State Department: Over 100 attacks on Serbian property and Serbian Orthodox Church, over 23 attacks on returnees in 2018

Stejt Department
Foto: Klan Kosova

The US State Department’s annual report on the state of human rights among the Serbian community in Kosovo is mainly focused on impaired security and the difficulty in exercising property restitution, while Kosovo was characterized by a high rate of corruption.

Return and property restitution

According to the UNHCR, approximately 90,000 former residents of Kosovo still remain displaced. In all, 8,367 displaced persons (2,104 families), primarily Kosovo Serbs, registered their interest in returning to the country, while social prejudice prevented the return of nearly 400 Ashkalis, Balkan Egyptians, and Roma from Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro.

On the other hand, the Communities and Returns Ministry reported 370 individuals returned to their places of origin as of August.

The return process in some areas of Kosovo continued to be marked by security incidents or local communities’ reluctance to accept minority returnees, as well as the returnees’ lack of trust in law enforcement – the report emphasizes.

Despite the government’s official calls for the return of displaced persons, it did not take steps to eliminate obstacles to housing repossession or assistance. Such obstacles included land allocation for housing construction, security problems in some areas, and overall lack of socioeconomic prospects for returnees.

Jevtic: Someone pointed to the real problems

The Minister for Communities and Return, Dalibor Jevtic commented the State Department report, stating that, at last, the „real problems“ faced by the Serbs in Kosovo were pointed out „in such an important document“. „Over 100 incidents, insufficient support for the return process briefly describe everything that today presents the problem of survival and the return of Serbs to Kosovo,“ Jevtic said. The minister also expressed hope that the State Department report will affect the action of representatives of the international community in Kosovo to do more regarding these issues and have a greater impact on institutions that need to do their job in accordance with the laws.

In addition, the State Department report reads that a confusing mix of laws, regulations, administrative instructions, and court practices, as well as the illegal reoccupation of properties continue to hamper the resolution of property restitution. The Kosovo Property Claims Commission had adjudicated 41,849 of 42,749 registered claims. Over 96 percent of cases were filed by ethnic Serbs.

The Commission had difficulty enforcing the eviction of illegal occupants and it lacked funds to pay the compensation to 143 persons.

On the other hand, the area of the country with the highest proportion of pending evictions was Mitrovica, with 292, primarily affecting Kosovo Albanians.

However, there are court decisions on the return of property that are not respected, and the most striking case is the case of the local government in Decani which continues to refuse to implement the decision of the Constitutional Court confirming the ownership of the Serbian Orthodox Church over more than 24 hectares of land adjacent the Visoki Decani Monastery, but none of the officials involved in failing to carry out the court order have been sanctioned.

Kosnett: Corruption and violence against minorities and journalists

The US ambassador to Pristina, Philip Kosnett also reacted to the State Department report. He tweeted about the main topics of the report and added that “Kosovo continues to be held back by corruption, attacks on journalists, expulsion of foreign citizens without due process and violence against minorities.” Kosnett also emphasized that the revision of the Criminal Code is a step forward.

Security

The UNHCR reported that the Kosovo Police maintained an increased presence in areas with returnees to prevent interethnic violence, but despite of it, 23 incidents of violence against ethnic Serbs were recorded last year and one incident involving Roma returnees.

The report mentions that protestors threw stones at ethnic Serb IDPs visiting a church in Klina to mark a religious holiday. The Kosovo Police arrested an individual accused of orchestrating the attack.

In addition to these security incidents against returnees, the report also lists Oliver Ivanovic’s murder, but also that 100 cases of theft, break-ins, verbal attacks and property damage belonging to the Kosovo Serbs or the Serbian Orthodox Church were recorded in the first seven months of 2018.

The report also details the arrest of Marko Djuric in North Mitrovica on March 26th. It states that during the action of the special police intervention unit of the Kosovo Police, 32 people were injured and that the status of the investigation requested by Serb representatives in parliament has remained unknown since November.

You can read the entire State Department report here.

Freedom of movement

The Ibar Bridge connecting North and South Mitrovica remained fully open only to pedestrians. Other bridges connecting the two cities were fully open – the report reads.

The report, however, also states that the government did not consider Serbian-issued personal documents bearing Kosovo town names to be valid travel documents, making it difficult for many members of the Kosovo Serb community to travel freely to and from Kosovo, unless using the two border crossings with Serbia located in the Kosovo-Serb majority municipalities in the north.

Media

The cases of intimidation of journalists by public officials, politicians, businessmen and radical religious groups were recorded in 2018 – 16 such cases according to the information of the Association of Journalists of Kosovo, and it is also reported that the media have difficulties in gathering information from the government and public institutions.

However, despite the reported pressures, the State Department estimates that independent media still managed to present diverse attitudes, generally without restriction. Financial difficulties jeopardize editorial independence.

The report explicitly cites one case of assault on a journalist of Albanian ethnicity by Serbs during the arrest of Marko Djuric, while ethnic Serb journalists covering the same gathering claimed the KP teargassed them, pushed them to the ground, and destroyed their equipment. It is not known whether an investigation requested by Serbian officials over excessive use of force by the Kosovo Police in this particular case includes reported attacks on journalists.

Out of over 1,600 missing people, 70% are Albanian

The International Committee of the Red Cross registered 1,608 persons missing in the 1998-1999 conflict period as well as in the period of political violence that followed.

Although ICRC data do not provide a public insight into the ethnicity of missing persons, according to the information of those who had access to this data, about 70 percent of the missing persons are Albanian, while 30 percent of the missing are Serbs, Roma, Ashkali, Egyptians, Bosniaks and Montenegrins.

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