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Discrimination against Roma, Jews, and Other National Minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina

4 April 2012 – This 62-page report highlights discrimination against Roma, Jews, and other national minorities in politics and government. Much of this discrimination stems from Bosnia’s 1995 Constitution, which mandates a system of government based on ethnicity and excludes these groups from high political office. The report also shows the wider impact of discrimination on the daily lives of Roma in accessing housing, education, healthcare, and employment.

Source: Human Rights Watch

The report is available here.

Pristina, 28 October 2010 – Roma and related minority groups deported from Western Europe to Kosovo face discrimination and severe deprivation amounting to human rights abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 77-page report, “Rights Displaced: Forced Returns of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians from Western Europe to Kosovo,” documents the serious human rights problems faced by those who left Kosovo for Western Europe but were subsequently sent back. They experience problems getting identity documents as well as regaining possession of any property they own. They also have difficulties accessing housing, health care, employment, and social welfare services. Many end up in places where they are separated from family members. The deportations are especially hard on children, few of whom stay in school due to the lack of language skills, curriculum differences, and poverty.

“Europe is sending Kosovo’s most vulnerable people back to discrimination, exclusion, poverty, and displacement,” said Wanda Troszczynska-van Genderen, Western Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If Europe’s leaders are serious about improving the plight of Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians, they should suspend the deportations to Kosovo and ensure adequate support to those who have already been sent back.”

About 50,000 Roma, most of them Serbian-speaking, and two Albanian-speaking minorities –  Ashkali and Egyptians, who claim origins in ancient Egypt – have been deported to Kosovo since 1999. The numbers look set to rise, with as many as 12,000 people facing deportation from Germany alone. Lack of assistance from international donors and the Kosovo government to those who are deported means that the burden of helping them once they arrive in Kosovo falls on the Kosovo communities of Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians, the majority of whom live in acute poverty.

Kosovo’s Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians are historically its poorest and its most economically, politically, and socially marginalized minority. In recent years, many have been displaced because of the war, ethnic conflict, extreme poverty, and political instability. Their numbers decreased from more than 200,000 before the war in 1999 to 38,000 today. The Roma have often been the targets of violent attacks, spurned by some Kosovo Albanians – the largest ethnic group in Kosovo – as “collaborators” with the minority Serb population.

Some of them have obtained refugee status abroad, while others remain under temporary protection mechanisms. While living in Western Europe, Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians experience living conditions that are incomparably better than those in Kosovo. Their children, often born abroad, learn the language and adopt the culture and lifestyle of the host Western European countries. They often grow up not speaking their parents’ mother tongues.

Nevertheless, some who go to other countries fail to obtain asylum or their temporary protection expires, exposing them to deportation. Some of the forced returnees are unable to obtain Kosovo identity documents and have no Yugoslav or Serbian identity documents establishing prior residence in Kosovo, which makes them de facto stateless, often for prolonged periods.

In April, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the deportations, saying they destabilize Kosovo’s security situation and exacerbate the problems faced by these minority groups in Kosovo. The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner Thomas Hammarberg and the European Parliament also have called this year for suspending the returns until conditions improve.

UN refugee agency guidelines call on countries not to deport Roma and say that Ashkali and Egyptians should only be returned after an individual risk assessment and in a phased manner, taking into account Kosovo’s limited capacity to absorb them.

“There is a growing consensus that these deportations are putting Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians at risk and making life worse for those already in Kosovo,” Troszczynska-van Genderen said. “EU governments’ responsibilities don’t end at their own borders. They and other donors need to focus on improving conditions on the ground rather than sending people back to face despair.”

Since 2009, the Kosovo government has signed readmission agreements with Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Norway, with further agreements being negotiated. Kosovo is keen to strengthen its ties with EU and other European countries. These agreements, and the absence of screening by Kosovo prior to the forced returns, open the door to ever greater numbers of deportations, create a real risk of human rights abuse, and escalate crisis conditions for deportees, their families, and the broader Kosovo community.

The report finds that the Kosovo government contributes to the problems for the returned Roma and others by failing to insist that the deporting governments help create adequate conditions in Kosovo for those forced to return. Kosovo also has not taken adequate steps to regulate the returns and to assist those who return to reintegrate into society.

A strategy created in 2007 for reintegrating forced and other returnees has not been carried out, and the Kosovo government has made little progress on its wider strategy, also designed in 2007, to improve the rights of the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities as a whole.

The report recommends:

  • An immediate moratorium on forced returns until conditions improve;
  • Urgent steps to provide assistance to those who have been returned;
  • Full implementation of the Kosovo government’s strategies for integrating forced returnees and the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities as a whole.

Deportations from Germany have proved particularly controversial, with a recent hearing in the German Bundestag leading to condemnation of the policy by opposition parties and nongovernmental organizations.

A recent policy shift on deportations to Kosovo by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where almost 40 percent of Kosovo Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians in Germany are living, suggests that reform is possible. In September, the state’s Interior Ministry issued a decree, which, while stopping short of suspending deportations entirely, recognizes the need for special protection of the Kosovo groups, requires individual screenings prior to return, and recommends not deporting school-age children.

Source: Human Rights Watch

This 2008 Status Report on fulfilling the commitments made in the Action Plan is published by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

From the report:

“A number of challenges and concerns regarding RAE in Kosovo persist, including security and freedom of movement for minorities, discrimination in obtaining identification documents, and denial of access to remedies for violent crimes committed against RAE communities.

Furthermore, RAE face racially motivated violence and threats of further violence and systemic and pervasive racial discrimination. RAE communities in Kosovo live in substandard conditions. IDPs and refugees, especially the elderly, women, and children, are particularly vulnerable in Serbia, as well as in other countries such as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro, and they continue to experience severe problems linked to their unclear civil status, as well as the lack of adequate housing, education, and employment. International organizations play an important role in providing support and protection, as well as in raising awareness of the issues faced by these communities.

Kosovo’s political, social, and economic stability has not yet improved, and limited results can be expected in the short and medium term. The economy is growing at a rate of 2 per cent per year, while its population is growing by an estimated 3.5 per cent annually. There has also been a decrease in available employment opportunities, with far more job-seekers entering the employment market every year compared to the number of jobs created. Political instability is also preventing private investment from taking place in the foreseeable future.

About 15 per cent of the population of Kosovo is estimated to be extremely poor, defined as individuals who have difficulty meeting their basic nutritional needs (with daily incomes under $1). About 45 per cent report a consumption level below the poverty line (under $2 a day). These poverty rates are very high compared to neighbouring countries, and, unlike many countries in the region, they have not improved over time (in fact, poverty rates have gotten worse since the last measurement, which indicates that about 12 per cent of the population are extremely poor). Given these conditions, the prospect for improving the situation of RAE communities is precarious.

The Roma communities living in enclaves rely principally on parallel administrative structures for public services in the areas of health, education, and social assistance. These structures are funded by the Serbian government in municipalities where there is a significant Serb presence. School attendance by Roma children continues to be poor A majority of the RAE have been residing in informal settlements. Problems relating to the restoration of property rights are particularly acute for the RAE community, as many of the deeds to the properties where they lived prior to the conflict were not formalized.

In Kosovo, the RAE IDP community, as with other ethnic minorities, continues to feel insecure. Confidence in law-enforcement authorities, both international and local, remains low. As described in the last UNHCR position paper on the protection needs of people from Kosovo, the RAE, and especially those of Roma ethnic origin, continue to fear discrimination and revenge, as well as limitations on freedom of movement, including access to economic and social services.

The pace of returning property to RAE and rebuilding their mahalas has been slow and is being carried out on a small scale. The voluntary return of Roma to Kosovo is closely related to the resolution of property disputes.  The relocation of several hundred RAE IDPs to the Osterode camp (from lead-contaminated camps in northern Mitrovica) remains unresolved after more that seven years of living in camp conditions.

The difficult issues of the return of RAE refugees or forced returnees from Western countries remain unresolved. Many RAE from Kosovo, who have temporary protection status in other states, live in anxiety because of their uncertain future. Overall, the return process stagnated in 2007, with roughly the same number of returnees as in 2006.

Spontaneous returns decreased slightly, while organized returns saw a rise. The return trend in the first quarter of 2008 was below expectations (28 Roma and 55 Ashkali and Egyptians).”

24 September 2008

The full report is available here.

(Summer 2007 – Summer 2008)

The Mission identified 12 areas deriving from its mandate (which also constitute the 12 chapters of the report): Rule of Law, Police, Communities, Protection of Property Rights, Assembly of Kosovo, Local Government and Decentralization, Elections, Public Administration, Human Rights Institutions and Instruments, Anti-Corruption, Anti-Trafficking in Human Beings; and Media. 

In each of these chapters the following points are addressed: the development of the normative framework during the reporting period, the development on the ground and the implementation of the normative framework, main shortcomings and finally the Mission’s activities regarding these areas over the reporting period and in the future.

As an overall assessment, the main achievements and shortcomings can be summed up as follows.


Despite fundamental political changes in Kosovo during the first half of 2008, the political and security situation remained remarkably stable. During the reporting period, two important events involving politically motivated violence occurred on 19 February and 17 March in northern Kosovo: one related to the burning of customs posts, and the other to regaining control of the Mitrovicë/Mitrovica courthouse. However, these incidents did not escalate. At the same time, the fear that insecurity among the Kosovo Serb community would lead to a new wave of departures did not materialize.

There has been further progress in the development of democratic institutions and administrative structures, at the central level and particularly at the municipal level. Elections were successfully held for new political representatives at three different levels (the Assembly, municipal assemblies and municipal mayors); these elections met international standards. As for general policing, the Kosovo Police Service enjoys a high degree of trust among the Kosovo Albanian community.

The legislative framework has progressed and generally meets high international standards with regard to human rights and the protection of the rights of the different communities. However, the constitution and most other legislation have been drafted with significant international assistance.


The continued stalemate between Prishtinë/Priština and Belgrade on the status issue makes progress in the integration of the Kosovo Serb community into Kosovo’s public life and society difficult. In northern Kosovo, with its majority Kosovo Serb population, separation has actually advanced through the extension of parallel administrative institutions into the political field. In the rest of Kosovo, the outcome of efforts to integrate the Kosovo Serb community remains unclear.

Here, despite some efforts by the Kosovo government to encourage the Kosovo Serbs to participate in the administrative and political structures, there is a widespread perception among the Kosovo Serb community of insecurity and mistrust which prevents interaction outside enclaves. A large number of unresolved property claims affect above all the Kosovo Serbs. The two separated educational systems – the Kosovo schools and the parallel Kosovo Serb schools – do not offer instruction in the other community’s language and thus drive the two communities further apart.

The judiciary remains the weakest of the public institutions. There are widespread violations of fair trial standards. There is no indication that a further increase in the high number of backlogged court cases can be prevented, let alone that the number can be reduced. There has been very limited progress in the fight against corruption, organized crime and human trafficking.

While the laws meet international standards, their implementation is often hampered by, the lack of financial and human resources, administrative shortcomings and adequate political initiative or will.

There are indications of increasing political interference in key institutions, which under international human rights standards should remain independent: the civil service, the judiciary, the police and the media.

The full report is available here (in English/Serbian/Albanian).

As the countries of South East Europe move towards EU accession, the European Union’s annual country Progress Reports offer a unique opportunity to improve the daily lives of the region’s marginalized minorities.

The Reports, and the priorities they identify, carry significant political weight, which creates implementation obligations on governments aspiring to bring their countries into the EU. They also provide an important advocacy tool for human rights and minority rights activists. But close examination of these Reports and consultation with minority groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, shows a wide divergence between the EU messages and the realities that minorities face in their day-to-day lives.

This report considers three crucial areas for minorities: participation in public life, employment and education. Lack of equality in these areas serves to keep minorities disadvantaged over generations: if this goes consistently unaddressed, the seeds for future conflict can begin to grow. Given that one of the main concerns of the EU in this region has been inter-ethnic conflict prevention, it is vital that more attention is given to reporting on minorities.

The greatest weakness of the Reports is that EU officers do not engage with minorities themselves in a systematic and structured manner while the Reports are being written. Here, alongside in-depth analysis of the Reports and comparisons with treaty body monitoring, grassroots minority rights organizations give their views and show how the EU Reports could be strengthened to effect real change.

1 July 2008

Humanitarian Law Centre (HLC)-Kosovo assesses that the application of the Anti-discrimination Law, in relation to the employment of ethnic minorities, is not satisfactory. Ethnic community members are not represented in Kosovo public companies according to their overall percentage of the population of Kosovo. In addition, HLC-Kosovo considers that the Law on the Use of Languages is not being entirely implemented. However, there is progress in KEK and PTK. Progress can be especially seen in public utility companies. It can be noticed primarily in the issuance of employment contracts to ethnic community members in their own mother tongues. It is only the Roma population that does not receive contracts in their language. In some cases, Bosniaks and Turks want their contracts to be in Albanian and not in their mother tongues. Bosniaks and Muslims most often receive contracts in Serbian while Turks receive contracts in Albanian.

December 2007

The survey is available here.

The report relates to the period January-December 2006, coinciding with the Vienna talks on the future status of Kosovo between the Serbian Government and Kosovo Negotiations Team. Given the circumstances, the monitoring of respect for the human rights of ethnic communities is an activity of the utmost importance.

During 2006 a team of Humanitarian Law Centre (HLC) – Kosovo investigators collected 262 statements by persons belonging to ethnic communities and by Kosovo local and central government representatives on the situation of the Kosovo minorities. The investigators paid special attention to the situation of returnees. With every interviewee the investigators discussed security and freedom of movement, access to administrative institutions and the use of his/her mother tongue in his/her communication with local and central institutions, social issues, employment prospects, education in minority languages, use of private property, participation in political life, information, return, and his/her views on the Kosovo future status talks and the problem of decentralization. The object of the report is to produce a well-documented account of the situation of the minorities in Kosovo in 2006, to highlight the problems, and to make recommendations to the Kosovo institutions and UNMIK with a view to improving the situation of the minorities and enabling their full integration into Kosovo’s society. The report is available here.

by Judith Kiers and Ina Zon

April 2005

The report can be downloaded from the CoE website: