Ninth Assessment of the Situation of Ethnic Minorities in Kosovo
(Period covering September 2001 to April 2002)
Kosovo Serb Situation (p. 56)
Full Report in PDF available at:
196. Kosovo Serbs constitute a majority in specific municipalities, in Štrpce/Shtërpcë, urban Mitrovicë/Mitrovica north of the Ibar River and in the northern municipalities of Zvecan/Zveçan, Leposavic/Leposaviq and Zubin Potok. In most other areas of Kosovo they are in the minority, living in enclaves or in isolation. Kosovo Serbs remain the primary targets of ethnically motivated violent attacks. As a result, physical security remains the overriding issue of concern for those Kosovo Serbs who live in a minority situation, as it not only affects their lives and fundamental freedoms (such as freedom of movement) but also the enjoyment of a multitude of life sustaining economic and social rights. The precarious environment that still confronts Kosovo Serbs is underlined by incidents such as the 21 October 2001, shooting of a Kosovo Serb man through the window of his house at night, in Devet Jugovica, causing serious injuries; the firing of five rounds from a pistol towards a group of Kosovo Serb children waiting for public transportation in Plemetin/Plemetina village on 30 January 2002; and the arrest of two Kosovo Albanian males in Viti/Vitina municipality on 27 January 2002 for allegedly attempting to kill a Kosovo Serb male while he was walking home.
197. Kosovo Serbs also continue to suffer violations of property rights, which include coercion to sell property, destruction of property and attacks on religious monuments and sites and desecration of cemeteries. On 29 November 2001, in Gjilan/Gnjilane a Kosovo Serb woman was threatened that she would suffer a grenade attack on her store unless she gave up its possession to the perpetrator. Also in Gjilan/Gnjilane, on 11 December 2001, an explosive device was thrown at a house belonging to a Kosovo Serb causing damage to a wall and roof; in the same region on 18 January 2002, a Kosovo Albanian man threatened a Kosovo Serb over a land dispute; in Kamenicë/Kamenica on 3 January 2002, two improvised explosive device attacks were carried out against two different houses and shots were fired at the houses of the victims, the attack caused damage to both houses and a parked motor vehicle on one of the premises. On 9 March 2002, in Novobërdë/Novo Brdo, three individuals robbed a Kosovo Serb farm, severely assaulted the owner and stole his cattle; the 66 year old victim suffered serious injuries and burns, and the forest around his farm was set on fire. In Podujevë/Podujevo on 11 March 2002, in a Kosovo Serb cemetery twelve gravesite head stones were knocked down in an act of desecration. In Štrpce/Shtërpcë on 15 March 2002, Kosovo Albanian perpetrators were arrested on allegations of setting a Kosovo Serb's stable on fire and causing extensive damage to the property. On 7 April 2002, unknown persons set a Kosovo Serbs' house on fire in Rahovec/Orahovac, in what is suspected as arson. On April 22 2002, an abandoned Serb house in Klokot (Viti/Vitina) was leveled by a strong explosion. On 26 April 2002, a hand grenade was thrown at a Kosovo Serb house, causing some damages to the property. On the same day, in Obiliq/Obilic, a Kosovo Serb's barn was set on fire, destroying some hay and tools.
198. Kosovo Serbs suffer harassment, intimidation and humiliation, the most common form of harassment being the recurrent throwing of stones at vehicles transporting Kosovo Serbs. For example: on 9 January 2002, in Kaçanik/Kacanik, a bus in a convoy was pelted with stones breaking a window and causing facial injuries to a Kosovo Serb male passenger; in Lipjan/Lipljan on 5 February 2002, three Kosovo Albanian boys threw stones at a vehicle carrying four Kosovo Serb men causing head injuries to the driver. The prime targets of these incidents are often the elderly and women as demonstrated in September 2001, when reports were received of the harassment of an 81 year old Kosovo Serb woman, a resident of urban Prishtinë/Priština, who regularly had stones thrown at her window, strangers banging her door or shouting a barrage of verbal abuse; as a result, after making several requests to KFOR to provide protection, in sheer exasperation and exhaustion she expressed the desire to leave Kosovo for Serbia proper. In addition, Kosovo Serbs are accosted, insulted, taunted and spat at on the streets as they walk to or from work, school, health centres, shops or other essential public facilities. These ethnically motivated acts demoralise, frustrate and humiliate their victims, and pervasively affect their sense of security whether or not actual physical harm occurs, and engender a reasonable perception that one is under constant threat. This perception in turn further curtails freedom of movement.
199. These factors have contributed significantly to the decision by many Kosovo Serbs to stay in isolation in main urban centres where they constitute a minority, concentrate in enclave like locations, or remain in displacement either as IDPs or refugees. Those few who have returned mainly as a result of difficult living conditions in exile are those who are from rural areas, while IDPs displaced from urban centres have had no opportunities to return. Some IDPs have returned into displacement into the enclave like locations in central and northern Kosovo.
200. Notwithstanding the above, significant advances in the situation of Kosovo Serb in terms of mobility and accessing services have been noted during the current reporting period. The advances are also attributable to the fact that, like other minorities, Kosovo Serbs after almost three years of living in difficult conditions are taking bold measures to break their isolation, albeit at some personal risk. The determination to ameliorate the effects of the situation has increased within the Kosovo Serb population, with variations according to local risk levels and personal perception of risk. To illustrate, an increasing number of Kosovo Serbs in the Prishtinë/Priština region, during the reporting period, have started to drive to nearby towns without KFOR escort which would have been unimaginable previously. This change in perception can arguably be attributed to the growing number of Kosovo Serbs being prepared to run the gauntlet than continue to put up with the constant harassment and intimidation by some elements in the majority population. One example is the reaction of some members of the Kosovo Serb community in Obiliq/Obilic town who, following the killing of a Serb woman near the railway station on 22 February 2002, resolutely continued to walk along the same path where the woman was shot and killed. Similarly, Kosovo Serbs have started to visit local shops and the municipality building in Obiliq/Obilic town and Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje to access services without KFOR escort.
201. New security measures (or changes to existing measures) put in place by KFOR have in some areas also indirectly influenced trends in mobility of Kosovo Serbs. In some locations, the dismantling of ubiquitous static checkpoints in favour of more mobile area security measures134 led to increased mobility of minorities (due to reduction of barriers), while in other locations, mobility was reduced, either due to the fact that in some locations these measures provoked heightened perception of risk amongst the minority communities, or due to more objective reasons such as the rise of stone-throwing in certain areas concurrent with the removal of static security. On the whole, however, the trend was towards increased mobility. For example, in Gjilan/Gnjilane town and the Viti/Vitina area, Kosovo Serbs enjoyed incremental increases in mobility concurrent with specific efforts on the part of KFOR to increase area security. Thus, Kosovo Serbs are increasingly seen walking the streets, accessing some shops and public services, and driving motor vehicles with former local Yugoslav registration plates on selected roads. Increased mobility in Gjilan/Gnjilane has been positively influenced by the facilitation of transport services that bring Kosovo Serbs from surrounding areas into the town for the market day three times a week and the organised shopping trip from Štrpce/Shtërpcë. The stimulated growth of inter-ethnic commercial activity is undoubtedly another important contributing factor. Yet even in areas which have experienced relatively greater improvements, such as in the Gjilan/Gnjilane region, prolonged periods of reduced violence can still be interrupted. For example, on 26 April 2002, a hand grenade was thrown at the house of an elderly Serb woman in the centre of Viti/Vitina town.
202. Despite some advances, which tend to be most significant in certain regions (namely Gjilan/Gnjilane), freedom of movement still remains highly limited, and contingent upon special escort and/or collective transport arrangements, for most Serbs in Kosovo and this impedes full access to social and economic rights, contributing to the high levels of unemployment and dependence on humanitarian assistance. For example, in 134 KFOR's strategy is discussed at length in the chapter on security and response of authorities, paragraph 14 and afterwards. Mushnikovo/Mushnikovë, Prizren region, Kosovo Serbs only have free movement inside their village. In urban areas, those very few Kosovo Serbs who remain continue to live in highly precarious situations, and individuals in ethnically mixed families continue to maintain a very low profile. In general terms Kosovo Serbs cannot independently move or speak their language without risk. In light of the harassment and other acts of intolerance, the depth of the problem is perhaps illustrated when it is considered a measure of progress when a Kosovo Serb visits a local shop and manages to safely purchase goods.
203. The situation for Kosovo Serbs, with limited advances in security, has thus become less uniform and more difficult to generalise, but the fundamental causes of insecurity outlined in previous reports remain unresolved. Therefore, the increase in mobility and cautious access to facilities providing essential services should not be taken as an indication of a substantial improvement in the enjoyment of fundamental human rights and freedoms for the Kosovo Serbs, and in general of minorities.