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Debates
Wednesday, 28 September 2005 - Strasbourg OJ edition

Human rights of minority groups in Kosovo
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  President. – The next item is the Commission declaration on the human rights of minority groups in Kosovo.

 
  
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  Olli Rehn, Member of the Commission. Mr President, this declaration covers answers to three questions posed by honourable Members relating to the human rights situation of the Roma in Kosovo.

Generally, it would be fair to say that the return process for all minorities has thus far failed in Kosovo, with only 13 000 returnees since 1999. Furthermore it would be a fair assessment to say that the Roma community is in a very disadvantaged position in Kosovo.

The Commission is concerned that the forced returns of members of the Roma community may be happening in a framework that does not ensure their safe and sustained reintegration into Kosovo society after they return.

Meanwhile the Commission supports the Roma community where it can, notably through our assistance programmes to improve the overall sustainability of their living conditions. At the same time, we do not target forced returnees specifically.

The second question concerns the issue of whether the principle of non-refoulement is being fully respected in the event of the forcible repatriation of Roma refugees to Kosovo. It is not within the Commission's remit to establish whether the principle of non-refoulement is fully respected or not.

The ultimate administrative responsibility falls to the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, as well as to the European Union Member States that have decided to forcibly return members of the Roma community to Kosovo.

Meanwhile in March 2005 the UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, assessed that returns should be considered unsafe for Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Roma, as well as Kosovo Albanians where they are in a minority situation. Returns for Ashkali, Egyptians as well as Gorani and Bosniak people are considered safer.

As far as the Commission is aware, the agreement between UNMIK and the German government on forced returns concerns the Ashkali and Egyptian minorities only, and not the Roma and other minority groups.

Thirdly, the question on Roma in Kosovo in general. All progress reports contain a chapter on the political situation and the criteria as laid down by the Copenhagen European Council in June 1993.

This chapter contains a section on minorities and minority protection in candidate and potential candidate countries, including the Western Balkan countries.

This year's progress report on Kosovo will be no exception and thus provides an assessment of the situation of minorities, including Roma. This issue will also be regularly monitored and addressed in future progress reports and in the Commission's political dialogue with Kosovo.

Of course we will very carefully study what Ambassador Kia Eide will present in his standard report on Kosovo, which is due in a few weeks. This will concern the implementation of the decentralisation measures and the critical issue of minority protection. That report will be indispensable when it comes to determining the likely start of the status talks on Kosovo in the course of this autumn.

 
  
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  Bernd Posselt, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, our opinions differ on many issues, but I hope that we shall at least succeed in reaching a certain consensus in the field of minority rights. The Commissioner’s home country, Finland, has in place an exemplary settlement for its Swedish minority. There was once one of our own fellow Members in this House who had the same surname as you, and she belonged to that minority.

It is high time that the European Union developed uniform standards for minorities, not only within the EU – where, to be frank, there are no standards at all for minorities, which is a problem – but also in our external relations with the candidate countries and with the associated countries. We cannot keep arbitrarily picking out this or that minority in this or that country, but instead should make a real attempt to arrive at a common basis.

I believe that the Kosovan Constitution, which President Rugova developed whilst underground, contains exemplary minority rights. Then there was the mass expulsion of the Albanians in 1999, and since then the wounds of the war have been bleeding. A few years after a war such as this, the return of the displaced persons is of course the most difficult chapter. Yet we should begin with the right to vote. The right to vote does exist, and seats in the Kosovan Parliament are reserved for minorities.

I should like to ask the Commissioner what he, and what the EU, is doing to ensure that all minorities actually take up the seats in the Kosovan Parliament to which they are entitled. Secondly, is the Commissioner aware that, in neighbouring Serbia, there are no seats at all for minorities? What is the Commissioner doing to ensure that the same standards are applied to the Serbian Parliament regarding the right to vote as are applied in Kosovo? In Kosovo, minorities have a disproportionately large parliamentary representation, whilst in Serbia, in view of the 5% threshold and the fact that Serbia is a single constituency, there are no seats at all for minorities. These are glaring differences.

How do you see the outcome of the status question, which has to be resolved taking these issues into account?

 
  
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  Panagiotis Beglitis, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (EL) Mr President, I should like to make a point of thanking Commissioner Rehn for his objective presentation of the drastic situation of minorities in Kosovo.

It truly is worrying that this is the first time since 1999 that the European Parliament has debated the question of minority rights in Kosovo. This policy of double standards, this selective sensitivity towards the Serb minority and towards other minorities in Kosovo is truly worrying.

If we look at the situation as described in the reports by both the High Commissioner for Refugees and the special UN envoy, we see that, since 2004, after the bloody events and the murder of Serbs and other minorities, nothing has improved in Kosovo as regards the protection of minority rights.

We see constant ethnic bloodshed, not to say ethnic cleansing against the minorities in Kosovo by the hard-line nationalistic gangs in Albania. Not only is UN Resolution 1244/1999 not being applied, it is also being undermined. None of the eight criteria set on the basis of the principle of 'standards before status' is being applied, it has not been implemented and I should like to ask the Commissioner what the European Union's policy is, if it will assent to the start of negotiations at the UN on the final status of Kosovo without these criteria having been met.

The European Union designed a European strategy on the basis of the conclusions of the European Council in Thessaloniki. We support a multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo which will move towards future integration into the European institutions. That being so, however, we must help to shape stable democratic institutions.

The European Commission must make use of Community programmes, such as CARDS to fund development programmes, and of education, culture and youth programmes for the benefit of all the citizens of Kosovo. The restoration of the churches and cultural monuments of the minorities, especially the Serb minority, must also be funded.

To close, the European Parliament must take its responsibilities.

 
  
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  Viktória Mohácsi, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (HU) Mr President, at the end of June I became aware of the fact that 35 thousand refugees are in deep trouble in Germany. They had all arrived from Kosovo six years ago. All of them are Roma. It does not matter whether we call them Ashkalis or ‘Egyptians’. In the first half of July, the chairmen of the fractions – except for the conservatives – urged the German Government in a letter to re-consider its decision. Namely, Germany has decided to repatriate 35 thousand Roma to Kosovo. To the very country where only six thousand Roma remained out of 150 thousand, and even this small group continues to live there in inhuman circumstances. They live in refugee camps in their own land. Severe lead pollution was detected in the refugee camp situated in northern Mitrovica, with lead levels six times higher than normal, resulting in many children being born with various impairments ever since. The houses that had been used by Roma before the war are now illegally occupied by Albanians or other people, or have been demolished. Germany has been thinking for six years about whether or not to grant refugee status to the Roma, and has now decided to send them back to Kosovo, to nothing. Another approximately 70 thousand Roma are living mostly illegally in other European or Balkan states, such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Macedonia, Serbia, etc.

We have no mother country to take us in when we find ourselves in such a situation. When I propounded this debate, I actually asked that Europe as a whole take a position in this matter, and not that ten MEPs discuss the issue of minorities after 11 p.m. here in the European Parliament. We, the Members of the European Parliament, must exert an influence on Germany. Deportation must be stopped and the problem of Kosovo must be tackled.

 
  
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  Elly de Groen-Kouwenhoven, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. Mr President, since the arrival of the UN Mission in Kosovo in 1990, the Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK, has been using torture, rape, targeted killings, arson and burning of Roma houses as methods of ethnic cleansing against the Roma community from Kosovo, Ashkali and Egyptians included. The UN administration did not find any appropriate measures to calm down the Kosovo-Albanian majority. On the contrary, many clear cases of anti-gypsyism are not prosecuted and charges are not even brought.

Today Kosovo is a human rights vacuum. Access of Roma to housing, healthcare and jobs remains extremely difficult, while children stop attending school for security reasons or due to lack of money. It cannot be a surprise that many returnees are selling their property, unwilling to live in fear and indignity. In wartime citizens of all ethnic backgrounds flee. When war is over it is unacceptable that one or two ethnic groups are welcomed as citizens and codecision makers, whereas the others find themselves changed into disadvantaged groups, minorities and IDPs. This double standard approach on the basis of ethnic background is the worst scenario for the founding of an independent state.

With the final status discussions drawing near, the exclusion of the Roma from the decision-making process would be one more proof of the lack of respect for East European citizens.

The high level pan-European consortium ...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Gisela Kallenbach (Verts/ALE).(DE) Mr President, while we have been sitting in this House today, the German television station ARD has been presenting the 2005 Media Prizes for Cultural Diversity and Integration in Europe. The television prize in the information category was awarded to a report on forced deportations of asylum seekers and refugees at dawn. This is a harsh reality for what are possibly soon to be thousands of Ashkali and Egyptians, who in principle belong to the Roma family of peoples, and other Kosovars, who have often been living in Germany or other European countries for more than ten years, and whose children were born and have become socially integrated there. Sadly, in Kosovo they do not find even the most basic conditions for starting a new life. Their houses have been destroyed; the unemployment rate stands at approximately 60%. There is no free access to education, particularly for minorities. I find this irresponsible.

I would appeal to the Commissioner to make every effort to prevent Member States carrying out forced returns, or for him to at least press for an increase in financial support. This also applies to the unacceptable situation, which has already been mentioned, of approximately 700 Roma living in camps in northern Mitrovica, for whose resettlement there are insufficient resources. This is a violation of fundamental human rights.

 
  
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  Olli Rehn, Member of the Commission. Mr President, thank you for those remarks, of which I have taken due note. We will take them into account in our future work. I will begin by responding to the questions from Members Mohácsi, de Groen-Kouwenhoven and Kallenbach.

There are three camps of internally displaced persons in northern Mitrovica for Roma Ashkali and Egyptian people. These sites suffer from major lead pollution as a result of the activities of the former Trepca mining complex and this poses a serious health risk to the inhabitants.

In July 2004, the World Health Organization released a report on elevated platelet levels in those communities and recommended a set of emergency measures, including the evacuation of the centres. An agreement was signed in April 2005 by UNMIK, UNHCR, OSCE and the President of the Mitrovica Municipal Assembly, creating a framework for the return of former residents of the Roma Mahala to their homes in southern Mitrovica. Unfortunately, however, this process has not yet started.

In the case of the Roma Mahala, we could not easily make funding available and so have communicated the request to all EU Member States through the Management Committee, asking them to consider making sufficient funds available. We will continue to raise this issue on the ground through our EU liaison office and the European Agency for Reconstruction, which works in that area.

I would also like to respond to Mr Posselt's question concerning minority rights in different countries, in the EU, in accession countries and in our partner countries. It is true, as Mr Posselt said, that there are many violations inside the European Union. The minimum rights of minorities are set out in the relevant documents of the Council of Europe and the Convention on Human Rights. Some countries inside the European Union stick close to the minimum standards, while others go beyond that and have a very high level of minority rights and protection. As the Commissioner responsible for enlargement, I am faced with difficult situations, because it is hard for us to go beyond what some EU Member States practice. Nevertheless, we must practice what we preach when we are dealing with our partners, whether they are accession countries or countries in the wider world.

That has to be taken into account, nevertheless. I agree that there is a case for working towards a more uniform definition of minority rights. In my view, human rights in general and the rights of minorities are at the heart of the European idea and of the European Union. Therefore, we should not see it as a static product but as a dynamic process which develops these rights at ever higher levels inside the European Union and throughout Europe.

Finally, concerning the questions raised by several Members on the future of Kosovo and its standards and status, there is clearly an urgent need for the economic and social development of Kosovo. The level of unemployment depends on which statistics you look at. However, it is at least 40% and often more than 50%, and the situation on the ground is extremely difficult. People have no hope at the moment. Therefore it is high time to move from stability and reconstruction towards defining the status and working for economic and social development and for the real needs of citizens. That is why it is time for the European Union to move from a policy of standards before status to a policy of standards and status so that we move forward in the status talks, ensuring that they can start soon and be conducted and concluded without unnecessary delay.

In that context, it is worth noting that the Council has reached an agreement at working group level on the negotiating guidelines for the stabilisation and association agreement with Serbia and Montenegro. That is important because it enables us to open the negotiations on the stabilisation and accession agreement around the fifth anniversary of the democratic transition in Belgrade and, moreover, because it will make Serbia and Montenegro's European prospects concrete and tangible and will also pave the way for a genuine dialogue on Kosovo and a resolution of the question of its status without undue and unnecessary delays.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

Written statement (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Katalin Lévai (PSE). – (HU) Roma living in Kosovo become victims of racial discrimination on a regular basis. Discrimination affects them in all areas of their lives. They live in the internment camp of Mitrovica in inhuman circumstances, their health is endangered by poisonous water in the wells, and the local authorities do not take appropriate measures to eliminate the problem.

Refugee status must be granted to Roma coming from Kosovo. We often hear about Roma being repatriated, in spite of the fact that the prevailing international law clearly prohibits the repatriation of refugees. In this context I would also like to call to your attention the right to family reunification, which grants Roma, just like all other immigrants, the right for protection together with their families within the Member States.

According to the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, legal immigration must be made possible to all victims of inhuman treatment and war who were forced to leave their country because they had lived in constant fear and danger, were persecuted, their homes were burnt down and their lives were in constant jeopardy.

We must find a solution for the protection of these victims. Special attention must be paid to the situation of children because they are especially vulnerable. In my opinion, the issue of migration must soon be re-considered so that a solid European immigration policy can be developed. Opportunities for illegal immigration must be reduced and appropriate protection must be ensured for each legal immigrant within the European Union.

There are rumours of 38 thousand refugees in Western Europe who have been forcibly repatriated to a country where their human rights are not granted. I would respectfully ask for the support of all fellow Members on this issue so that such a situation can never occur in our Europe.

 
Last updated: 5 December 2005Legal notice