too few schools for minorities and difficulties in repossessing property and having houses reconstructed still constitute chief obstacles to return. At the time of the Representative’s visit, close to 800 internally displaced families had registered to return to or within Kosovo in 2009. This return programme is an important test case that will show whether the relevant authorities, including municipalities in return areas, are willing to accept and facilitate returns.

68. The Representative underscored that improved living conditions for internally displaced persons and their return at a later stage were not mutually exclusive, but that persons who had been able to re-establish a normal life in displacement and who then decided to return were far more likely to make their return sustainable. He notes with appreciation some improvements in the integration of internally displaced persons in Serbia. Programmes have started to help internally displaced persons to leave run-down collective centres and move to their own houses or flats and build livelihoods. However, bureaucratic obstacles, in particular cumbersome procedures for obtaining documents, continue to make it unnecessarily difficult for many internally displaced persons to access public services. Roma internally displaced persons who are not registered or lack an officially recognized address because they live in irregular settlements, face particularly grave deprivations of their economic, social and cultural rights.

69. The Representative is alarmed that several hundred Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian internally displaced persons are still living in camps in Northern Mitrovica/Mitrovicë in the immediate vicinity of toxic waste from a former lead mine that has been poisoning their blood for 10 years. In particular, internally displaced children are in a very critical health condition and the lead concentration in their blood far exceeds medically acceptable levels. The Representative calls upon all actors, national and international, to cooperate in a pragmatic manner and find, without any further delay, a durable solution at a safe and healthy location within Kosovo in close consultation with the group.

3 August 2009

The full report “Protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons (A/64/214)” is available here.

Discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights, speakers in the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) (extract)

Feodor Starevic ( Serbia) said the level of protection and promotion of human rights had improved significantly in the last ten years, and would continue to be improved. Intense activity at the national level was aimed at harmonizing domestic laws with ratified international instruments. The Government had recently signed an anti-discrimination law, and was working with ombudsmen at provincial and local levels, and with civil society, to promote a culture of tolerance among its citizens. In February, the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights had signed a memorandum of cooperation to provide for more concrete cooperation with civil society on human rights issues. In addition, the Government was committed to cooperating with the United Nations human rights mechanisms.

He then drew attention to the situation of human rights in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija. Despite an international presence there, the human rights situation, especially in terms of non-Albanian communities, “remained precarious”. The legal vacuum left after the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo last February had created uncertainty for non-Albanian populations as regards their rights. Statements given by the representatives of Pristina authorities, on their commitment to fully respect human rights in the province, were only declarative. Steps taken to protect the rights of that population were trivial.

He said ethnically-motivated crimes persisted, creating an atmosphere of fear, and impeded the right of return of 200,000 displaced persons ‑‑ predominantly Serb, Roma and other non-Albanian who had fled Kosovo in 1999. Minorities faced obstacles in their access to services, ranging from access to courts to public transportation. Protection of poverty rights was a grave problem, notwithstanding attempts by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to help original owners repossess their property. Serbian culture was under constant threat, with attempts by Pristina authorities to re-write history. More than 150 churches and monasteries had been destroyed, some dating back to the 11th century. Textbooks claimed that the Serbian Orthodox heritage was Kosovo Albanian heritage. It amounted to cultural cleansing, which the international community must act to prevent.

He explained that, since Kosovo’s administration had been entrusted to UNMIK and the Kosovo multinational security force (KFOR) and the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), as per Security Council resolution 1244 (1999), his Government was not in a position to report directly on the implementation of international instruments in Kosovo. Instead, the reports were made by UNMIK. After examining those reports, the Human Rights Committee had made observations concerning restricted freedom of movement and access to services. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the rights of internally displaced persons, Water Kalin, had identified entrenched patterns of discrimination, lack of jobs and too few schools for minorities as among the obstacles to the return of displaced persons, as were difficulties in repossessing property and in building new houses. Even among those in favour of Kosovo’s independence, there were reports that Kosovo’s government had failed to take appropriate action against organized crime. Against this backdrop, Serbia’s pragmatic approach had been lauded in the latest report by the Secretary-General, and indeed it was the common responsibility of all States to improve human rights in that province.

Source:  Speakers in Third Committee draw links between fight to secure human rights, fight against poverty, as three-day discussion concludes, 28 October 2009