PRISTINA, Kosovo — When discussing human rights in Kosovo, the atrocities of war and ethnic cleansing in the late 1990s comes to mind; yet, nearly two decades have passed since the Kosovo War. So, how did the state move forward, and where does the human rights situation stand now?
Kosovo’s population is made up of many diverse cultures and ethnicities due to its complex and rather unstable history. Historically, the region has been influenced and controlled by both Serbia and the Turkish Ottomans. This has created a dual narrative of ethnic Serbs and Albanians, or Christians and Muslims.
These two narratives came to a head in the 1990s, with the Albanians forming the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to attack Serbian authorities. In turn, Serbian and Yugoslavian forces responded with a crusade of ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians, killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands. A ceasefire was achieved in 1999 through a NATO peace agreement, and a U.N.-sponsored administration asserted control.
Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008 and has established a parliamentary democracy. The new institution has shown great progress in the last decade, particularly in establishing a strong framework for the protection of human rights.
With the atrocities of the Kosovo War still a recent, painful memory, the first and foremost human rights law guarantees the “right to life and physical integrity,” and strictly prohibits torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.
Among the other liberties protected by Kosovo’s 10 human rights bylaws are freedom of religion, thought, assembly and expression, as well as the right to protection from discrimination and hate speech. While these laws are established and formative, the state faces challenges and issues with the implementation and protection of these rights.
The U.S. Department of State Kosovo 2016 Human Rights Report noted continued improvement for the state, but outlined three major areas of concern for human rights in Kosovo today. Institutional discrimination and societal violence, hate crime and hate speech against vulnerable groups — specifically Roma, women and the LGBTQ community — remain a major area of concern for the State. Furthermore, a high rate of local government and private-sector corruption exists without any enforced punishment for said corrupt acts. Finally, the most outstanding human rights violation facing the state as a whole is “the occasionally violent obstruction of parliament by opposition deputies, blocking free debate and the passage of legislation,” as outlined by the U.S. Department of State.
Other human rights violations in Kosovo include, but are not limited to, mistreatment, favoritism, drug abuse and corruption in prisons, intimidation of media by public officials, informal child labor, restrictions on religious freedom for Serbian Orthodox pilgrims and inadequate support for persons with mental and physical disabilities.
The state undoubtedly has work to do in regard to the status and protection of human rights in Kosovo. However, the young republic has made steady, positive strides thus far.
A representation of Kosovo’s social and political progress is the leftist political movement, Vetëvendosje. In 2004, Vetëvendosje emerged as a post-war social and economic justice movement; in Kosovo’s June 2017 elections, Vetëvendosje won 26 percent of the vote and more parliamentary seats than any other political party.
Vetëvendosje’s three main focuses are a meritocracy, welfare state and developmental state. The movement strongly advocates for self-determination, believing that only through true self-determination can the republic progress out of its post-war instability.
– Catherine Fredette