Freedom in the World 2004


Tensions rose in the NATO-occupied Serbian province of Kosovo during the course of 2003, as the United Nations labeled an ethnic Albanian extremist group a "terrorist organization" and attacks on non-Albanian ethnic minorities intensified over the summer. Local ethnic Albanian politicians, meanwhile, were warning the international community that without a quick resolution of Kosovo's "final status," demands for independence could explode into serious violence against both the local non-Albanian population in the province and the international presence in Kosovo.

Control over Kosovo was a source of conflict between ethnic Albanians and Serbs throughout the twentieth century. The current round of troubles began in the early 1980s after the death of Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito, when Albanians in the province began a series of demonstrations in favor of independence and/or republic status within the former Yugoslavia.  The tensions accelerated after former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic came to power and began to revoke much of Kosovo's autonomy.  For most of the 1990s, an uneasy but generally nonviolent status quo was maintained between the Yugoslav government and the Kosovo Albanians, who developed an entire parallel society in Kosovo, replete with quasi-governmental institutions, hospitals, and school systems.

In late 1997, a guerrilla movement called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) began a series of attacks on Serb targets in the province, provoking harsh reprisals from Yugoslav government forces. The fighting intensified in 1998, and at one point during the summer, up to 300,000 ethnic Albanians were forced from their homes. In March 1999, NATO launched a 78-day air campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) to force it to relinquish control over the province. During the war, Yugoslav military forces and paramilitary gangs forced hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians out of the province.

Under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1244 of June 1999, a NATO-led peacekeeping force (KFOR) assumed responsibility for security in Kosovo. UNSCR 1244 turned Kosovo into a protectorate of the international community, while officially maintaining Yugoslav sovereignty over the province.

Since international forces moved into Kosovo in mid-1999, a campaign of reverse ethnic cleansing has been taking place. Some 200,000 non-Albanian ethnic minority group members have been forced to flee the province. Most of the non-Albanian population remaining in Kosovo live in small clusters of villages or in urban ghettoes under round-the-clock KFOR protection. The largest Serb population is concentrated in a triangle-shaped piece of territory north of the Ibar River.

Kosovo's last elections for a provincial assembly, held on November 17, 2001, were contested by 26 political parties. Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), considered relatively moderate by international officials, won a plurality in the elections, gaining some 45.7 percent of the votes cast; former KLA leader Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) came in second with 25.7 percent; and the mainly Serb Return Coalition won 11.3 percent. The elections brought out more than 64 percent of eligible voters.

Municipal elections were held in Kosovo on October 25 after a campaign that international observers claimed was "generally free and fair." The election results confirmed the continuing dominance of the LDK over the PDK, while Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) made a strong showing in western Kosovo.

In 2003, violence against non-Albanian ethnic minorities in the province increased, and the security situation deteriorated in general. In the spring, members of the so-called Albanian National Army (AkSH), which included members of the Kosovo Protection Corps, attempted to blow up a bridge in northern Kosovo. The United Nations (UN) afterward declared the AkSH a terrorist organization. In June, three members of a Serb family in Obilic were brutally murdered in their home in the middle of their village. In August, a group of Serb children swimming in a river were mowed down by machine-gun fire; two were killed and several injured. Amnesty International reported in 2003 that "minorities in Kosovo continue to be denied access to their basic human rights, and to any effective redress for violations and abuses of these rights."

Non-Albanian ethnic minorities have not been the only victims of persecution by extremists in the province. Over the past four years, criminal elements associated with the former KLA and Thaci's PDK and Haradinaj's AAK have repeatedly been accused of murdering political opponents. One prominent assassination occurred in January, when a leading member of Rugova's LDK, Tahir Zemaj, was murdered in western Kosovo, along with two members of his family. Problems with witness protection have also been significant in Kosovo over the past year. In one recent case, Ilir Selimaj, a former KLA fighter, was assassinated in April after testifying in a war crimes case against former colleagues.

The first face-to-face meetings between officials from the highest levels of the Kosovo and Serbia-Montenegro (the new official name for the FRY as of February 2003) governments was held in Vienna, Austria, on October 14, but international officials characterized the session as a "dialogue of the deaf," with both sides engaging mainly in grandstanding for their respective publics. Nevertheless, the meeting was seen as a necessary first step in bringing the two sides together so that talks over final status can eventually begin.

In December, the United Nations Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) unveiled its effort to move Kosovo towards "final status" negotiations. Its "standards before status" approach called for Kosovo institutions, politicians, and society to reach certain performance benchmarks on issues such as the creation of democratic institutions, the establishment of rule of law, freedom of movement for minorities, refugee return, the resolution of property rights issues. Also in December, UNMIK began the process of turning over several aspects of self-government to local Kosovo institutions, including specific powers over agriculture, the media, culture, and the environment. Still, at the end of the year, it was clear that the slow pace in the evolution of Kosovo's post-1999 status was not enough to satisfy most Kosovo Albanians. In October, the first large-scale demonstrations against the international presence in Kosovo were held, and the Kosovo Albanian prime minister, Bajram Rexhepi, openly warned the international community that these protests were "only the beginning."

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

According to UNSCR 1244, ultimate authority within Kosovo resides with the UN Special Representative in the province, who is appointed by the UN secretary-general. The Special Representative, who also serves as chief of UNMIK, is responsible for implementing civilian aspects of the agreement ending the war. Elections in Kosovo in the post-1999 period, organized by the international community, have been considered "generally free and fair." In the October 2002 municipal elections, contested by more than 60 political entities, voter turnout was approximately 54 percent. There was a disproportionately low Serb turnout because of continuing complaints about the lack of freedom of movement to and from polling places.

Freedom of expression is limited because of the overall lack of security in the province. Although a wide variety of print and electronic media operate in Kosovo, journalists report frequent harassment and intimidation. A survey conducted by the OSCE Mission in Kosovo in December 2001 found that 78 percent of the journalists questioned did not feel free to do investigative journalism without fear of threat or reprisal. There were no reports of government attempts to restrict access to the Internet.

The Albanian population in Kosovo, which is predominantly Muslim, on the whole enjoys freedom of belief and religious association, but there have been consistent, systematic attacks on Orthodox churches and other holy sites associated with the Serb population.  Since NATO took control of Kosovo, more than 100 churches and other properties belonging to the Serbian Orthodox Church have been destroyed or damaged. There were also reports in 2003 from Kosovo's small Protestant community that "Islamic extremists" were attending services so that they could identify worshipers and later harass them.  There were several reported incidents of attacks on Protestant places of worship. Academic freedom, however, has not been restricted. 

Freedom of assembly, especially in flashpoints for ethnic conflict such as the divided city of Mitrovica, is occasionally restricted by UNMIK and/or KFOR because of security concerns. Both domestic and foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally function freely, although lack of donor funding in the past two years has forced a large number of NGOs to stop operating. Current UNMIK regulations governing workers rights allow for workers to join unions, although there is no explicit right to association. Similarly, the law does not recognize the right to strike, although no attempt is made to prevent workers from striking. The largest union in Kosovo, BSPK, claims to represent some 100,000 workers.

Kosovo lacks a functioning criminal justice system. Ethnic Albanian judges are unwilling to prosecute cases involving Albanian attacks on non-Albanians, and the physical safety of non-Albanian judges brought into Kosovo to try cases is difficult to guarantee. Criminal suspects who have been arrested under the UN Special Representative's power to order executive detentions are frequently released on the orders of local judges.

The lack of a functioning judicial system in Kosovo is considered one of the main stumbling blocks to the resolution of Kosovo's final status. Despite the hundreds of murders that have occurred in Kosovo since 1999, almost no one has been arrested for such crimes. These difficulties are compounded by a local "code of silence" in dealing with authorities. During the course of 2003, several of the witnesses involved in the case of the "Dukagjini group" accused of murdering Albanian political opponents in western Kosovo were assassinated.

Several leading members of the former KLA are under investigation for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for actions committed before, during, and after the NATO intervention. The KLA's successor organization, the Kosovo Protection Force, has been widely implicated in numerous violent acts since its formation in 1999. In December 2003, the UN Special Representative in Kosovo, Harri Holkeri, suspended 2 generals and 10 other officers from the unit, after the individuals in question were implicated in a number of these incidents.

Freedom of movement continues to be a significant problem in Kosovo for ethnic minorities. During the course of 2003, Amnesty International issued a report noting that non-Albanians in Kosovo "find themselves subjected to both direct and indirect discrimination when seeking access to basic civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights."

Gender inequality continues to be a serious problem in Kosovo Albanian society. Patriarchal societal attitudes often limit a woman's ability to gain an education or to choose her own marriage partner. In many rural areas of Kosovo, women are effectively disenfranchised by "family voting," in which the male head of a household casts ballots for the entire family. 

Trafficking is a major problem in Kosovo, which serves as a place of transit for women trafficked from Eastern to Western Europe, a point of destination, and a source for trafficked women and children. The presence of a large international military force and of numerous civilian agencies provides a relatively affluent clientele for the trafficking trade in the province. NGOs estimate that 80 percent of the clients at brothels in Kosovo are locals and 20 percent are foreigners. Efforts to protect trafficked human beings in the province often backfire because of the pervasive influence of organized crime syndicates; in January, the offices of the Center for Protection of Women and Children in Pristina were broken into and computer hard drives with the personal testimonies of approximately 650 women who had reported human rights abuses were stolen. Officials of the center noted that UNMIK had failed to investigate four previous break-ins at the center.

2004 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Civil Liberties

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Political Rights

(1 = best, 7 = worst)