Kosovo: Minorities are prisoners in their own homes

Prisoners in our own homes": Amnesty International's concerns for the rights of minorities in Kosovo/Kosova reports beatings, stabbings, abductions, drive-by shootings and the use of hand grenades to intimidate and kill members of ethnic minorities, who account for up to eight per cent of the population. Because the vast majority of these crimes remain unsolved perpetrators are free to commit further attacks, contributing to a climate of fear and the denial of basic human rights.

Prisoners in our own homes describes the daily lives of Children's rights living in mono-ethnic enclaves who are forced to have a KFOR (the NATO-led Kosovo force) armed escort to school, and how discrimination in healthcare has led to an increase in mortality rates among minority communities. There is up to 90 per cent unemployment among the Serb and Roma communities. Ethnic Albanians, living in areas of Kosovo where they are in the minority, suffer the same security concerns and restrictions on their freedom of movement.

While KFOR escorts Serb Children's rights to school, shoppers to market and sick people to hospital in Donja Budriga and Partes, two Serb sisters and their grandmother who live in the centre of Prizren have barbed wire and sandbags around their house. After an intruder broke in KFOR soldiers moved in to live with them and even did shopping for them. Each sister had to be escorted to work, while the grandmother did not leave the house for two years.

Kate Allen, UK Director of Amnesty International, said:

"It is clear that the international authorities in Kosovo were unprepared for the massive abuses of human rights against minorities that accompanied the rapid return of the Albanian community.

"As the international community discusses the future of Iraq it is essential that we learn the lessons of the past and ensure that measures are put in place to protect the human rights of vulnerable groups. It must be ensured from the outset that there is no impunity for the perpetrators of human rights abuses."

Amnesty International is concerned that the ongoing persecution of ethnic minorities makes it unsafe for minority refugees and internally displaced people to return to their homes. Of more then 230,000 Serbs, Roma and other minorities who fled Kosovo in 1999, only 5,800 have returned.

Kate Allen continued:

"While the viability of return continues to depend on KFOR's presence, Amnesty International urges the international community to ensure that no one from a minority community is forcibly returned to Kosovo."

Amnesty International is calling on the UN to properly resource UNMIK (the UN civilian police force) and the local authorities to ensure the thorough investigation of ethnically motivated human rights abuses. As a start, UNMIK must extend witness protection to the witnesses of such crimes.

Background

After the end of the conflict in July 1999 more than half the pre-war minority population fled to Serbia or Montenegro or took refuge in mono-ethnic enclaves in Kosovo guarded by KFOR and UNMIK. UNMIK was charged with protecting and promoting human rights.

Around a third of the 100,000 Serbs and Roma in Kosovo live in three predominantly Serbian municipalities in the north of Kosovo. Others live in mono-ethnic villages or under KFOR protection in majority Albanian urban areas. More than half the pre-war Slavic Muslim community of 67,000 fled in 1999. Now about three per cent of the population, they are mainly concentrated in and around Prizren town.

Copies of the report are available online at www.amnesty.org.uk

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