Institute on Religion and Public Policy: Until Conditions Improve, Kosovo Independence “Cannot and Must Not Be an Option

Published on June 19, 2006, IRPP

Category: News from the American Council for Kosovo

-- IRPP President Joseph Grieboski: “The situation of religious freedom in Kosovo remains utterly intolerable under accepted international standards.” --

Testimony of Joseph K. Grieboski Founder and President Institute on Religion and Public Policy Hearing on Status of Human Rights, Democracy and Integration in South Central Europe Before the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (June 15, 2006) [ . . .] Serbian Province of Kosovo The Provisional Authorities of Kosovo have recently introduced a draft religion law that potentially violates the religious rights of individuals and institutions at every level. Under Section J of the law, Religious Communities and Churches can, subject to the conditions set out in this Law, acquire authorization to exercise special rights articulated in J(a)-(d). Registered Religious Communities may apply for acknowledgement of the special status pursuant to Article (J) on condition that: 1) they have, at the time of application, been legally established for at least 10 years; and 2) full-age citizens or foreigners with habitual residence in the territory of Kosovo belonging to the respective Religious Community count more than one per thousand of inhabitants of Kosovo according to the last census. The law, if passed, would represent a substantial interference with the rights of minority religious communities and Churches unable to meet the 10 Year Rule and the Population Rule. For example, religious communities unable to meet the duration and representation requirements would be deprived of the right to charge persons with the provision of spiritual services and to make use of appropriate facilities in security forces, in hospitals, in areas of custody or imprisonment as well as in preventive cure and social retraining facilities. The law, as drafted, violates the right to freedom of religion or belief and the right to be free from discrimination based on religious grounds. Kosovo: European Convention Standards The draft law cannot be countenanced with the right to freedom of religion or belief pursuant to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Convention) and the right to be free from religious discrimination pursuant to Article 14 of the Convention. The clear interferences with Article 9 and 14 rights cannot be justified by Kosovo authorities. Whatever the aim (or asserted aim) of the 10 Year Rule and the Representation Rule, the authorities cannot demonstrate that its enactment would be strictly necessary to meet a pressing social need, or that it is narrowly targeted to meet that need. The draft law has a disproportionate adverse impact on minority religious organizations and communities new to Kosovo by depriving them of the right to perform critical religious functions in violation of the right to be free from religious discrimination under the Convention. The draft law’s approach contravenes the European Court of Human Rights’ application of a fundamental human rights policy of the European Community to religious freedom issues – "the need to secure true religious pluralism, an inherent feature of the notion of a democratic society". Similarly, the Court has emphasized the importance of "pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness, without which there is no democratic society". As the Court has stressed, since religious entities exist in the form of organized structures," the autonomous existence of religious communities is indispensable for pluralism in a democratic society and is thus an issue at the very heart of the protection which Article 9 affords". It would frustrate this policy of "true religious pluralism" and result in arbitrariness and unfair discrimination to exclude minority faiths from attaining the same rights and benefits of other religions simply because they are small or new to Kosovo. Kosovo: OSCE Standards The draft law also violates OSCE standards. The OSCE, in a document entitled Freedom of Religion or Belief: Laws Affecting the Structuring of Religious Communities, has determined that population requirements such as Kosovo’s are "troublesome" in relation to fundamental human rights standards and that such duration requirements contravene OSCE standards: "The wording of this commitment in Principle 16.3 of the Vienna Concluding Document recognizes that the precise form of legal personality varies from legal system to legal system, but access to some form of legal entity is vital to OSCE compliance. This is clearly violated by the refusal to register religious groups that do not satisfy the 15-year rule. The drafters of the Russian legislation apparently attempted to remedy this defect by creating limited entity status, but this also fails to satisfy the OSCE commitment, because the limited status does not confer rights to carry out important religious functions. Failure to grant such status constitutes a limitation on manifestation of religion that violates Article 9 of the ECHR. It can hardly be said that denial of entity status, simply due to an organization's failure to ‘exist’ under a preceding, anti-religious, communist government, ‘is necessary in a democratic society’ or a proportionate response to a legitimate state interest". Kosovo: United Nations Standards Finally, the draft law violates UN standards. The concepts of equality under the law and non-discrimination are emphasized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As stated in one United Nations study: "The important guiding principle is that no individual should be placed at a disadvantage merely because he is a member of a particular ethnic, religious or linguistic group. Above all, in any multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-linguistic country, the strict application of the principles of equality and non-discrimination is an indispensable requirement for maintaining the political and spiritual unity of the State concerned and achieving understanding and harmonious relations between the various components of society." The most important finding by the United Nations on religion is Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 22 on Article 18 of the Covenant, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This General Comment provides the Human Rights Committee’s definitive interpretation of the right to freedom of religion. The Human Rights Committee finds that: "Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility by a predominant religious community." (Para. 2) (Emphasis supplied). The Covenant thus clearly prohibits any attempt to discriminate against religions because they are small or are newly established in a State. The General Comment also emphasizes the narrow permissible restrictions government may impose on religions, and the need to ensure equality and non-discrimination among religions. "In interpreting the scope of permissible limitation clauses, States parties should proceed from the need to protect the rights guaranteed under the Covenant, including the right to equality and non-discrimination ... Limitations imposed must be established by law and must not be applied in a manner that would vitiate the rights guaranteed in Article 18…" (Para 3). The draft law in governing the ways that religious communities acquire rights essential to important religious functions and to economic survival, imposes limitations on the organizational manifestations of religion or belief. Like any other limitation on freedom of religion, they must be justifiable under the exacting standards detailed in the United Nations Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 22. In addition, it must be clear that restrictions are not applied with discriminatory purpose or in a discriminatory manner. The draft law does not meet these requirements. The draft law violates European Convention, OSCE and UN standards. On the Ground in Kosovo The situation of religious freedom in Kosovo remains utterly intolerable under accepted international standards. As the time for talks on the future status of Kosovo draws near, the need to examine the record of political and social developments in the province to determine the level of preparation of Kosovo for either autonomous or independent rule is most urgent. The present record of rule of law, protection of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, and the return/resettlement of internally displaced people by the Provisional Authority of Kosovo – all of which are indispensable for democratic governance – have been gravely unsatisfactory in the last six years. We cannot discuss viable political self-rule of Kosovo unless there is a well-demonstrated, long-term commitment on the part of Kosovo power holders to the preservation of peace and ethnic diversity of the region through both legislative and institutional means. As I will expound below, since 1999 the Kosovo Provisional Authority on numerous occasions acted contrary to pertinent democratic commitments and norms, and therefore cannot be trusted as the sole independent guarantor of rights and freedoms for all peoples of Kosovo. The Institute on Religion and Public Policy led an investigative delegation of religious liberty leaders to Kosovo in August 2004 to inspect the situation in Kosovo and witness the damage in Pristina, Prizren, Dechani and other areas of the province in the aftermath of the ethnic violence earlier in March that same year. Admittedly it was the first such independent international religious delegation to visit Kosovo since 1999. It is both from the findings of the delegation and from the close monitoring of Kosovo by the Institute on Religion and Public Policy in the past several years that I am testifying today. Kosovo since 1999: Key Sociopolitical Dynamics Kosovo, the heart of Serbian Orthodoxy since the 12th century that largely formed the Serbian national identity in the following centuries, by 1999 was home to diverse religious and ethnic groups. Kosovo Muslims who inhabited the region since victory in the epic battle of Kosovo in the 14th century constituted a significant majority in 1990s. Unfortunately, since 1981 no official census has been taken, and the demographic stratification of Kosovo is not statistically confirmed. By some estimation it has been increasing over the decades of communist rule favoring the wider autonomy for the region for the sake of balancing out Serbian influence in larger Yugoslavia and has reached nearly 80% of total Albanians living in Kosovo by the early 1990s (hence the sentiment of the predominant Albanian population for self-rule on ethno-historical and demographic grounds). When,in response to demands for greater self-rule and independence in the 1990s,Slobodan Milosevic radically reacted by conducting policies of ethnic cleansing and disfranchisement of Albanian population, the United States and NATO considered the plight of the people of Kosovo and engaged through NATO bombing of the Serbian capital Belgrade with the aim of forcing Milosevic to stop the ongoing ethnic cleansing. Following the bombardment, according to UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the peacekeeping mission UNMIK was established in Kosovo to oversee administrative matters of the region, while KFOR was formed as an international police force mandated to deter hostilities, establish security in Kosovo and daily protect the inhabitants. Under the Constitutional Framework for Provisional Self-Government of Kosovo of May 15, 2001, the Kosovo Provisional Authority was to assume power as the indigenous democratic governing body under the supervision of UNMIK. This mechanism was envisioned to ensure peaceful transition of Kosovo to the next stage of political arrangement, where independence was regarded by some as an option. Mr. Chairman, all of these institutions have failed to protect the people of Kosovo from violence and instability. Since 1999, around 200,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo for fear of communal or institutional violence. Largely these families are rarely known to return. Indeed, the refugees have cast their vote with their feet. As we have well seen from recent Balkan history, any change in demographic balance because of one ethnic group threatening the existence of another is bound to have repercussions in places of the region where the same ethnic groups live in close proximity to one other (e.g. Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, etc). This out flux is critical for regional security balance, to say nothing of the day to day needs of fleeing peoples. Unfortunately, this problem in no way was adequately addressed by either UNMIK or Kosovo Provisional Authority. Not only has the fear of violence been driving Serbs out of their homes in Kosovo, ethnic Serbs that remain in Kosovo are denied treatment in hospitals, denied construction of schools, and are inflicted with increasingly rigid travel restrictions, effectively confining them to Serbian ghettos. With implicit endorsement of the UN peacekeeping forces, this practice ensures the isolation of ethnic groups from each other, and thus conveniently creates an artificial environment where ethnic tension can be caged. But peace confined through a cage is no real peace, nor is it a democratic practice that allows individuals and communities to develop to their best capacity. True transformation heeds the rights of minorities and fosters diversity is needed, although the Kosovo Provisional Authority has not been able to provide it thus far. March, 2004 and Its Consequences for Future Kosovo Stability The most appalling event that demonstrated the incompetence of both Provisional Authority, UNMIK, and KFOR to protect the people of Kosovo started on March 17, 2004. On that day ethnic violence erupted involving over 50,000 individuals in at least 30 separate incidents, which claimed the lives of 19 civilians and injured over 900 persons, including international peacekeepers and members of the clergy. This violence displaced more than 4,000 persons, mainly Serbs, from their homes. The ethnic violence perpetrated by Kosovo Albanians resulted in the destruction or serious damage of more than 900 houses and 150 vehicles belonging to Kosovo Serbs, Roma, Ashkali, and other minorities. Our delegation learned that ethnic violence was directed toward the centers of cultural and religious life of Kosovo's minority communities, more specifically the Orthodox, and it resulted in the desecration of approximately 36 churches and monasteries, many centuries old, added up to the total of over 140 churches and other religious places ruined, damaged and desecrated in the past decade. Let me illustrate how such atrocities could happen in the presence of multi-thousand regiments of KFOR that were supposed to ensure the security in the region. The Monastery of Djakovica is the home of several Orthodox nuns, some of them of senior age. During the first night of violence, French KFOR troops held back the attacking mob from the monastery that historically was a place of great respect and pilgrimage for the Muslim population of Kosovo. On the second night, in the absence of the abbess, French KFOR troops forcefully threw the nuns, in the words of one of the elderly nuns, “like sacks of potatoes” into an armored vehicle. As the troops stood by watching, an angry mob attacked the monastery. French troops were alerted that an elderly nun who had recently suffered a heart attack was recovering in her cell, but responded that there was nothing they could do for her as the mob set her room on fire. By the Grace of God, the nun escaped to the neighboring forest and lived in the elements for three days with no food, shelter or blanket for fear of her life before returning to the monastery. This is an exemplary story of how KFOR has generally perceived its mission: protect people, not property. The result is worth reiterating; 19 people dead, 900 injured. Although Italian and American troops did in some places prevent desecration, in general there is great need to reform KFOR policing practices and communication to prevent this from happening again. While none of the Churches in Kosovo has yet been restored, the number of mosques has grown significantly with funding from Saudi Arabia and other Islamic states, as the plaques on these mosques indicate. Although many mosques are empty, such process of religious mapping in and of itself has symbolic and political repercussions. After March 17, 2004 the Serbian population of Kosovo has refused to recognize as legitimate the authorities in Kosovo that failed to fulfill their mandate and largely boycotted the 2004 fall elections for the Kosovo Assembly. Without further explanation, let me simply point out that such a political situation is in no way conducive to either larger autonomy or independence of Kosovo. Finally, the Institute on Religion and Public Policy has closely monitored the Kosovo Provisional Authority attempt to introduce a law on religion which violates significantly internationally accepted standards for religious freedom in at least seven of its articles. We voiced our objection to UNMIK about this law which was drafted to establish tight governmental control over religious groups and set limiting conditions of their ability to survive as communities. Needless to say such legislative initiatives by the Provisional Authority contradicts democratic standards and can further exacerbate religious stability in the region. Clearly, the problem of internally displaced persons, the incapacity of Kosovar provisional institutions to prevent violence, and gross mistreatment of religious minorities by legislative and other socio-political means by current Kosovo institutions demonstrates the lack of democratic infrastructure that would prevent the region from further collapse into the very ethnic and religious violence that the international community initially intervened to stop and avert. Until the above is guaranteed, the independence of Kosovo cannot and must not be an option. With this in mind, let me offer the following recommendations for urgent steps to address the present and future critical situation in Kosovo: - UNMIK must appoint an investigative commission to find and render judicial persecution the perpetrators of the March 17 violence; - The international community through UNMIK and the European Union must allocate aid to restore the demolished and desecrated churches to their full historical appearance and religious functionality; - UNMIK must require the Provisional Authority to reverse its socio- economic policies toward the minority population of Kosovo and begin a legitimate and objective process for resettlement of the IDPs while ensuring freedom of movement of the minority population in the enclaves; - NATO must permit KFOR to widen its mandate to fully protect all peoples of Kosovo as well as sites of historic and religious value and significantly improve communications and the chain of command and cooperation within KFOR; - Encourage closer cooperation of OSCE and the structures of the European Union with Kosovo authorities for the economic reconstruction and supervision of the legislative, executive and judicial process in Kosovo.

WASHINGTON, JUNE 16, 2006 – Joseph K. Grieboski, Founder and President of the Institute of Religion and Public Policy (IRPP; www.religionandpolicy.org), today described in detail the failure of the international community and the Albanian-dominated provisional authority in Kosovo to protect fundamental human rights – and religious freedom in particular – in the Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija. Testifying before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on the Status of Human Rights, Democracy and Integration in South Central Europe, Mr. Grieboski told the panel: “The situation of religious freedom in Kosovo remains utterly intolerable under accepted international standards. As the time for talks on the future status of Kosovo draws near, the need to examine the record of political and social developments in the province to determine the level of preparation of Kosovo for either autonomous or independent rule is most urgent.” Mr. Grieboski, who led an investigative delegation of U.S. religious liberty leaders to Kosovo in August 2004 to inspect the damage from mass coordinated attacks by Muslim Albanians on Christian Serbs and their places of worship in March of that year, observed: “While none of the Churches in Kosovo has yet been restored, the number of mosques has grown significantly with funding from Saudi Arabia and other Islamic states, as the plaques on these mosques indicate. Although many mosques are empty, such process of religious mapping in and of itself has symbolic and political repercussions.” Before concluding his remarks on Kosovo with constructive suggestions to provide for genuine peace and tolerance, Mr. Grieboski warned: “Clearly, the problem of internally displaced persons, the incapacity of Kosovar provisional institutions to prevent violence, and gross mistreatment of religious minorities by legislative and other socio-political means by current Kosovo institutions demonstrates the lack of democratic infrastructure that would prevent the region from further collapse into the very ethnic and religious violence that the international community initially intervened to stop and avert. Until the above is guaranteed, the independence of Kosovo cannot and must not be an option.” The American Council for Kosovo applauds Mr. Grieboski’s testimony and urges Commission members to take note of his recommendations. The full text of Mr. Grieboski’s remarks concerning Kosovo follows below.


Related Articles: