OSCE Mission in Kosovo Office of Press and Public Information
04 November 05(Unedited report)

Pariah's Fate?
(Koha Ditore, by Marek Antoni Nowicki, Ombudsperson of Kosovo)

(Koha Ditore, By Marek Antoni Nowicki, Ombudsperson of Kosovo)

The United Nations Security Council recently agreed to open up negotiations on Kosovo's political status. Now, the UN's most expensive mission to date is
facing a policy dilemma. In an October speech to the Security Council,
the head of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Soren Jessen-Petersen,
stated that Kosovo's on-going political development must not be at the
expense of the safety considerations for the diverse, non-Albanian
residents, pledging that his administration and the provisional government,
"Reinforce progress on those actions which will do most to improve the
living conditions of minorities in Kosovo and to promote a multi-ethnic
future." Presumably, this policy directive also includes members of
Kosovo's societal fringes, namely the large numbers of Roma, displaced in
attacks by Albanian groups shortly after NATO bombing stopped in 1999. In
practice, however, representatives of Kosovo's Roma community are skeptical
that the international administration will hold itself and the provisional
government accountable to such publicly stated policy goals. Contextually, the Roma do indeed have a body of evidence to support such a claim. Take the most well known case involving more than 6,000 Roma ethnically cleansed from their mahalla or community in the northern city of Mitrovica/Mitrovice six years ago.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
facilitated the relocation of more than 500 members of this displaced community to makeshift camps in the Zvecan municipality north of Mitrovica/Mitrovice. In 2000, World Health Organization (WHO) investigators discovered that these camps were located on land that was clearly contaminated with heavy metals. In July of 2004, with the Roma still living in the same location, the WHO returned and urged an immediate evacuation of the site. After two rounds of negotiations in March of this year between Roma representatives, UN affiliated agencies and the Southern Municipal leadership of Mitrovica/Mitrovice, the Roma from the Zvecan camps asked UN affiliated representatives to negotiate on their behalf in their bid to return to the original mahalla site. The international administration assumed this responsibility during the negotiations process, no doubt due to increased publicity on the issue, which put the UN mission on high alert; something had to be done to alleviate the health risks being assumed by the Roma. In September, the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) filed a lawsuit in one of Kosovo's criminal courts as a means of identifying the decision-makers responsible for relocating and maintaining the Roma camps since 1999. The local lawyer handling the case stated publicly that he would ask UNMIK
Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), Jessen-Petersen, to lift the traditional veil of immunity that protects internationals from prosecution if those responsible turn out to be internationals. Thus, six years after this particular group of Roma were displaced and after a considerable amount of time was wasted by the UN administration in seriously attending to their needs, a final agreement with the Albanian leadership in the South Mitrovica/Mitrovice municipality reached in April has barely made it through the preparation phase of reconstruction. Although there has been some progress, more politically expedient issues related to Kosovo's economic and democratic progress are taking precedence over the immediate needs of the Roma population - a phenomenon not unique to Kosovo. Still, the leaders of the Roma camps in Zvecan have been unyielding in their demands to return to their original homes, even at the expense of their health. To "settle" on even a temporary place is, in their eyes, to be forgotten by the powers that be. Internationals and municipal representatives working on the issue have said that the Roma present unique challenges in the returns process because they are a naturally guarded people, resistant to participating in often complicated bureaucratic processes.

Non-governmental organizations(NGO's), on the other hand, have had few problems in helping the Roma develop platforms for negotiating their claims. Perhaps it is because they are not affiliated with governmental structures, and there is more trust with NGO's, or perhaps it is because groups like the Danish Refugee Council have simply made the time to go family by family to ask what is needed "field work" in other words, a component I think is often missing in Kosovo policy-making, especially where the Roma are concerned.

As for immediate relocation efforts, Germany recently joined a list of contributors, donating 500 thousand euros for the Roma living in the Zvecan camps, less than half of what the UN estimates it will take to complete the process. The SRSG himself defended the actions of his administration in addressing the Roma needs, saying that "we now have the will and the plan" but the international community has not seen fit to donate. The official response for this lack of money is "donor fatigue." But, to blame such lack of funding on "outsiders" not stepping to the plate to help the Roma is to betray the facts: UNMIK waited until 2005 to hold its first donor conference on the issue, and UNMIK has admitted that vastly more substantial amounts than the 1.3 million euros for relocation are needed to rebuild the original Roma Mahalla site. It is my fear that in the upcoming status discussions the bi-polar frame of competing political forces, Albanian versus Serb, will force the Roma off the road of greater inclusion. Although the international community has made it a point to mention the Roma in the context of security and integration, is it possible to impose on the majority Albanian population the idea that the Roma are indeed an integral part of Kosovo's societal fabric? If, for example, the Roma Mahalla in South Mitrovica is not rebuilt, then certainly it will reinforce the idea that the people who destroyed it in July 1999 were successful in their goal of cleansing Roma from this place forever.