25.08.2023. » 14:59 | ACDC

Meeting of the UNMIK HR OFFICE and NGOs: Addressing Human Rights Concerns in Northern Kosovo

On August 23rd, the NGO ACDC arranged a meeting between Mr. Jerome Bouyjou,  Chief of the UNMIK Human Rights Office and  Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kosovo, and NGOs from northern Kosovo, including organizations Aktiv, CASA, Domovik, ATRC, Humane Center Mitrovica, Santa Maria and ACDC.


On August 23rd, the NGO ACDC arranged a meeting between Mr. Jerome Bouyjou,  Chief of the UNMIK Human Rights Office and  Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kosovo, and NGOs from northern Kosovo, including organizations Aktiv, CASA, Domovik, ATRC, Humane Center Mitrovica, Santa Maria and ACDC.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss ongoing developments in northern Kosovo and the prevailing political crisis with impact on human rights and fundamental freedoms.

At the beginning of the meeting, Mr. Jerome emphasized that the UNMIK HR Office is closely monitoring the situation in the north and human rights implications, and reports accordingly. In doing so, it interacts with all relevant actors in Kosovo and international partners and supports efforts to advance human rights for the benefit of all communities.    

During the meeting, NGO representatives highlighted instances of human rights violations and expressed concerns facing the Serbian community. These concerns include issues connected to the special police presence in northern Kosovo and lack of trust among residents notwithstanding the intended role of police to serve its the population. It was stated that individuals do not have a particular issue with the presence of the regular police, but that they did not understand the presence of the special police force, concentrated only in the northern municipalities. In addition, there was a discussion about the announced reduction of police members in the municipality buildings in Zvečan/Zvecan, Leposaviq/Leposavić and Zubin Potok. As the CSO members mentioned, it made no difference whether there were five (5) special police members or eight (8) since the municipality could not function at all when they were in the building.  Additional concerns raised involved the ban of Serbian products from entering Kosovo, shortages in supplies of food, and the quality of food in northern Kosovo. Attendees pointed out that Kosovo's restrictions on goods from Serbia are causing serious problems in the area, including shortages of medications as well as expired products in supermarkets and stores. Additional concerns were raised on evident shortages of essential products, such as milk, meat and other everyday necessities. Even where people could acquire these products, it was discussed that prizes were unreasonably high. Participants noted that this problem tended to increase over time.

Furthermore, NGO representatives also raised concerns about the upcoming start of the school year on September 1st and the safety of children, as schools are situated near municipal buildings, in particular in Zvečan/Zvecan which currently has both the Kosovo Police and KFOR inside or in its vicinity. It was stressed that due to security reasons, parents were considering the possibility of sending their children to schools in central Serbia for their education. One more reason for sending children out of Kosovo that was discussed was due to the ban on Serbian textbooks for the pupils attending elementary school in Kosovo. As stated if children could not obtain textbooks, they would be forced to continue their education in central Serbia.

Additionally, special focus was placed on the increasing number of people leaving Kosovo, primarily due to the prolonged political and security crisis over the past couple of years. According to a research study done by one of participant CSOs, a rough estimation suggests that around 40,000 people have left Kosovo over last 10 years. There are various reasons for that but, according to them, the political instability is the highest ranked reason.  

Discussion also covered issues such as expropriation in Leposaviq/Leposavić and Zubin Potok, the public discussion organized after the expropriation of the land. It was repeated that many residents had filed lawsuits and have addressed these issues to the Ombudsperson Institution in Kosovo but without any progress, so far. The police bases were built before the legal requirements were met, participants opined, and it was stated that the Kosovo government would try to pass the new draft law on expropriation to repair legal irregularities throughout the undertaken expropriation procedures to date.  Having that in regard, the participants pointed out that the level of trust between residents and institutions had decreased immensely and that the dialogue had taken numerous steps back since the Brussels agreement.

In that regard, the concerning incident involving Serbian children being injured in Štrpce/Shtërpcë was mentioned as an example of neglect of victims’ rights within the Serbian community, with information being mentioned that the perpetrator had been released.

Challenges related to obtaining personal documents were also mentioned as part of everyday problems facing the Serbian community that resides in the northern municipalities. In this context, cases of language rights violations were noted and that this problem also needed attention from the central level and the international community.

An additional issue mentioned at the meeting was the prevalence of hate speech which has been increasing rapidly during this political crisis, the participants noted, which could only worsen an already difficult situation, the interlocutors opined.

Mr. Bouyjou concluded by expressing gratitude to those present and underscored the vital role that NGOs play in monitoring the HR situation. He highlighted that the Human Rights Office will continue supporting efforts of institutions and civil society to promote and protect human rights, including  in the north Kosovo.