ERRC Kovoso: Letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan


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Subject: ERRC Kovoso: Letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan

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ERRC Kovoso: Letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan


ERRC Letter to UN Secretary General H.E. Kofi Annan Concerning the
Protection of Romani Civilians in Kosovo
 
July 16, 1999
 
On July 16, 1999, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent a letter
to UN Secretary General H.E. Kofi Annan to express concern at the lack
of protection provided by NATO forces in Kosovo to the Romani civilian
population there. Included with the letter to Secretary General Annan
was a statement published by the ERRC on July 9, 1999, concerning the
situation of Roma in Kosovo following the entry of NATO forces into
the province in mid-June. The text of that statement is available on
the ERRC Internet website at: http://www.errc.org. The letter was
copied to Javier Solana, General Secretary of NATO and the UN Security
Council. The text of the ERRC letter to Secretary General Annan
follows:
 
Dear Mr Secretary General,
 
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public
interest law organisation which monitors the situation of Roma in
Europe and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, is
alarmed by the continuing persecution of Roma in Kosovo and the
apparent failure of the KFOR to extend its protection to them.
 
The ERRC conducted field research in Kosovo during the period June 30
- July 7, 1999. While in Kosovo, the ERRC noted KFOR inactivity in the
presence of criminal acts; inadequate response to reports of criminal
activity; a lack of response to reports of criminal activity;
deliberate endangerment of the civilian population; and racist speech
on the part of some KFOR officers.
 
In addition, the ERRC noted that despite a huge KFOR presence in many
areas, units assigned to civilian policing appear to be understaffed
to the point of ineffectiveness. Finally, KFOR soldiers told the ERRC
that they are missing such basic materials crucial to their work in
protecting civilians as maps in a script they can understand.
Documented instances follow:
 
On July 6, at around 9:30 AM, Lieutenant Grotzow of the German KFOR
unit in Prizren told the ERRC that ethnic Albanians had burnt a house
in the Dusanova Romani settlement in the city the previous night. He
told the ERRC that KFOR officers had extinguished the fire and begun
investigating the attack. When the ERRC visited the scene of the
attack approximately one hour later however, local Roma told the ERRC
that they had extinguished the fire themselves, and that no KFOR
officers had come to investigate the crime. While the ERRC was
interviewing witnesses at the scene of the fire at approximately 11:00
AM, KFOR officers arrived and began what appeared to be a preliminary
investigation. In the presence of the ERRC, one KFOR officer
impatiently told local Roma, who were visibly upset at the attack,
that he "did not want to hear the life stories of all Gypsies". Senior
KFOR officials in Prizren told the ERRC that they were unable to
provide the Dusanova settlement with effective protection since ethnic
Albanians had, on at least one occasion, fired upon KFOR troops from
buildings surrounding the settlement. As of July 7, most of the Roma
living in the Dusanova settlement had fled to other parts of Kosovo or
abroad.
 
On July 5, the ERRC reported to senior officials of the German KFOR in
Prizren that according to 40-year old Mrs M.L., four days previously,
KLA officers had kidnapped her son, 22-year-old Mr Fatos Gasi, along
with his father and cousin, from his house in the village of Velika
Krusa. Mr Fatos Gasi was, according to Mrs M.L., severely injured and
unable to move from the village. Mr Fatos Gasi had told her that KLA
officers had threatened to kill him if he reported the incident. The
ERRC had attempted to report the incident with Mrs M.L. on July 4, but
had been turned away from four different KFOR posts in Prizren, each
of which instructed the ERRC to report the crime at a different KFOR
post. KFOR officers accompanied the ERRC and Mrs M.L. to Velika Krusa
on July 5, with the intention of evacuating Mr Fatos Gasi to hospital
in Prizren. On the way to Velika Krusa, the team became lost three
times and KFOR soldiers told the ERRC that all of the maps they had
were in Cyrilic script, which they were unable to read. During the
operation, KFOR officers several times threatened to abandon the
mission, since they did not want to spend too much time on the
problem. The road leading to the Romani settlement was impassible by
car and the team was forced to walk up to the settlement; KFOR
officers required representatives of the ERRC and Mrs M.L. to walk
ahead of them, due to the danger of mines. Upon arrival at the house
of Mr Fatos Gasi, one visibly terrified KFOR officer told
representatives of the ERRC that if they came under sniper fire, KFOR
would leave the victims there since, according to the officer
concerned, "I will not risk my life for yours; I'm sure you
understand." Mr Fatos Gasi refused to be evacuated unless KFOR
officials guaranteed his protection in hospital, where he would be
surrounded by ethnic Albanians. KFOR officers present promised Mr
Fatos Gasi that they would stay with him in hospital in Prizren, but
upon arrival at the hospital promptly abandoned the ERRC, Mr Fatos
Gasi and Mrs M.L. there and drove away. It is not known whether KFOR
investigated the incident further. ERRC interviews with Mr Fatos Gasi
revealed that at the time of his detention by the KLA, Mr Fatos Gasi
was brought to a house and severely abused in the presence of one
other kidnapped Romani man known by the nickname of "Skelzen"; Skelzen
was still missing as of July 7.
 
ERRC researchers in the town of Djakovica documented the kidnapping of
a Romani man named Mr Bekim Ljalja. According to family members,
27-year-old Mr Ljalja was seen by friends of his being detained by KLA
members off the street in Djakovica on June 27, 1999. He was
reportedly seen by another Romani man detained by the KLA two days
later, unharmed, in detention in a KLA headquarters in the "Junik"
building in the centre of the town. On July 2, 1999, another Romani
man detained by KLA and taken to the "Junik" building in Djakovica
reportedly saw Mr Ljalja, again unharmed. The family told the ERRC
that they had reported the case to the Italian KFOR unit in Djakovica.
These had allegedly taken no action in the case. Some Roma in
Djakovica told the ERRC that Italian KFOR in the town had made no
effort at outreach to Roma, who cannot speak to Italian KFOR officers
without the assistance of ethnic Albanian translators. They stated
that they were therefore entirely cut off from protection by KFOR.
Some Roma characterised the co-operation between local KLA and KFOR as
so close that it amounted to "collaboration".
 
In Orahovac, a town seventy kilometers south-west of Pristina, the
ERRC documented reports of the adbuction of five Romani men by the
local KLA. According to relatives and neighbours, all were arrested in
their homes in the Serbian/Romani quarter of Orahovac by uniformed
members of KLA. When, risking their own safety, family members
inquired about the fate of the abducted persons, the KLA reportedly
told them that they did not know anything of their whereabouts. The
KFOR has ignored the case. The families believe that these men might
still be alive and appeal to the international community to help save
their lives. The families are sure that the abducted persons are not
guilty of any crime whatsoever. The names of the abducted follow:
 
1/  Mr Adrian Agim Isaku (19); abducted on 27 June 1999
2/  Mr Tasim Halimi (26), abducted on 21 June 1999
3/  Mr Skelzen Hamza (35), abducted on 21 June 1999
4/  Mr Jusuf Hamza (38), abducted on 21 June 1999
5/  Mr Mazlun Mursemi (48), abducted on 21 June 1999
 
ERRC researchers in the Pristina area, within the administrative area
of British KFOR, repeatedly witnessed KFOR officers failing to react
to the looting and burning of Romani houses occurring in their
proximity. The ERRC knows of no pronouncement by any KFOR official
that looting is prohibited.

The ERRC presented lists of neighbourhoods and streets in Prizren and
Djakovica inhabited by significant numbers of Roma and therefore in
need of special protection, to a senior officer of the KFOR military
police in Prizren, Lieutenant Grotzow. Lieutenant Grotzow stated that
he was aware of the situation of Roma. He told the ERRC that the
military police had, as of July 5, 28 soldiers at its disposal and
that this number was insufficient for providing basic security in
Prizren, let alone in the German sector as a whole. Officer Grotzow
expected to have 68 officers at his disposal by July 9, 1999, a number
he still considered too low. KFOR presence in the city is evidently
much larger than 28 at present - five and six tanks and armored
vehicles at a time can be seen driving up and down the street and the
ERRC saw infantry divisions of up to one hundred drilling. It is
unclear why these troops are not being used to provide for civilian
security.

Other KFOR officers told the ERRC unofficially that there had been
over 250 killings in the German sector alone since the entry of KFOR
into Kosovo. They additionally stated that on any given day, 30-150
persons were detained in the military police prison for the crimes of
murder, homicide and rape. There is reportedly a "mobile court"
established to try persons detained and charged by the KFOR military
police, but no KFOR official with whom the ERRC spoke was willing to
comment on what sentences, if any, had been handed down by the court.

Dear Mr Secretary General, the ERRC has documented a wave of abuses by
ethnic Albanians against Roma and Egyptians in Kosovo, all taking
place since the entry of KFOR troops in mid-June 1999. The ERRC notes
that at present, a vital anti-Gypsy sentiment is animating ethnic
Albanians in Kosovo. The ERRC herewith respectively submits
documentation on the current situation of Roma in Kosovo. In the
present situation, the ERRC urges that KFOR troops in Kosovo be
effectively empowered to protect the civilian population. The ERRC
additionally urges that particular attention be paid to the Romani
population in Kosovo, as they are particularly vulnerable at present.

Respectfully,
Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director
                                                

Persons wishing to express similar concerns to Secretary General Annan
are urged to contact him at:

H.E. Kofi Annan
Secretary General
United Nations
New York, NY 10017
United States of America
Fax: (1) 212 963 4879

********************

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) is an international public
interest law organisation which monitors the situation of Roma in
Europe and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse.
Contact the ERRC at:

European Roma Rights Center
P.O.Box  10/24  
1525 Budapest 114 
Hungary  

Tel: + (36 1)  42 82 351  
Fax: + (36-1) 42 82 356
e-mail: 100263.1130@compuserve.com

Publications by the European Roma Rights Center are available on the
Internet at:
http://www.errc.org

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