Doc. 8451

22 June 1999

Crisis in Kosovo and situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Opinion1

Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights

Rapporteur: Mr Cevdet Akçali, Turkey, European Democratic Group

I.       Situation of human rights in Kosovo

1.        In its Order No.551, the Assembly instructed its Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights to monitor the human rights situation in Kosovo and all legal aspects of the crisis.

2.        On 27 May 1999 Louise Arbour, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), indicted five Yugoslav leaders and issued international warrants for their arrest. The five individuals are Mr Slobodan Milosevic, President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), Mr Milan Milutinovic, President of Serbia, Mr Nikola Sainovic, Deputy Prime Minister of the FRY, Mr Dragoljub Ojdanic, Chief of Staff of the Yugoslav Army, and Mr Vlajko Stojiljkovic, Minister of Internal Affairs. These leaders are charged on three counts: murder, persecution on political, racial and religious grounds, and deportation. The first two charges are crimes against humanity while the third is a war crime. The five leaders are accused in particular of the murder of over 340 persons identified by name in an annex to the indictment. The indictment alleges that, between 1 January and late May 1999, forces under the control of the five accused persecuted the Kosovar Albanian civilian population on political, racial or religious grounds.

3.        The indictment against the Yugoslav leaders by the ICTY came at a time when the international community was trying desperately to persuade Yugoslavia to agree to a peace plan. The message to Belgrade may seem ambiguous, since the Allies had no choice but to negotiate peace with President Milosevic’s regime. Even though the peace agreement was accepted in the end by the Yugoslav leadership, the indictment procedure must be completed. The appointment of the ICTY’s public prosecutor to the Supreme Court of Canada should not be seen as an escape clause for the accused: the ICTY’s terms of reference remain unchanged and it is still determined to fulfil the tasks for which it was set up. Those responsible for these crimes will have to be tried by the ICTY and, to this end, co-operation should be established between the governments of the countries which have at their disposal security forces present in Kosovo in order to arrest any criminals who refuse to give themselves up. The terrible mistakes of Srebrenica and Zvornik must not be repeated. Anyone guilty of human rights violations, including those who have broken the Geneva Conventions or committed other war crimes or crimes against humanity should answer for their actions before the ICTY.

4.        Resolution 1244 (1999), adopted unanimously apart from one abstention on 10 June by the United Nations Security Council, which forms the legal basis for the settlement of the conflict, refers expressly to the holding of elections, to the protection and promotion of human rights, to unimpeded access to Kosovo for the delivery of humanitarian aid and to co-operation with the ICTY. Kosovo remains part of Yugoslavia but is given a certain level of autonomy. In this regard, reference is made to the Rambouillet agreements. A civil authority is to be set up for an initial period of one year to establish autonomous institutions in Kosovo.

5.        The fact that the protection and promotion of human rights were included in the United Nations Security Council Resolution is a step in the right direction. In this way, the Resolution draws attention to the terrible violations of human rights and humanitarian law which have taken place in Kosovo and other parts of Yugoslavia, and may ensure that they are better protected in future. Human rights must be central to the future implementation of the United Nations peace plan.

6.        Certain problems raised by Amnesty International continue to cause concern. An end to fighting on its own is not enough. The people also need protection from the danger of mines and snipers. The international peacekeeping force must take all the necessary measures to guarantee the return of civilians to a safe environment. In particular, the civilian population in Kosovo must be protected by the international peacekeeping force from human rights violations and especially from the risk of reprisals, as long as the civil authority responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights has not been set up. The Red Cross must be able to verify the security and conditions of detention of prisoners detained in Kosovo.

7.        The refugees must be allowed to return voluntarily and should be informed of the exact situation in Kosovo. The peacekeeping force should permit any refugees holding identity papers issued by international organisations to return to Kosovo. The international community must continue to show hospitality to the refugees until conditions for their return are absolutely secure.

8.        The ICTY investigators, who have priority access in Kosovo, should also be given access to the whole of the FRY. The peacekeeping force should protect witnesses and material evidence such as mass graves. It is encouraging to note that two Serbs whom the ICTY believes to be war criminals were arrested on 15 June 1999 by American soldiers in Kosovo. If these two individuals prove to be wanted war criminals, it will be the first arrest of this kind since KFOR entered Kosovo on 12 June 1999.

9.        Members of the peacekeeping force should be forced to observe the highest possible standards with regard to human rights. A procedure should be set up for the investigation of any alleged human rights violations by these soldiers, who should also comply with the orders of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

10.        Finally, the local population and the various human rights organisations should play an active part in the implementation of the Resolution which, although it does not mention NGOs, rightly specifies the need for an international civil force whose work should be coordinated closely with that of international humanitarian organisations. This part of the Resolution should be implemented in collaboration with local players as well as national and international human rights organisations.

11.        Another source of worry is the Serbian minority in Kosovo. The Serbs who have remained are entitled to fear for their lives and will also need the protection of the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo. However, it is highly probable that many of the Serbs living in Kosovo will flee from the region.

II.       Situation of human rights in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

12.        The rights of FRY citizens are under increasing threat as radical nationalist supporters identify new enemies among ethnic groups in the FRY and restrict the rights of all citizens. Hostility towards people of Hungarian, Czech, Croatian, Romanian and Albanian origin has intensified since the end of the war in Kosovo. Restrictions on the freedom of the press and attempts by the State media to incite racial hatred are particularly worrying. Programmes in minority languages have not been brought back onto State television. Martial law is still in force and any person who criticises the government risks an immediate six-month prison sentence. In Montenegro, political dissidents are still being harassed by the Yugoslav army.

13.        Political representatives of all the minorities will have to be involved in the democratisation process in Yugoslavia. There should be co-operation at international level to lead the country towards democracy and the rule of law. A new Constitution should be adopted, establishing equality between all citizens. In addition to the renewed autonomy of Kosovo, Voivodina, which also used to be an autonomous region within the former Yugoslavia, should be given back its autonomous status: its inhabitants, who consider Yugoslavia to be their real homeland, are developing tolerance in a multi-ethnic and multicultural society. We should not forget Sanjak, whose population, victims of violence, brutality and racist and xenophobic acts by the Serbian authorities, have begun to flee to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

14.        National minorities must be free to exercise their rights in a satisfactory manner. Good interethnic relations are dependent on Yugoslavia being based on the democratic principles of the rule of law, with all citizens enjoying equal rights, irrespective of their ethnic background. National minorities should be entitled inter alia to the rights embodied in the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, ie to information in their own languages, to political organisation, to official status for their own language (written and spoken), to communicate with the “ancestral” population and its representatives, and to religious freedom. Rights protected at federal level must also be defended by the authorities of the republics and autonomous regions.

III.       Conclusions

15.        The following conclusions may be drawn from the above. The Assembly can take heart from the fact that the Yugoslav leaders have finally accepted a peace plan, which is in the interests of the Yugoslav people as well as of those of the Albanian minority.

16.        A process should be instigated, leading to far-reaching reforms of the Yugoslav State, to transform it into a State respecting the rule of law and to the handover of the five indicted individuals.

17.        The civil authority in Kosovo will have to consider carefully the fate of non-Albanian minorities and co-operate with local, national and international NGOs active in the human rights field.

18.        The Council of Europe’s expertise, particularly in these spheres, should be exploited fully so that the Organisation can actively help restore democratic stability to the region.

19.       Finally, the five Yugoslav leaders indicted for crimes against humanity and war crimes must be delivered to and tried by the ICTY.

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Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee

Committee for opinion: Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights

Reference to committee: Docs 7553, 7734, 7986, Res 1146 (98), Rec 1400, References 2082, 2154, 2158, 2251, 2303, 2355, 2370 and Reference 2402 of 21/06/99 (requests for urgent procedure)

Opinion approved by the committee on 22 June 1999

Secretaries to the committee: Mr Plate, Ms Coin and Ms Kleinsorge


1 See Doc 8449.