By: Ermira Babamusta, Ph.D., Foreign Affairs/
On February 27, 2014 US Secretary of State John Kerry delivered remarks on the 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights. On Thursday, Secretary Kerry submitted his second human rights report to the US Congress, which details key human rights developments and challenges from over 199 countries from around the world.
Today at 11:00 am Acting Asst. Secretary Uzra Zeya held a Q&A session addressing foreign policy and human rights issues. On the conversation with the acting Asst. Secretary for the Department of State, Uzra Zeya I asked how US foreign policy has shifted over the years to address the increase of human rights abuses around the world. I also thanked United States for its tremendous work and friendship with Kosovo and Albania and asked Asst. Sec. Zeya to comment on the US-Kosovo relations and principles of leadership in general. “We remain focused on fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, expression and belief, while paying attention to vulnerable and threatened groups. Defending human rights of all people is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we firmly believe in human rights for all,” stated Asst. Secretary Uzra Zeya at the live Q&A session, held this morning.
Sec. Kerry’s Remarks:
Human rights both as equal, non-discriminatory rights and obligations are universal principles states have agreed upon to protect freedoms of expressions in all spheres of life. Although expressed and protected by law, these rights around the world often times are not guaranteed and executed. It is the duty of the state to promote and protect all human rights, and it is the duty of the citizens to uphold these laws.
“The fundamental struggle for dignity, for decency in the treatment of human beings between each other and between states and citizens, is a driving force in all of human history. And from our own nation’s journey, we know that this is a work in progress… We know that the struggle for equal rights, for women, for others – for LGBT community and others – is an ongoing struggle. And it’s because of the courage and commitment of citizens in each generation that the United States has come closer to living up to our own ideals,” stated US. Secretary John Kerry.
United States throughout its modern history has shown its commitment to democracy and human rights as violence and abuses increase around the world. In Syria, freedom of expression is strictly controlled. Freedom of religion, although a right written in the Constitution, it is restricted by the government and religious activities are monitored. Hundreds were murdered from the deadly sarin gas attack in August. The UN reports indicate that President Bashar al-Assad failed to meet the February 5 OPCW deadline to remove all 1,300 declared tonnes of chemical substance that it possesses.
In Bangladesh, human rights worsened in 2012 as workers claimed to be mistreated and labor leaders came under attack. Secretary Kerry mentioned that in over 80 countries LGBT communities face discrimination.
“And so with this year’s report, we join with many other nations in reaffirming our commitment to a world where speaking one’s mind does not lead to persecution, a world where practicing or changing one’s faith does not lead to imprisonment, and where marching peacefully in the street does not get you beaten up in a blind alley or even killed in plain sight,” said sec. Kerry.
The 2013 report includes five key human rights developments from around the world: (1) increased force on civil society to restrict freedom of assembly, (2) restrictions on freedom of speech and press, (3) lack of accountability for security forces abuses, (4) lack of effective labor rights protections and (5) marginalization of vulnerable groups like religious, ethnic minorities, women, children, LGBT, etc. (US Department of State, 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices).
US – Kosovo Relations
On a statement released on Feb. 14, 2014 in honor of Kosovo’s sixth anniversary of its independence, Secretary Kerry reaffirmed the UScommitment to “an independent, sovereign and multiethnic Kosovo”. “On this occasion, we reflect on the historic achievements of the past year, including the April 2013 agreement on normalization of relations with Serbia and the progress of the EU-facilitated Dialogue. We also look forward to the important work of building a prosperous and inclusive Kosovo integrated in European and Euro-Atlantic institutions. We are confident that with continued courage, persistence, and patience, Kosovo will realize its aspirations in a Europe whole, free, and at peace. As you celebrate the accomplishments of the people of Kosovo, the United States stands with you as a steadfast partner and friend,” stated Secretary John Kerry. (US Department of State, John Kerry Press Statement, Feb. 14, 2014)
United States established diplomatic relations with Kosovo after it recognized it as an independent state in 2008. US has been a strong partner and an integral player in strengthening the democratic institutions of Kosovo. US foreign policy towards Kosovo has promoted economic growth, democracy building, peace and prosperity. US has also aided in maintaining safety and security in Kosovo by contributing forces in KFOR since 1999 and has participated in the EULEX security and defense mission, including facilitation of dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo.
The Foreign Assistance June 2013 report indicates that Kosovo “continues to contribute positively to regional stability and good neighborly relations on its path to Euro-Atlantic integration.” (United States Department, Office of the Coordinator of US Assistance to Europe and Euroasia, Foreign Operations Report, June 2013). US has provided in total nearly $186 million from 2012-2014 combined in the areas of peace and security, governing justly and democratically, investing in people and economic growth. (Majority of the aid is towards economic growth and government assistance).
During the visit of Vice assistant US Secretary of State, Hoyt Yee in Prishtina in November 21, 2013 President of Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga stated that relations between Kosovo and USA are “excellent”. Mr. Yee praised Kosovo’s achievements and reaffirmed US commitment to help in the ongoing engagements. (President of the Republic of Kosovo Office, 21 November 2013 Press Release)
Country Review: Kosovo
Successes and Improvements:
(1) The 2010-11 parliamentary elections met many international standards. The November 3 local elections marked for the first time in years that citizens of Northern Kosovo participated in the voting process. Both Kosovo and Serbian government encouraged civic participation in the local elections.
(2) The established political parties have had no restrictions in running, organizing or operating their primary functions. There were no issues reported in terms of exercising their political activities.
(3) The Ministry of Justice and the Kosovo Correctional Service (KCS) have made significant improvements for the conditions in several correction facilities, employees and inmates in Podujeve, Peja and Mitrovica.
(4) Normalized relations between Serbia and Kosovo, mandated by the reached April 19 mutual agreement, facilitated by EU talks. Other bilateral agreements include integrated border management, freedom of movement and civil registries.
(5) Accountability by governmental officials to take actions on those who did not act according to the law.
(6) Women and minority political participation is promoted by law, where the quota requires 30 percent female parliamentarians: 40 women serve in the 120-seat Assembly, two women served as deputy prime ministers, one female country president, one female mayor, and prime ministers appointed as ministers. 13 members of Kosovo Serbs filled the ethnic minority seats at the Assembly (the constitution provides fro 10 Kosovo Serbs and 10 seats for other minorities).
(7) Cooperation at the government level and no restrictions placed on operations of domestic NGOs. The office of the Ombudspersons has regularly done outreach to various municipalities to address different issues related to the communities.
(8) Advancing the role of women in service including training of new cadets and the functioning of the Association of Women in the Kosovo Police in November. Additionally, the records on domestic violence has improved. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare provided financial support for family violence cases. The Action Plan on Domestic Violence was adopted in 2011, and the Agency for Gender Equality was set as the regulatory agency to implement policy change pertaining to domestic abuse.
(9) The government has made improvements in resolving more property related cases. From the 42,457 registered cases, 35,053 were resolved.
(10) No restrictions found on the exercise of freedom of press, religion, assembly or cultural events. (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013: Kosovo, US Department of State)
Issues and further considerations:
(1) “Kosovo Serb hardliners’ efforts to block normalization, including establishing roadblocks in the northern part of the country and restricting basic rights such as freedom of movement of persons and goods.” The report cites the instance where assailants attacked three polling locations in Zvecan, which resulted in the rerun of elections on December 1 in these three locations.
(2) Rights for vulnerable groups that include minorities, persons with disabilities, members of the LGBT community remain the second biggest issue, followed by domestic violence against women, listed as the third major problem.
(3) ICRS listed 1,723 as people who disappeared during the 1998-99 conflict, comprising of 70% Kosovo Albanians who are missing.
(4) Foreign travel was a concern as buses crossing the border between Kosovo and Serbia are under attack from assailants.
(5) Limited movement in Northern Kosovo due to roadblocks, that were set by the EU-led dialogue and agreement between Serbia and Kosovo.
(6) Corruption and lack of transparency: “officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices during the year,” totaled in 2.307 corruption cases involving public officials during the period of January 2012 and September 2013, with 187 people sentenced to prison.
(7) Lack of proper registration of ethnic minority children, although low numbers, only 5% reported to not properly be registered at birth.
(8) Person with disabilities lacked protection and were discriminated. Improvements need to be made to ensure easy access to different official offices and locations to accommodate individuals with disability.
(9) Although Kosovo Serbs and minorities enjoy full rights and protections from the Kosovar government, many Kosovo Serbs continue to not cooperate: “Northern Kosovo Serbs continued to prevent construction of houses in the Brdjani/Kroi Vitakut neighborhood for ethnic Albanians who had been displaced from the area in 1999. For example, in July a group of approximately 50 Kosovo Serbs blocked the main road, halting construction. On July 29, EULEX Police arrested Zarko Veselinovic on an outstanding warrant for endangering international personnel. Authorities charged Veselinovic and another suspect with attempted murder and unauthorized use of a firearm in the December 2012 shooting of the deputy head of the Mitrovica/Mitrovice North Administrative Office. On the same day as the arrest, a group of approximately 200 Serbs protested the arrests and blockaded a road.”
(10) The report found no official reports on discrimination based on sexual orientation, however due to social pressure many LGBT persons were afraid to reveal their identity. “In November the Youth Initiative for Human Rights released a report which found that 40 percent of LGBT individuals were afraid to acknowledge their identity and 10 percent had been physically assaulted at least once as a result of being perceived as LGBT.” (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013: Kosovo, US Department of State)
Observations from my 2007 & 2012 missions in Kosovo
In my efforts to strengthen US-Kosova-Albanian relations and promote peace and stability in the Balkans in 2007 & 2012 I embarked on two cultural and diplomatic missions in Kosova under the auspices of United Nations and the Kosovo Ministry of Diaspora. My publication titled “Kosovo Status Talks: A Case Study on International Negotiations” includes my observations from the 2007 trip to Kosovo. This scientific research analyzes the behavior and actions taken by the international players, in particular the US, Russia, the UN and the EU in the case of Kosovo in the context of the diplomatic agreement process and to analyze their positions in the negotiation phase. It analyzes the consultative status of the UN and the EU and elaborates on the mechanisms of cooperation between the international players. Specifically, it examines multilateral diplomacy and explores the factors influencing the development and drawbacks of the multilateral diplomacy process. In my conclusion I called on Kosovo leaders to declare its independence as the only option.
“The Kosovo case demonstrates that success or lack of success of the international community’s role depends on the phase of the negotiations. This research divided the negotiation process into three main phases: interim peace settlement (Phase I); interim political settlement (Phase II); and future status resolution (Phase III).
Phase I pointed out the crucial role of the US, NATO, the Contact Group and the UN. The successful collaborative efforts of the international community resulted in several peace agreements. NATO intervention and the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 ended the Kosovo conflict in 1999. During the Emergency and Substantial phases of reconstruction (Phase II) the role of the international community was vital in providing humanitarian assistance and building the political institution in the region and monitoring the local elections. The UN and OSCE were successful in insuring the implementation of the UNMIK pillars. The Kosovar leadership and the Kosovo Protection Corps demonstrated tremendous progress in fulfilling the UNMIK provisions.
However, after the UNMIK mandate expired, it was necessary for the international community to determine Kosovo’s future status. During Phase III, intensive negotiations occurred between Kosovo and Serbia over the course of three years. Throughout the process both parties maintained opposing positions: Kosovo demanding full independence and willing to accept international supervision; Serbia accepting only autonomy for Kosovo within Serbia. The mediators employed two techniques: positional bargaining and principled negotiations. Modest progress was achieved on technical issues concerning the protection of minority rights. However, the firm views of both parties failed to produce any mutually agreeable outcome. Despite the lack of a negotiated solution, the Kosovo diplomatic process showcases a closer relationship with the international community. The balance of power shifted from single players such as the U.S. and Russia to multilateral participants such as the UN, NATO and the EU.
A major factor in the lack of negotiation success is the Russian opposition. Russia aspires to be the main player in the field. Such realist actions have minimized multilateral efforts due to Russia’s threat of using its prerogative veto power in the UN Security Council. Therefore, the effect on multilateral negotiations is conditioned by the realist actions of a single key player. In lieu of pursuing cooperation and multilateral means, Russia relied on unilateral devices; this opposition blocked the negotiated outcomes.
To the contrary, the United States – acting singly, proved successful, unlike the Contact Group – acting collectively. During the pre-negotiation phase, Shuttle Diplomacy between Prishtina and Belgrade led by the US Ambassador Christopher Hill in 1998 made Track I diplomacy successful. Shuttle diplomacy was a very useful tool and resulted in the NATO, OSCE and the UN missions.
Finally, the latest independence plan proposed by Slovenia reinforces the exact view that independence is the only option for Kosovo.” (Source: Ermira Babamusta, “Kosovo Status Talks: A Case Study on International Negotiations”, Long Island University, The Brooklyn Center, 2008, p. 133-135)
During the 2010 summer I had the opportunity to meet with the leadership of various decision-making institutions of the European Union, the Council of Europe, the European Courts of Human Rights, EuroCorps in Strasbourg (France), Brussels (Belgium) and Luxembourg. After my 2012 mission in Kosovo, I am currently working on my second publication on Kosovo and doctoral research. Experts can partake on the survey and learn more here: www.prishtinapress.info/sondazh. (Caption: US Secretary John Kerry and Acting Asst. Secretary Uzra Zey.Photo credit US State Department)