The future European Union-led international mission to Kosovo must subject its human rights record to much greater scrutiny and accountability than its United Nations predecessor if it is to succeed, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper released today. EU foreign ministers are likely to discuss the future mission at the general affairs council meeting in Luxembourg on June 18-19.

The UN Security Council is debating the future status of Kosovo – currently a UN protectorate – on the basis of a settlement proposed by UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari. Under the Ahtisaari proposal, an EU-led international mission, including an EU police and justice operation with executive authority, will replace the UN civilian mission that effectively governs Kosovo. The planned mission is the most ambitious in the European Union’s history. NATO will continue its peacekeeping role. NATO defense ministers are expected to discuss the future NATO presence on June 14-15.

“The UN’s lack of accountability in Kosovo tarnished its reputation and undermined its legitimacy,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The EU should learn from those mistakes and allow real scrutiny of its human rights record from day one. NATO also has a lot of work to do to improve its accountability.”

The 44-page briefing paper, “Better Late than Never: Enhancing the Accountability of International Institutions in Kosovo,” assesses the lack of effective remedies for human rights violations by the current UN-led international administration (UNMIK) and the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo (KFOR). The paper analyzes the accountability arrangements in the proposed status settlement, including the role of the Ombudsperson Institution and the future Constitutional Court.

At first glance, it would appear that there is a wealth of accountability mechanisms in Kosovo. The province has an Ombudsperson Institution, a Human Rights Advisory Panel, and is monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Kosovo, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, nongovernmental organizations, and the media. There are also a variety of internal systems within UNMIK and KFOR. In reality, however, these mechanisms are either weak, unable to investigate international institutions, or limited in their impact.

The Ombudsperson Institution was stripped of its mandate to investigate complaints against UNMIK and KFOR in 2006. The Human Rights Advisory Panel, which was created to bridge this accountability gap on the civilian side, has yet to start its work. No mechanism to investigate KFOR now exists.

“Rather than welcoming oversight of their human rights records, the UN and NATO have sought to shield themselves from it,” said Cartner. “The international community cannot expect to succeed in building democratic institutions in Kosovo if it is not prepared to subject its own record to independent scrutiny.”

The OSCE mission, the Council of Europe, and the UN Human Rights Committee have all been critical about the limited remedies available to those who allege abuse at the hands of UN police or NATO peacekeepers.

The accountability gap in Kosovo was starkly illustrated earlier this year when UNMIK police responded to a violent protest on February 10 with lethal force, resulting in the deaths of two protestors. The UN mission’s much-criticized handling of the aftermath highlighted the lack of independent mechanisms for accountability and oversight of UN police, which necessitated reliance on ad hoc solutions, and the potential for lasting damage to the reputation of international institutions in the absence of effective accountability.

Human Rights Watch’s briefing paper contains recommendations for concrete measures to enhance accountability and human rights scrutiny for international operations in Kosovo, including:

  • The future International Civilian Office should be subject, as a public authority, to the jurisdiction of the future Constitutional Court and the Ombudsperson Institution;
  • The European Union should subject the Police and Justice Mission, as a public authority, to the jurisdiction of the future Constitutional Court and the Ombudsperson Institution;
  • NATO members and other governments contributing to the future International Military Presence (IMP) should enter into bilateral agreements with the government of Kosovo, accepting the jurisdiction of the future Constitutional Court over their forces deployed in Kosovo;
  • NATO members and other governments in the IMP should enter into bilateral agreements with the government of Kosovo, accepting the jurisdiction of the Ombudsperson Institution over their forces deployed in Kosovo; and,
  • NATO should establish standardized mechanisms together with the IMP for responding to individual complaints, and a central database for such complaints.

The briefing paper also urges the future government of Kosovo to support the restoration of the Ombudsperson Institution’s mandate to investigate complaints against international civilian and military institutions, and to call for the Constitutional Court’s jurisdiction to include claims related to the actions of international institutions.

“When it comes to human rights in Kosovo, the EU and NATO should lead by example,” said Cartner. “Serious independent scrutiny of their operations in Kosovo would greatly increase the chances of success and it could serve as model for future peace operations around the world.”