Human Rights in Kosovo

Updated 27 May 2016

Introduction
Kosovo has a sound statutory framework in place for the protection of human rights: the Kosovo Constitution lists a number of directly applicable international human rights instruments; Kosovo has shown great progress in adoption of key human rights laws during the past 10 years. However, there remain challenges and issues with the practical implementation of human rights legislation and relevant documents, such as byelaws and National Strategies. In consequence, a number of human rights issues including marginalisation of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities and LGBT persons, hate speech and hate crime, violence against women, pressure and intimidation to journalist are not addressed or are addressed only partially and ineffectively.

The situation for human rights defenders in the country
Over the last several years’ human rights defenders in Kosovo have faced different challenges in their human rights work. Increased attacks aimed at organisations, media, journalists or individuals who promote and protect human rights (LGBT rights, women rights, journalists) have been documented. In majority of cases there has been inadequate or very slow reaction by the police to arrest, and a lack of will by prosecutors to pursue investigations; where as consequence most of the perpetrators were never brought to justice.

Civil society has seen positive organisational developments and improvements, but still faces challenges. One of the key issues is the donor-dependency of many civil society organisations. A great many favourable results have been achieved by a number of organisations; however, one must often question the sustainability of these achievements due to the lack of support for long-term support for programs and initiatives or institutional support. Credible human rights work requires long-term co-operation and commitment

Ten rights in focus

The right to life and physical integrity

The Kosovo Constitution and legislation strongly guards the right to life and physical integrity and strictly prohibits torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Nevertheless, there have been reports of misconduct, cruel behaviour, harassment and physical abuse in some of Kosovo prisons. Likewise, the protection of victims of human rights violations from vulnerable groups such as the LGBT community, Roma or women, still remains a problem.

The 1998 – 2000 conflict in Kosovo resulted in the deaths of 13,535 people who were killed or disappeared, out of which 10,317 civilians lost their lives or went missing In connection with the war (according to our partner Humanitarian Law Centre Kosovo).  Although a number of war crime trials in the Kosovo courts were held; and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia have succeeded in bringing a number of individuals to justice, the fact remains that the perpetrators of a large number of crimes have never been brought to justice. The need for a comprehensive database documenting all those killed or who went missing in Kosovo is more than necessary and will contribute to bringing justice and closure to victims and their families. This will also greatly contribute to the prevention of historical revisionism and political manipulation of the past.

The right to liberty and security of person

Conditions and treatment in mental closed institutions have been improving slowly, but still do not fulfil international standards and are far from satisfactory. Independent and systematic monitoring of mental health facilities and centres over the past five years has shown that there is no strategic and systematic approach by institutions to improve the well being, healthcare and treatment of persons deprived of freedom. Likewise, institutions have shown little will for improving the legal framework for mental health that would further advance and promote human rights of the persons with mental disability.

There has been little progress in respect of rights of the convicts in correctional facilities. There are reports about the misconducts, cruel behaviour, insults and physical ill treatment in some of Kosovo prisons. Problems persist with inefficient health services, lack of information, unjustified and prolonged detentions and with overpopulation in correctional institutions.

The right to fair trial and an effective remedy

Kosovo’s judiciary underwent structural changes in last years, and, despite some positive improvements in last several years, the judiciary system remains weak, non-transparent and unaccountable. The high level of corruption and political pressure, backlog of cases, high number of cases lapsed due to statute of limitations, and slow enforcement of decisions still remain the main problems that hamper the judiciary’s efficiency. Kosovo courts face an enormous number of prolonged civil and criminal proceedings that affect the right of citizens to a fair trial.

The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion

Kosovo is the secular state and its Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of though, conscience and religion. Individuals and groups have the right to practice its religion without registration if they choose. The Law Freedom on Religion is amended in order to regulate in more detail the registration of the religious communities as legal entities. The law needs to be adopted by the parliament.

The right to the freedom of expression

The Constitution and laws guarantee freedom of expression, freedom and pluralism of media and censorship is prohibited. Although there have been some general improvements in freedom of expression and speech, pressure is still exerted against the media by private business and the Government. Pressure and attacks against journalists remain the most serious problems. Self-censorship and censorship are still pressing issues that have been hampering the development of investigative journalism, owing to the political pressures and intimidation to which journalists and editors are subjected. Libel and defamation are considered torts. In the last several years there has been an increase in the number of defamation and libel cases brought against journalists.

The Independent Media Commission is responsible for overseeing and controlling broadcast media throughout Kosovo. A self-regulatory body, the Press Council of Kosovo is tasked with overseeing adherence to the Code of Ethics by the press, and, recently online media. In recent years there has been some improvement in the respect for the Code by print media and a number of other media outlets. However, worryingly, hate speech targeted against different communities in Kosovo (LGBT people and religious and ethnic communities) has been increasing in a number of online media and portals.

The right to freedom of assembly and association

The right to freedom of assembly and association is guaranteed by Constitution. The majority of organisations are registered as non-governmental organisations in line with Law on Freedom of Association. There are no specific prohibitions related to the financing of non-governmental organisations.

The rights to protection against hate speech and war propaganda

Generally, there has been increase and worrying trend of the hate speech particularly in online media targeting members of the LGBT community, Roma community and some religious communities.

The right to political rights

Political rights are guaranteed by the Constitution. Power is shared between the executive, legislative and judicial branches. The Government does de facto have strong influence over two other sections. The Parliament lacks the culture and tradition to conduct the proper parliamentary work and does not hold the government accountable, as it should, while the judiciary is under strong influence of the government.

The right to protection against discrimination

The tenth and most fundamental art of our activities is to promote the right to protection against discrimination. The amended Anti-Discrimination Law, Ombudsperson Law, and Gender Equality Law were adopted in 2015 as a package, with an aim to harmonise key human rights laws and mechanisms and address gaps and issues in practical application of the laws. Positive step in improvement of the human rights situation in Kosovo is the appointment of the Ombudsperson in July 2015, after a long and haul process riddled with political interference.

Discrimination continues to be a major concern towards certain groups and minorities in Kosovo.

Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities remain Kosovo’s most vulnerable and discriminated-against groups. There has been notable progress in the adoption of the legal framework and strategies that protect and promote the rights of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities, such as the Strategy and Action Plan for the integration of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities, 2009-2015, and the legal framework regulating the readmission process in Kosovo. However, concerns and challenges remain with the reintegration of these communities, since the Government has done little to implement the measures envisaged under the National Strategies and legislation that would lead to a more sustainable and permanent solution for the integration of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities.

Most Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities still live in very poor and inhumane conditions in informal settlements or very impoverished areas, with poor and unequal access to welfare, health care, education, employment, and other public services. There is growing concern for the fate of people repatriated from Western Europe that return of their own will or are forced to do so. On their return, they are faced with a lack of housing, placed in poor accommodation, and have difficulty registering property. In addition, there are issues with the registration of children that lack birth certificates from other countries, and problems with school registration because these children lack documents or do not speak the language. Furthermore, returnees find it difficult to access employment and other services. One of the outcomes of this non-functional readmission system is that in the majority of cases the repatriated persons tend to find other alternative ways to return to their former countries of residence.

Although the Constitution and Anti-Discrimination Law prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, there is limited knowledge and willingness to understand LGBT rights, in particular on the part of law enforcement and judiciary authorities. No legal actions have been taken to tackle hate speech and hate crime towards LGBT persons; no cases reported to the police by LGBT persons (threats and physical violence) over the past three or four years have ever been solved by the Kosovo Police. In 2012, the prosecutor failed to initiate any legal action over attacks against the LGBT community and human rights defenders and activists carried out by a fundamentalist group, in which more than 15 people received death threats and two LGBT persons where physically attacked by the group. Such inaction on the part of law enforcement and judiciary can be attributed to under-reporting of threats and attacks by the LGBT community.

In last four years significant progress has been made in empowering the LGBT community and activists and has significantly increased the visibility of this community and resulted in greater promotion of LGBT rights in Kosovo. The people at the head of the three active LGBT organisations are open to the public, which has contributed to empowering other LGBT members to come out to other community members.

Despite all of this progress in ensuring greater Government commitment and enhancing activities of LGBT organisations in promoting LGBT rights, Kosovo society is still very homophobic. Being openly homosexual, bisexual or transgender in Kosovo means being exposed to threats and violence. LGBT people still live in fear of having their sexual orientation exposed to their family and society at large. There are no openly supportive and safe public spaces where LGBT people can meet and no healthcare services and personnel trained in LGBT issues and other means of support for LGBT people. Government, law enforcement and judiciary need to take serious measures to ensure LGBT people in Kosovo have equal treatment, protection and access to their rights.

The role of Civil Rights Defenders in Kosovo
Civil Rights Defenders has been strengthening independent media and human rights defenders in the region of Western Balkans, including Kosovo since 1996. We have worked closely with approximately 20 media and human rights organisations in Kosovo. With our work we have contributed to a number of positive developments in regard to human rights and to the creation of sustainable long-term work focused on the most important human rights issues and processes in the country.

Our field presence in Kosovo has enabled us to acquire a well-established network of partners and obtain capability to assess and be aware of day-to-day political and social developments and issues, and accordingly plan and act in synergy with our local partners. We are human rights organisation with long-term experience that reacts quickly to human rights violations and provides assistance and protection to human rights defenders, when it comes to the most serious human rights issues, such as war crimes, hate crimes, and challenges faced by groups most at risk, such as the Roma or LGBT persons.

Rajmonda Sylbije, the Executive director of our partner organisation Centre for Equality and Liberty in Kosovo (CEL Kosova), is participating in Natalia Project.

Natalia Project is the world’s first alarm and positioning system for human rights defenders at risk powered by social media. All participants go through extensive security training before being equipped with a personal alarm. In the case of an attack, a distress signal is sent to Civil Rights Defenders headquarters in Stockholm. Once the signal has been verified, the alarm goes out through social media to let the world know.

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Download the country report here: Kosovo Country Report.

Categories: Country Reports.
Tags: Human rights.
Regions: Kosovo and Western Balkans.