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Serbia and Kosovo*: UN rights expert calls for bold efforts to unlock protracted displacement

GENEVA / BELGRADE / PRISTINA (16 September 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), Chaloka Beyani, today urged the Government of Serbia and the authorities in Kosovo to show leadership and intensify their efforts to achieve durable solutions for those who have been living in protracted displacement for some 17 years.

Speaking at the end of his five-day visit to Serbia and Kosovo, Mr. Beyani described the IDPs’ situation as a deadlock and stressed that considerable work remains to be done to effectively solve the displacement issue. There are still some 88,000 vulnerable IDPs in Serbia and over 16,000 in Kosovo who remain with displacement related needs and lack durable solutions, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

“There is a need to verify the actual numbers of persons still in need of a solution and which solutions should be applied,” the human rights expert noted. “I urge the authorities to carry out profiling and needs assessment exercises, and survey of the wishes or intentions of internally displaced persons.”  

The Special Rapporteur, who assessed progress made on his previous recommendations**, recognised that some positive steps have been taken by the Serbian Government and the authorities in Kosovo, including in terms of housing, land and property issues, as well as in terms of documentation. Progress has also been made in terms of institutional arrangements and legal and policy frameworks to respond to the situation of IDPs.

“All durable solutions for IDPs should remain as options open to them, and must be delinked from political processes”, the Special Rapporteur said, noting that the emphasis has too often been put on return. “IDPs must be consulted on what is the best solution for them.” In this context, he also called on the Government in Serbia and authorities in Kosovo, with the help of the international community, to carry out a survey of intent to identify IDPs’ workable durable solutions option for them.

Mr. Beyani noted with concerns that many IDPs are still living in squalid conditions, especially those belonging to the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities. He also deplored the living conditions of the most vulnerable IDPs still housed in collective centres. “These IDPs have specific protection needs, especially in terms of accessing their rights to housing, employment, health care and education, which should be addressed as a matter of urgency,” the Rapporteur stressed.

“Durable housing is a key element of sustainable solutions, and it should be linked to livelihood opportunities,” he said reiterating his recommendation made during his previous visit. He also highlighted a number of other issues that require attention, such as implementing the rule of law, dealing with illegal occupation of properties and effective compensation where the properties involved cannot be recovered. The Rapporteur further urged that solutions be achieved with a view to inclusion, and noted that segregated arrangements are in violation of international law.

The expert emphasised that the international community must not forget the issue of IDPs in Serbia and Kosovo, and that this should be addressed as a key component in the context of the European Union accession framework and in the framework of the Brussels dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.

During his visit, the Special Rapporteur met with relevant Government officials from Serbia and authorities from Kosovo, UN agencies and civil society organizations. He also visited a number of IDPs in the vicinity of Belgrade and Kragujevac, as well as in the municipalities of Prishtinë/Pristina, Mitrovica/ë North, Zvečan/Zveçan, Obiliq/ć and Gračanica/Graçanicë, to hear directly from them about their situation and their preferred solutions.

“I call upon the international community not to turn a blind eye to IDPs in Serbia and Kosovo, and to continue supporting the Government and authorities in Serbia and Kosovo respectively in their efforts to achieve durable solutions to IDPs, and close the internal displacement chapter once and for all,” the expert said.

“Reconciliation and healing is needed more than ever before to ensure the success of durable solutions in Serbia and Kosovo”, concluded Mr. Beyani.

The Special Rapporteur thanked the Government of Serbia and the authorities in Kosovo for their cooperation with his mandate during both of his visits.

(*) All references to Kosovo in the present document should be understood to be in compliance with Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.

(**) Check the Special Rapporteur’s 2013 report on Serbia and Kosovo: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/26/33/Add.2

Mr. Chaloka Beyani, professor of international law at the London School of Economics, was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons by the Human Rights Council in September 2010. As a Special Rapporteur, he is part of the Special Procedures of Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization, and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IDPersons/Pages/IDPersonsIndex.aspx

Check the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IDPersons/Pages/Standards.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Serbia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/RSIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Mr. Graham Fox (+41 22 917 9640 / gfox@ohchr.org) or Ms. Harriet Hirst (+41 22 739 8110 / hirst@unhcr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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