Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fourth Report


Establishing a secure environment for the return of refugees


180.  The Foreign Secretary told us that the international community had reason to feel pleased that "the fastest refugee return...seen in post war Europe" had taken place in Kosovo.[472] Of the 850,000 who had left during the conflict, at least 800,000 had returned by mid March 2000.[473] The vast majority of these refugees returned without the assistance of the international community. Some Kosovo Albanian refugees remain in neighbouring countries, and there are still refugees in third countries (including the United Kingdom) who were evacuated from Macedonia. It was an important part of NATO's mission to ensure that those ethnically cleansed from Kosovo could return to their homes. That this has largely been achieved—at least as far as the Kosovo Albanians are concerned—in less than a year is a ground for congratulation. In the case of the United Kingdom, the Home Secretary has said that he expects the return of remaining Kosovo refugees to be largely completed by the end of June 2000.[474]

Kosovo Albanian Diaspora

181.  A distinction must be drawn between Kosovo Albanian refugees and the diaspora which has been outside Kosovo for some time. The Kosovo Albanian diaspora is concentrated in three main centres: the USA (approximately 350,000); Germany (approximately 300-350,000) and Switzerland (approximately 280,000). Another 80-100,000 are spread throughout a number of other Western European countries. The United Kingdom hosts around 17,000 Kosovo Albanians of whom at least 5,000 are illegal immigrants.

182.  There are two main groups of the diaspora—those who left Kosovo following the violent uprising and the subsequent persecution in 1981, and a more recent element that left Kosovo after the effective repeal of Kosovo's autonomy in 1989. Those Kosovo Albanians living in Germany and Switzerland originate largely from the former group and those in the USA from the latter. The Kosovo diaspora in the USA it is particularly powerful, having a number of Republican senators continuously lobbying for the Kosovo Albanian cause through the influential organisation The Albanian American Civic League led by ex-congressman Joseph Dio Guardi.

183.  Aside from these well-established diaspora communities, several thousand Kosovo Albanian refugees, who fled the recent conflict in Kosovo, are still being sheltered outside the province. Those in Albania and Macedonia (roughly 10,000, predominantly women and children) are staying with relatives whilst their homes are being rebuilt and until the weather improves with the onset of summer. The general consensus is that those who wanted to return to Kosovo and had homes to go to have already gone back. Others, largely single men, intend to remain in their host countries and become a part of the diaspora.

184.  As well as those who left Kosovo during the conflict, there are many earlier refugees who had left the territory during the years of the Milosevic crack-down post 1989, now part of the diaspora. These people are often in employment in Western Europe and North America, and an important source of remittances to families who remain in Kosovo. We were warned during our visit to Kosovo of the adverse effect on the economy of the precipitate return of Kosovo Albanians now living abroad.


185.  The good news about Kosovo Albanian refugees is tempered by the depressing exodus of Serbs from Kosovo since the United Nations moved in. Before the conflict, there were around 200,000 Serbs in Kosovo. The Foreign Secretary told us that "about half" of this Serb population had left the territory since KFOR arrived,[475] though current estimates were that more Serbs were returning than were leaving. We were told that there are, however, no authoritative figures.[476] According to the Yugoslav Red Cross, there are 235,000 people in Serbia and Montenegro who have been displaced from Kosovo.[477] We were told that in Pristina, for example, the 20,000 pre-war Serbs had now dwindled to around 1000.

186.  The Foreign Secretary told us that it was "certainly not the official position" that Serbs should not return to Kosovo.[478] However, Kofi Annan's report of 3 March records that the return to Kosovo of minority population refugees "cannot be promoted or facilitated by UNHCR at the present time, as the necessary preconditions, in particular a safe and secure environment, are not yet in place."[479] Our visit confirmed this. Many Serbs live in enclaves protected by armoured personnel carriers and razor wire, as we saw when we visited the Serb town of Gracanica. We were told by Serb representatives that they travel in armoured vehicles, that their churches are guarded day and night and that those who have chosen to remain in mixed communities are protected continually by KFOR troops.[480] Despite KFOR protection, there have been sporadic incidents of violence directed against Serbs, such as the rocket attack on 2 February 2000 on a clearly marked UNHCR bus carrying Serb passengers and guarded by KFOR. In that incident, two passengers were killed and three injured.

187.  There are always optimistic voices. Giving evidence in November 1999, Sir John Goulden seemed hopeful that there would be a growing trend to return in Spring 2000.[481] British KFOR commanders whom we met in Pristina told us that there were fewer and fewer instances of violence against Serbs, that it had been possible to reduce the number of soldiers committed to 24-hour guard of Serbs, and that there was some evidence that the majority Albanian population was prepared to deal decently with individual Serbs, at least in Pristina. Hashim Thaci, Dr Rugova and Professor Qosja all told us that they favoured a multi-ethnic Kosovo. On the other hand, John Sweeney warned us that "the bitterness is so deep" and that there was a "history of hate,"[482] and we ourselves encountered a level of visceral hatred towards Serbs from many Albanians. Reconciliation is made more difficult when there appears to be no justice against those responsible for war crimes, particularly the local perpetrators. The Foreign Secretary described his own personal experience of meeting the victims of Milosevic, and told us that "it is impossible to say to the people 'it is all over now, tomorrow you wake up, forget it and get on with a life of tolerance and good neighbourliness'". He also spoke of his impatience with those who are "unrealistic and glib about how easy it is to rebuild that spirit of ethnic tolerance."[483] In these circumstances, we believe that the safe return of Serb refugees will be exceedingly difficult, at least in the immediate future. We regretfully conclude that there is little likelihood in the short to medium term of a multi ethnic Serb and Albanian society being secured unless there is a dramatic change in attitude and relationships. NATO and the UN should review as a matter of urgency what further confidence building and security measures are possible to achieve this major policy goal. One measure will be the numbers of Serb refugees returning.[484]


188.  Accusations that the Roma people had assisted the Serbs in their ethnic cleansing have resulted in retaliation against this minority by the Albanians. John Sweeney described the circumstances of the Roma as "pretty vile".[485] For example, two Roma men were killed in Glogovac on 29 December 1999.[486] This oppression has led to Roma refugees. Smaller ethnic groups, such as the Muslim Slavs, have also been displaced. We are concerned that these smaller, and therefore particularly vulnerable, minority communities should be given better protection by the international community.

A society where all feel safe

189.  Unpalatable it may be, but the grim fact is that, despite the enormous efforts of the international community, Serbs, Roma and other non-Albanians simply do not feel safe in Kosovo. As the March Report of the UN Secretary General put it, "the situation of minorities showed little improvement, with many remaining vulnerable to attacks and discrimination as a result of their minority status."[487] A multi-ethnic and tolerant society has not been achieved, and frankly is not in prospect.

190.  That does not mean that efforts to achieve such a society should be abandoned. UNSCR 1244 calls for a safe environment for all refugees and displaced persons, and the Foreign Secretary was emphatic that the right to return applied to all communities.[488] He told us that the people of Kosovo "must take responsibility...for creating a society in which ethnic communities can live in peace with one another."[489] Even though, as John Sweeney put it, "this is a place where only ethnic Albanians will feel safe for a long time to come,"[490] as long as any Kosovan, regardless of ethnicity, feels unsafe to remain in, or return to, his or her home, Kosovo will not have demonstrated that it can be entrusted with its own governance. A similar view, that Kosovo Albanians' political maturity would be judged by the way they treated their minorities, was expressed to us in Kosovo by Blerim Shala. As Dame Pauline Neville-Jones said, a multi-ethnic, integrated Kosovo may be impossible, but we can hope for peaceful co-existence.[491] We recommend that the Government continue to make it plain to Kosovo Albanian leaders that any ethnic violence or indeed discrimination is unacceptable, and that, if they wish to secure international respect, they must take responsibility for the safety of all the people of Kosovo and actively encourage a society to develop in which minority communities feel safe.

Detained and missing persons

(a)  Detained

191.  As well as refugees, there are people who have left their homes and are now detained in Serbia or missing. The latest figures from International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were that, on 21 March 2000, there were 1,571 Kosovo prisoners detained in Serbia and Montenegro.[492] Some of these have been tried and sentenced, others not. Many are essentially political prisoners, held for offences like sedition when all they may have done was to provide medical assistance to KLA fighters. We understand that some prisoners are being "bought back" by their families by ransom money. This emphasises the political nature of their imprisonment. The UN Secretary-General's March report[493] recorded the call for member states to put pressure on Belgrade for the release of prisoners, and the Foreign Secretary told us that this was one of the areas where the British Government was prepared to be in contact with Milosevic.[494] It is regrettable that the release of these prisoners (or at least of those who were not convicted or accused of what would be a serious offence under the laws of Western States) was not part of the conditions of the ceasefire, but the Foreign Secretary told us that "none of us had any real idea of the scale of the problem until we got on the ground there."[495] It is important that the ICRC should have access to all these prisoners and we were pleased to have confirmation that this is the case. We recommend that the Government continue to encourage all states to put pressure on Belgrade to release Kosovan detainees and to continue to allow full and unimpeded access by the ICRC to all those who are still denied their freedom.

(b)  Missing

192.  As well as those who are identified inside Serbian prisons, there are many missing persons whose whereabouts is unknown. The ICRC has estimated that there are 3,000 cases, the majority of whom are Kosovo Albanians but 400 to 500 of whom are Kosovo Serbs and other non-Albanians, particularly Roma. The Kosovo NGO, the Association of Political Prisoners, has contested this figure, claiming that the figure of missing is 5,000 to 7,000.[496] We met people in Kosovo who claimed that there were up to 12,000 missing, and that many of these were being held in Serbia. It must be accepted that many of the missing are dead, and the work of the ICTFY and of the Victim Recovery Identification Commission set up by UNMIK will help gradually to identify human remains and so allow relatives to arrange funeral services and associated rites and mourn their dead. However, as the Foreign Secretary told us, there will be "grief, pain and bitterness" among the "literally hundreds of families across Kosovo who will never know what happened to their loved ones."[497] If, however, there are people held in Serbia without notification to the ICRC, that would show continued and unacceptable contempt for human rights by Milosevic. We recommend that the Government give all possible assistance to the positive identification of the dead and that the Milosevic regime is left in no doubt as to the unacceptability of the holding of unidentified prisoners.

Protecting and promoting human rights and civil society

193.  Kosovo has never known the European standards of human rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. As Dr Woodward argued, the adoption of these rights as accepted norms in Kosovo will benefit the majority population as well as the minority communities.[498] The UN Secretary General's March report[499] also emphasised the need for human rights standards to apply to the whole population, and referred in particular to the human rights abuses of "harassment, intimidation and discrimination" within the Kosovo Albanian community, to trafficking of women for the purpose of prostitution and to illegal activities by members of the Kosovo Protection Corps—a matter which we deal with later.[500]

194.  As the BBC World Service put it, "the role of the media is critical in rebuilding civic society. It is a reference point for impartial news and information, carries the viewpoints of all communities, and is key to building peace and stability."[501] The British Government has provided particular help in access to, and development of, the media in Kosovo and the surrounding region. For example, DFID provided 13,500 wind-up radios for Kosovan refugees and have funded a consultancy to allow the OSCE to produce an action plan for the development of the public broadcaster Radio TV Pristina as a multi-lingual station.[502] The Foreign Secretary announced to us a grant for an independent radio station for the Serb population of Kosovo—a plea for support for such a station was made to us during our visit.[503] The BBC World Service is, as ever, an important source of independent information, so effecting positive change. The Government told us that the Service had increased Albanian language broadcasting from 9.5 to 17 hours per week, and Serbian from 10.5 to 15.75 hours per week.[504] The World Service itself told us that it was "keen to participate in the reconstruction effort in the Balkans" and that it "hoped to mount both information and education programming and to attract funding for these from donors such as DFID and the EU."[505] We recommend that the FCO should give strong support to the BBC World Service, including extra grant-in-aid, to enable it to act as a force for the development of human rights in Kosovo and the region.

195.  The British Council is another important potential force for good. As the Council put it in its evidence to us, its "strength is in building lasting relationships, particularly by giving people access to British education, knowledge and expertise, by helping them to learn English, and by exposing them to ideas of liberty and tolerance at a formative stage in their careers."[506] As usual, the Council's potential is hampered by lack of funding: the total grant-in-aid it received for Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro amounts to just over £700,000. In the specific case of Kosovo, approximately £160,000 has been made available to allow an office to be opened in Pristina. The Council told us that it was submitting proposals for a share of the £3 million made available by the Treasury for civil society initiatives in Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro. Its proposals included the opening of an information centre in Pristina, the establishment of an English teaching development project in Kosovo and the provision of English lessons to a new generation of political leaders in Kosovo. However, the Council pointed out that the fact that the £3 million was non-recurring would raise questions as to the sustainability of any project it began.[507] In an earlier report we have emphasised the role of the British Council in promoting human rights—a view with which the Government has concurred.[508] Kosovo and the surrounding region must be areas of priority for this work. We recommend that the Government ensure that the British Council is adequately funded to enable it to achieve its full potential in the development of human rights and civil society in Kosovo and the region.

472   QQC381, 432. Back

473   QC422-the 3 March Report of the Secretary General (para 71) suggests that 830,000 had returned. Back

474   Press Statement, 18 April 2000. Back

475   QC420. Back

476   Ev. p. 204. Back

477   Report of UN Secretary General-S/2000/177, para 71. Back

478   QC424. Back

479   S/2000/177, para 72. Back

480   QC108. Back

481   QC107. Back

482   QQC194-5. Back

483   QC459. Back

484   See para 185. Back

485   QC222. Back

486   OSCE report of January 2000: Back

487   S/2000/17 para 2. Back

488   QC424. Back

489   QC382. Back

490   QC201. Back

491   QC295. Back

492   Ev. p. 205. Back

493   S/2000/177, paras 63ff. Back

494   QC476. Back

495   QC446. Back

496   March Report of UN Secretary General, S/2000/177, para 64. Back

497   QC446. Back

498   QC294. Back

499   S/2000/177, paras 60-2. Back

500   See para. 195. Back

501   Ev. p. 249. Back

502   Ev. p. 48. Back

503   QC381. Back

504   Ev. p. 48.  Back

505   Ev. p. 248. Back

506   Ev. p. 288. Back

507   Ev. p. 289. Back

508   First Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 1998-99 Foreign Policy and Human Rights, HC 100, para 166, available on: Back

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