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Opening remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at a press conference in Kosovo

Prishtinë/Priština, Kosovo, 20 June 2013

Good afternoon, and thank you for coming.

Today is World Refugee Day and a heartening reminder of unresolved issues concerning the human rights of two million people who fled Kosovo in 1998-99, returnees, IDPs, missing persons, and justice and reparation for victims of conflict-related crimes.

Inevitably the effects of conflict, especially of a conflict carried out largely along ethnic and religious fault lines, are still not fully resolved. There needs to be further cooperation, especially with Belgrade, in order to ensure comprehensive solutions are found for all those forcibly displaced in the 1990s.

During my visit, I held meetings with representatives of the Kosovo executive authorities, judiciary and the Assembly. I also held meetings with the Ombudsperson, members of civil society and visited the Serb-majority municipality of Graҫanicë/Gračanica and the Balkans Sunflowers Learning Centre in Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje, for children from Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities.

I am encouraged by the recently concluded Agreement in Brussels and continuing positive dialogue with Belgrade, which took a further step forward with Monday’s first ever exchange of liaison officers. I welcome that the Agreement also aims to improve the rule of law and human rights for all in the North of Kosovo. I also pointed out some issues of concern, in particular the proposed plans for the adoption of an amnesty law and the arrangement of the judiciary along ethnic lines. I also urged a stronger focus on human rights concerns in the future dialogue between Prishtinë/Priština and Belgrade.

Various reform initiatives are underway, including in the judicial system and public administration. Overall, what I heard from many interlocutors is that a good legal and institutional framework with regard to human rights is in place. I welcome some recent initiatives by the authorities, including the establishment of an Inter-ministerial Working Group to draft a Strategy on Transitional Justice. I also salute the tireless efforts of some civil society organizations and the regional transitional justice initiative RECOM* on this issue.

As is the case everywhere, a broad, transparent and consultative approach is vital if good and sustainable results are going to be achieved. I was impressed by the commitment and competences of the Ombudsperson Institution as well as the vibrant, active and articulate civil society.

In my meetings, I stressed that the quality of legislation and policies is more important than the speed with which they are enacted. There needs to be solid fundamental laws, in tune with international human rights standards, and these laws need to be complemented by well drafted by-laws and fully implemented. Similarly, strategies for implementation must be realistic and accompanied by properly budgeted comprehensive action plans with timelines and benchmarks. So for example, while fully in favour of the Visa Liberalization Process, I wish to stress that good legislation is rarely drawn up in haste without proper consultation, impact assessment and carefully defined implementing regulations.

I have also raised some specific concerns related to the weaknesses of the rule of law institutions in Kosovo, including the importance of ensuring the independence of the judiciary, and addressing lengthy pre-trial detention, case backlog, lack of trust in the judiciary and the lack of execution of judicial decisions.

I have impressed on the authorities here the importance of remedying poor legislation and discriminatory practices, as well as taking a tough line against all instances of hate speech. The victims of such discrimination and abuse include various minorities, those with different sexual orientations, those with some physical or mental disabilities, those with different views about religion, faith, politics or other defining features. In short there should be no discrimination against anyone because of who they are or what they do.

Given its history, progress on non-discrimination and tolerance of all minorities, including Serbs, Roma, Ashkali, Egyptians, Gorani, and other groups within Kosovo, as well as those still displaced outside, is an important indicator of how far society’s wounds have healed, and how much more remains to be done.

I am also concerned at attempts by the KLA War Veterans Association and some MPs to stifle arrests of former KLA members allegedly implicated in war crimes. A war crime is a war crime, and anyone who has committed one – whether friend or foe – must be brought to justice. Justice for one side only is counter-productive in the long term as a blatant violation of human rights.

Another serious gap in the proper delivery of justice in Kosovo is the lack of a strong victim and witness protection system. This is essential to earn the trust of victims and witnesses so that they can testify in high-level corruption cases, organized crime cases and war crimes cases. In that sense, it is also important to continue concerted efforts by all on the issue of missing persons to ensure accountability and reparations for victims.

It is important that the authorities investigate conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence and consider the conclusions and recommendations of the study commissioned by my Office in Kosovo.

Forthcoming reforms in the civil administration need better coordination both among Kosovo institutions, and also among international actors in order to make expert assistance more effective and targeted. In the same way, these reforms require continuous support and resources from the international community.

Different human rights bodies within the executive, as well as those that are independent or civil society institutions also need further reflection, in order to ensure they are all working towards the same goals, as laid down in international human rights treaties and standards. All such entities should work towards the same goal: making human rights a reality for every man, woman and child in Kosovo, thereby strengthening the foundations of peace and security, and economic and social development.

Finally, a sustained and comprehensive effort by all those involved in improving education will be of critical importance for Kosovo’s future generations, and their ability to live, work, communicate and participate in development together. Let us not forget that Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe. Inclusive education for all children should be given priority.

Human rights education, in particular, will be a vital part of that effort, and the role of civil society actors and human rights defenders will be the key to the formation of a deeply-rooted human rights culture. My Office stands ready to support Kosovo’s future efforts through my Stand-Alone Office in close partnership with the UN Kosovo Team, UNMIK, regional organizations and other bilateral donors.


All references to Kosovo in this report should be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.

*The regional commission for establishing the facts about war crimes and other gross violations of human rights committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia in the period from 1991-2001 (RECOM initiative)

For further information and media requests, please contact
Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 or + 41 79 506 1088 / rcolville@ohchr.org); Liz Throssell (+ 41 22 917 9434 / ethrossell@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 or +41 79 618 3430 /cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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