State Department report on Kosovo: “Societal violence and discrimination persisted against Kosovo Serbs”

Stejt Department
Foto: Klan Kosova

The State Department published a new report on human rights practices in Kosovo this week. The report states that there were no significant changes in the human rights situation during 2023 and that the Kosovo government took credible but inconsistent steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who “may” have committed human rights abuses.

The report indicates that high-ranking officials are rarely punished for corruption, and that the judiciary has been subject to political interference, disputed appointments, and unclear mandates. It also addressed the ongoing issue of post-war confiscation of property, as well as the unsuccessful solution to this issue. At the same time, it states that ethnic Serbs filed more than 95 percent of property restitution claims.

The State Department report also deals with Pristina’s lack of compliance with its laws in the planned expropriation of 118 plots in the north of Kosovo. At the same time, it is noted that complaints of violence and discrimination against members of minority communities „persist.“ Also, the report highlighted the inconsistent application of the law when it comes to the Serbian language.

On the other hand, it is stated that the Government of Serbia „continued to operate illegal parallel structures“ in Serbian communities, using them to influence citizens and their representatives.

The report is divided into several sections.

Pristina did not follow its laws in the planned expropriation of 118 parcels of land in northern Kosovo

The State Department report also tackled the issue of illegal seizure of Serb-owned properties.

“A complex mix of laws, regulations, administrative instructions, and court practices, as well as the illegal reoccupation of properties and multiple claims for the same property, continued to hamper resolution of property restitution cases arising from the war and its aftermath, from 1998-2000.”

Ethnic Serbs filed more than 95 percent of claims.

Private citizens and religious communities were largely unsuccessful in petitioning for the return of properties seized or confiscated during the Yugoslav era

The report emphasized that the absence of cadastral records, which Serbia removed from Kosovo in 1999 and continued to retain, prevented the agency from fully fulfilling its mandate.

Moreover, the report also addressed the illegal seizures of land use for police bases in the north of Kosovo.

“Kosovan Serbs in Zubin Potok and Leposavic expressed concerns the government was expropriating (their) land for police stations and related police infrastructure (fiber optic cables, roads, etc.) without following due process and legal procedures, and in a nontransparent manner.”

They stressed that international legal experts in August assessed the country’s government did not follow its own expropriation laws and procedures in the planned expropriation of 118 parcels of land in northern Kosovo, the majority of which were Kosovo Serb-owned.

“The government subsequently adjusted its actions, though Kosovan Serb community representatives continued to criticize the government for not being clear regarding the intended use for the land.”

1,616 persons are still listed as missing

The report also dealt with the missing person who disappeared during the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo.

Citing a report of the Kosovo government’s Missing Persons Commission, the State Department highlighted that 1.616 individuals are still listed as missing.

“The commission estimated approximately 70 percent were ethnic Albanians and 30 percent were Serbs, Roma, Ashkali, Balkan-Egyptians, Bosniaks, Goranis, Montenegrins, and others.”

On IDPs

In a short paragraph, the report also tackled the status of internally displaced persons.

“In its October periodical review, UNHCR reported many individuals had displacement-related needs stemming from the 1998-99 conflict and the violent events of 2004, including 15,646 displaced persons within the country. Persistent concerns included discrimination against members of minority communities, fear of violence or harassment, failure to enforce court decisions (particularly those concerning property), property usurpation and damage, lack of access to educational and economic opportunities, and lack of public services in a common language.”

For further information about IDPs, the State Department referred the readers to the materials of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center: https://www.internal-displacement.org

Lengthy detentions, averaging six months

One chapter of the report focused on arrests and detentions.

The report pointed out the issue of lengthy detentions, averaging six months.

“Lengthy detentions, averaging six months, both before and during judicial proceedings, remained a problem, there was insufficient data to determine if pretrial detentions frequently equaled or exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime or of prescribed time limits for detention.”

Lengthy detention was partly due to judicial inefficiency, the report said, adding that judges frequently extended pretrial detentions without adequately re-evaluating the circumstances that led to the initial detention.

“In May, July, and August, the Constitutional Court ruled the length of pretrial detentions of three individuals charged with abuse of office and obstruction of justice violated their constitutional rights. In September, the defendants were released on bail, and one was subsequently acquitted of all charges.”

Judiciary – subject to political interference

Although the Kosovo constitution provided for an independent judiciary, “the judiciary did not always provide due process,” the State Department underlined.

According to the Ombudsperson Institution, the administration of justice was slow and lacked the means to ensure judicial officials’ accountability.

“Judicial structures were subject to political interference, disputed appointments, and unclear mandates.”

They also pointed out that civil society frequently criticized the government for publicly interfering with the independence and impartiality of judicial institutions, particularly regarding corruption investigations of government officials.

Some Kosovo Serb representatives claimed government institutions failed to execute court rulings in favor of Kosovo Serbs, particularly in property-related disputes, the report added.

In its report for 2023, the State Department recalled that central and local authorities in Decani continued to refuse to implement the 2016 decision of the Constitutional Court confirming the Serbian Orthodox Church’s ownership of more than 24 hectares of land adjacent to the Visoki Decani Monastery. The decision, however, was finally implemented early in 2024.

Seven Serbs arrested on war crimes charges in 2023

Referring to the date of the Humanitarian Law Center in Kosovo, the State Department said that seven ethnic Serbs and one Gorani were arrested on war crimes allegations during 2023 as of November.

The Special Prosecution Office of the Republic of Kosovo issued 12 indictments throughout the year for war crimes against five persons in Kosovo and eight in absentia.

“The Humanitarian Law Center noted resolution of conflict-related crimes committed in Kosovo between 1998-2000 remained a challenge, citing inadequate resources and lack of regional cooperation.”

In February, the Appellate Court upheld the Pristina Basic Court’s September 2022 sentencing of one Kosovo Serb to five years’ imprisonment for war crimes against civilians in 1998 in Belo Polje village, Pec Municipality.

In November, the Supreme Court confirmed the sentence of an ethnic Serb to 13 years imprisonment for committing sexual violence as a war crime against the ethnic Albanian civilian population in Vucitrn.

In June, the Prizren Basic Court sentenced an ethnic Albanian to nine years and six months imprisonment for the war crime of kidnapping another ethnic Albanian due to his alleged collaboration with Serbian forces.

Commission to recognize survivors

The report also dealt with the victims of sexual violence during the Kosovo war.

In July, the government extended to May 2025 the mandate of its commission to identify and recognize survivors of conflict-related sexual violence entitled to financial compensation, the report notes.

The law did not recognize as conflict-related any act of sexual violence that occurred after NATO intervention in June 1999.

“The commission granted pensions to more than 1,583 women since 2018, including 177 during the year as of September 2023.”

The State Department highlighted the “slow pace” of the government commission in the review of survivors’ applications.

“The Ombudsperson Institution reported several complaints from applicants concerning breaches of privacy during the commission’s verification procedures. The Special Prosecution Office of the Republic of Kosovo designated one prosecutor for cases of conflict-related sexual violence. Police maintained a unit for war crimes cases, including cases of conflict-related sexual violence.”

12 complaints by detainees of mistreatment by correctional service personnel

The part of the report on the arbitrary deprivation of life, or politically motivated killings, the State Department noted: “There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings, during the year.”

Furthermore, there were no reports of disappearances “by or on behalf of government authorities.”

On the other hand, when it comes to correctional service institutions in Kosovo, the report said that as of August, the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture (NPMaT) received 12 complaints of mistreatment by correctional service personnel.

“Prison and detention center conditions met some international standards, but problems persisted in penitentiaries, including reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence, corruption, exposure to radical religious or political views, and inadequate treatment for prisoners with mental disabilities.”

40 complaints of physical mistreatment by the police

The Police Inspectorate of Kosovo also received complaints of mistreatment by police officers, mistreatment in the exercise of official duty, abuse of official duty, bribery, bodily injury, threatening behavior, and domestic violence.

“As of August, the Ombudsperson Institution, an independent human rights organization, received 40 complaints of physical mistreatment by the police, of which 25 were dismissed on the merits and the rest remained under investigation. The Ombudsperson Institution initiated three additional ex-officio investigations of alleged police abuse.”

Media freedom: The government generally respected this right, but…

A part of the report centered on freedom of expression and media freedom.

It says that the Kosovo government generally respected this right guaranteed by the constitution and law on freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media.

“Credible reports persisted that some public officials, politicians, businesses, criminal elements, and religious groups sought to intimidate media representatives and used violence or threats of violence against journalists.”

As of September, Kosovo Police reported seven cases of “incitement of hatred and ethnic division,” mostly related to graffiti.

Citing the Association of Journalists in Kosovo (AJK), the report stated that the association was targeted with digital smear campaigns several times “when it defended journalists and the media.”

“The AJK reported government officials, including the prime minister and ruling political party members, engaged in smear campaigns to undermine public trust in the media.”

“As of September, the AJK reported 60 instances of government officials, political leaders, judicial staff, business interests, community groups, demonstrators, or religious groups physically assaulting or verbally threatening journalists, damaging their equipment, or conducting cyberattacks against media outlets.”

Journalists claimed pressure from politicians and organized criminal groups frequently resulted in self-censorship, the report states.

“Cases of cyberattacks on the online media persisted. Some journalists refrained from critical investigative reporting due to fear for their physical safety or job security. Journalists occasionally received offers of financial benefits in exchange for positive reporting or for abandoning an investigation.”

Also, government officials as well as suspected criminals verbally threatened journalists for perceived negative reporting.

According to some editors, government agencies and corporations withdrew advertising from outlets that published critical material

In July, the government announced the suspension of the business license of the country’s largest private broadcaster, Klan Kosova, due to an alleged registration violation.

In August, the Commercial Court in Pristina ruled against the Ministry of Industry, Entrepreneurship, and Trade and overturned the suspension.

The State Department also addressed last year’s events in the north of Kosovo.

“The AJK recorded 30 attacks against journalists covering political tensions in the north in May and June, including damage to equipment, burned vehicles, and physical assault of media crews.”

On June 16, masked individuals chased nine media representatives in Leposavic and assaulted a camera operator for the country’s public broadcaster, the report adds.

“Journalists alleged some of the attacks were directed and tacitly approved by political leadership in the north, though officials there denied any involvement and publicly denounced attacks on media.”

Police arrested eight ethnic Serbs for physical attacks on journalists reporting on the tensions in the north in June.

“As of September (2023), five of the suspects were released on bail and three remained in detention.”

The report also mentioned that in April, police arrested three individuals on allegations of assaulting a commentator and owner of an online news portal after he posted a video mocking a prominent imam. He was hospitalized for treatment of his injuries.

Serb government uses illegal structures to influence Serbs and the Gorani

The section on the freedom to participate in political processes states that the Serbian government “continued to operate illegal parallel government structures in Kosovan Serb majority areas and in areas primarily inhabited by the Kosovan Gorani community.”

“The Serbian government often used these structures to influence Kosovan Serb and Kosovan Gorani communities and their political representatives.”

Reminding of the parliamentary elections of February 2021, the report notes that international observers, as well as ethnic minority group representatives, reported concerns regarding the lack of competitiveness in Kosovan Serb areas.

“They noted pressure and intimidation within ethnic minority communities to support parties aligned with Srpska List, a party closely aligned with the Serbian government.”

They also said that party affiliation “often played a role” in access to government services and social and employment opportunities.

“Prospects for opposition parties in Kosovan Serb areas remained limited, however, due to reported pressure and intimidation tactics to influence Kosovan Serbs to support Srpska List.”

Corruption in government

The report notes that the law provided criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively.

“There were numerous reports of government corruption. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. A lack of effective judicial oversight and general weakness in the rule of law contributed to the problem. Corruption cases were routinely subjected to repeated appeal, and the judicial system often allowed statutes of limitation to expire.”

Referring to NGOs and international organizations, the report stated that there are numerous failures by the judicial system to prosecute corruption, noting that very few cases brought against senior officials resulted in convictions. Sentencing of high-level officials convicted of corruption was often lenient.

Societal violence and discrimination persist against Serbs

One part of the report tackled systemic racial or ethnic violence and discrimination.

The Ombudsperson reports that although there is a legal framework for the protection of minorities, there are still problems that prevent full and effective implementation and enforcement, including the lack of institutional capacity. “Reports of violence and discrimination against members of ethnic minority groups persisted.”

“Societal violence, as well as social and employment discrimination, persisted against Kosovan Serb and other ethnic minority communities.”

As an example, they cited a case when an ethnic Serb was shot at a police checkpoint in the north last year by a KP officer.

“In April, a police officer assigned to an official checkpoint in Zvecan municipality shot at a vehicle that did not stop on police orders, causing minor injuries to the ethnic Serb driver. Following an investigation by the Police Inspectorate of Kosovo, the officer was arrested and charged with attempted murder, tampering with evidence, and failure to report; three other police officers were charged with failure to report. The officers were released on house arrest pending trial.”

The shooting prompted protests and criticism from Kosovan Serbs and the international community.

They also reminded that in July, the Supreme Court acquitted former member of parliament and minister Ivan Todosijevic of charges of inciting intolerance and denying atrocities committed against ethnic Albanian civilians in 1999. Todosijevic was serving as the minister of local government administration in 2019 when he publicly denied the occurrence of the well-known Racak massacre of 45 ethnic Albanians.

“The court ruled the remarks fell within the scope of freedom of speech, reasoning the statement was his opinion, which despite being inaccurate, did not include calls for hatred of other communities.”

Discrimination of the minority communities and inconsistent implementation of provisions on languages

The report underlined that ethnic minorities including the Serb, Romani, Ashkali, Balkan-Egyptian, Turkish, Bosniak, Gorani, Croat, and Montenegrin communities faced varying levels of institutional and societal discrimination in employment, education, social services, language use, freedom of movement…

The Office of the Language Commissioner continued to monitor the implementation of legislation that conferred equal status to the country’s two official languages, Albanian and Serbian, as well as other official languages at the local level, including Romani, Bosnian, and Turkish.

The commissioner and the Ombudsperson Institution reported municipal administrations and central government institutions were inconsistent in implementing provisions of national language laws, which resulted in unequal access to public services, information, employment, justice, and other rights.

“Lack of translation or poor translation remained a problem with regards to numerous laws, signage in public institutions, and communication in court proceedings. Courts often failed to provide adequate translation and interpretation services to minority defendants and witnesses and did not provide adequate translation of statute and court documents as required by law. Government efforts to address these problems were inconsistent.”

From the withdrawal from institutions to new problems

The report highlighted the mass withdrawal from Kosovo institutions by the Serbs in the north of Kosovo back in November of 2022.

“Access to justice for citizens in four Kosovan Serb-majority municipalities in the north remained limited following the November 2022 resignations… exacerbating pre-existing problems… As of September, court branches in two municipalities remained closed due to short staffing, and approximately 7,000 cases were pending.”

The identities and photos of newly commissioned ethnic Serb police officers were posted online with threatening messages from ethnic Serb individuals and groups on social media, they alerted.

“Several Kosovan Serb police officers resigned in August shortly after they were commissioned and deployed in northern Kosovo, citing ‘threats and pressure.’ Government officials and international community representatives condemned the acts of intimidation that preceded the officers’ resignations.”



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