|The United Nations General Assembly. Photo: RIA Novosti.
The Human Rights Advisory Panel set up to examine complaints of rights violations committed by or attributable to the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, from 2007 to 2016, said in a strongly critical report published on Wednesday that the mission had failed to comply with its recommendations and had violated human rights.
The complaints against UNMIK included allegations of ineffective investigations into cases of abduction, disappearances and killings, inhumane treatment and abuse of property.
The 49-page report said that because UNMIK had failed to follow the panel’s recommendations, “the process has obtained no redress for the complainants”.
“As such, they have been victimised twice by UNMIK: by the original human rights violations committed against them and again by putting their hope and trust into this process,” it said.
The report admitted that the panel’s attempts to get UNMIK to comply were “a total failure”.
“UNMIK remains as unaccountable now for the human rights violations that it committed as it was in 2004 when the [Council of Europe’s] Venice Commission proposed to establish a mechanism to bring some oversight to UNMIK’s compliance with human rights standards,” it said.
The panel cannot order compensation to be paid, but its presiding member, Marek Nowicki, said in the foreword to the report that he hoped that the allegations would be properly dealt with in future.
“The hope remains that at least some of these cases will find their way to the docket of the special tribunal being created by the international community and Kosovo authorities – the Kosovo Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution (KSJI) – whose jurisdiction includes ‘serious crimes allegedly committed in 1999-2000 by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against ethnic minorities and political opponents’,” Nowicki said.
In April this year, the same panel also called on the UN to hold UNMIK accountable for leaving Roma families exposed to lead poisoning in camps for people displaced by the Kosovo war in 1998 and 1999.
Camps for internally displaced people were established close to the Trepca mining and smelting complex, known to be the cause of lead contamination and other forms of toxic contamination of the surrounding areas since the 1970s.
The camps, which were intended to provide only temporary accommodation up to 90 days, operated for several years.
The panel urged UNMIK to publicly acknowledge its failure to comply with the relevant human rights standards in response to the adverse health condition caused by lead contamination in the IDP camps, and to compensate victims for both material and moral damage.
The head of UNMIK, Zahir Tanin, issued a statement expressing „regret regarding the adverse health conditions suffered by the complainants and their families at the IDP camps“, but did not offer compensation.
The panel said that although UNMIK commissioned a report in 2000 which found extremely elevated blood-lead levels among people living in the IDP camps, it did not make the report public and failed to take sufficient action to address the risks of lead exposure in the camps.
The World Health Organisation also warned in 2004 about the chronic irreversible effects of lead on the human body, urging UNMIK to immediately evacuate children and pregnant women from the camps, UNMIK did not provide any documents indicating what specific actions were taken in response to these findings and recommendations.
The poisoning was further documented in 2009 by campaign group Human Rights Watch, which urged the Kosovo authorities to work with international donors to close lead-contaminated camps occupied by internally-displaced Roma without delay, relocate their inhabitants, and provide medical treatment for lead poisoning.
UNMIK was established by the UN Security Council in 1999 “to help ensure conditions for a peaceful and normal life for all inhabitants of Kosovo and advance regional stability in the Western Balkans”, according to its mandate.