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Background: Kosovo’s Unresolved Status and the Role of the International Community in Kosovo

Under the agreement that brought the 1999 war to an end, Kosovo came under the interim administration of the United Nations, with a system of governance and security that, in addition to the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), involved the NATO-led peacekeeping Kosovo Force (KFOR), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the European Union. Although Kosovo’s final status—the level of autonomy or independence it will be granted, and its relationship to the Union of Serbia and Montenegro—will not be resolved until at least 2005. UNMIK is also involved in creating Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG) for Kosovo, including the creation of a “credible, professional and impartial Kosovo Police Service (KPS).”15 

As yet unresolved is the future status of the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), a structure created in 1999 to absorb demobilized members of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).16 The Kosovo Protection Corps aspires to be Kosovo’s future army, but at present is designated by the international community as “a civilian emergency organization which carries out rapid disaster response tasks for public safety in times of emergency and humanitarian assistance.”17 Some members of the KPC have been implicated in human rights abuses against minority communities in Kosovo, and involvement in organized crime.  The KPC itself played a minimal role during the March 2004 violence in Kosovo, largely confining itself to its barracks. In some areas of Kosovo, particularly the U.S. KFOR-led eastern sector, KPC was allowed to play a role in calming crowds and mounting joint patrols. In the Scandinavian-KFOR-led central area of Kosovo, offers from KPC to help defend Caglavica (Çagllavice) were steadfastly refused because Scandinavian KFOR elements did not want to cede any of their security responsibilities to the KPC.

The overlapping security organizations in Kosovo—namely the NATO-led KFOR, the UNMIK international police, the locally-recruited KPS, and the controversial KPC—enjoy an uneasy co-existence and frequently fail to adequately coordinate their activities. A general trend of security responsibility away from KFOR, first towards UNMIK police and ultimately towards KPS, has left responsibility for various security functions unclear. For example, a well-placed diplomatic source argued that the confused security response by KFOR and UNMIK to the initial violence in Mitrovica on March 17 was due partly to the hand-over process from KFOR to the UNMIK police that had been underway for months:

For the past months, the French KFOR were obliged to have a low profile in Mitrovica, as they were in the process of a slow withdrawal from Mitrovica and a hand-over of their responsibilities to UNMIK police. So they lost contact [with intelligence sources] on the ground.18

In the aftermath of the March riots, there appears to have been an increased recognition by KFOR and UNMIK on the need to coordinate their functions. In mid-April 2004, the KFOR Commander for the Central Region and the UNMIK Pristina police commander issued a joint statement committing themselves to “conduct training and mutual operations and to create an effective command and control system, so together we can fight any situation we’ll be faced with.”19

The Establishment and Role of KFOR

The 1999 Kosovo war ended with the departure of Serb and Yugoslav troops from the province, and the establishment of a NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) to take over security in the province. The entry of KFOR into Kosovo, and the simultaneous departure of the Serb and Yugoslav forces, was governed by a June 9, 1999, Military Technical Agreement between KFOR and the respective governments of the then-Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Serbia.20 U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, adopted on June 10, 1999, mandated KFOR with establishing and maintaining a secure environment in Kosovo, including responsibility for public safety and order.21

KFOR continues to play a prominent role in Kosovo, although its troop levels have been significantly reduced since the mission was first established, from 50,000 troops in June 1999 to 18,500 troops by late 2003. KFOR is organized into a headquarters based in Pristina, currently commanded by Lieutenant-General Holger Kammerhoff of the German Army (COM-KFOR). General Kammerhoff reports to the NATO Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces Southern Europe (CINCSOUTH), based in Naples, Italy. U.S. Admiral Gregory Johnson is the current Commander-in-Chief of CINCSOUTH.

The KFOR troops are divided regionally into four Multinational Brigades. Multinational Brigade North, under French command, is responsible for the areas around the divided city of Mitrovica, together with Zvecan/Zveçan, and Vucitrn.22 Multinational Brigade East, under U.S. command, is responsible for the areas around Kamenica, Gnjilane/Gjilan, Pasjane, Urosevac/Ferizaj, Strpce/Shterpce, and Kacanik/Kaçanik.23  Multinational Brigade Center, under Swedish command, is responsible for the areas around the capital Pristina, Podujevo/Podujeve, Obilic, Kosovo Polje, Gracanica/Graçanice, and Lipljan.24 The multinational Brigade Southwest, under Italian command, is responsible for the areas around Pec/Pejë, Djakovica, Prizren, Decani, Orahovac/Rahovec, Malisevo/Malisheve, Suva Reka/Suhareke, Klina/Kline, and Dragas/Dragash.25  In addition, KFOR has a Pristina-based Multinational Specialized Unit, a military police force that focuses on fighting organized crime and terrorism.26

The reduction in KFOR troop levels to the 18,500 at the time of the March 2004 violence significantly affected KFOR’s ability to respond effectively to the violence. Approximately one-third of the total KFOR troops, or roughly 6,000 troops at the time, were deployed in direct combat-related functions, while the other two-thirds provided various forms of logistical support. KFOR’s ability to respond effectively to the violence was also severely hampered by the rules of engagement—often referred to as “caveats”—that various nations put on the deployment of their troops. Almost every nation which deploys troops in Kosovo places specific caveats on their deployment—such as limiting their use of deadly force, limiting their deployment to a certain sector of Kosovo, or requiring their troops to seek approval from national authorities rather than the KFOR command structure for certain activities. The Multinational Brigade Commanders also enjoy a high degree of autonomy over their area of control, limiting the ability of overall KFOR commander (COM-KFOR) to ensure a consistent Kosovo-wide response during times of crises and to shift troops between commands.

The Establishment and Role of UNMIK

With the same resolution that established KFOR, the United Nations Security Council also created the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK). As its name suggests, UNMIK was established to serve as an interim civilian administration for Kosovo, and to promote the establishment of substantial autonomy and self-government in Kosovo by fostering the establishment of accountable civilian institutions in Kosovo.27  Under the direction of the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, UNMIK works, at the operation level, in four “pillars”:  Pillar I, responsible for police and the administration of justice, and Pillar II, responsible for civil administration, are both implemented by the United Nations; Pillar III, democratization and institution building, is implemented by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); and Pillar IV, Reconstruction and Economic Development, is implemented by the European Union (E.U.).

As part of its policing responsibilities, UNMIK has created the international UNMIK civilian police, which is responsible for interim law enforcement functions until the creation of a “credible, professional, and impartial” Kosovo Police Service (KPS).28  As of December 2003, UNMIK had 3,752 international police officers in Kosovo, including 2,422 civilian police (CIVPOL), 975 members of Special Police Units (SPUs) and 355 border police.29 The SPUs differ from other CIVPOL units in that they “represent a large, paramilitary, mobile and self-sufficient force of officers capable of rapid deployment to high-risk situations.”30 UNMIK police officers come from some 49 contributing nations, from Argentina to Zimbabwe, and can range widely in terms of their policing experience and human rights awareness—as some come from nations with their own domestic record of severe police abuse.

The Kosovo Police Service

UNMIK is also tasked with the establishment of the Kosovo’s Provisional Institutions of Self-Government, including the creation of a “credible, professional and impartial Kosovo Police Service (KPS).” UNMIK and the OSCE work together to train police officers for the new KPS, a process that was initiated with the training of the first group of 176 aspiring police officers in September 1999 at the newly established Kosovo Police Service School in Vucitrn. By March 2004, 5,700 KPS officers had been trained and deployed throughout Kosovo. UNMIK ultimately aims to train and deploy some 6,500 KPS officers in Kosovo.31

In most police stations, KPS officers work under the supervision of, and in cooperation with, international UNMIK police officers. Ensuring a balanced ethnic composition among the force has been a key challenge in creating a viable KPS. As is the case with many other institutions in Kosovo, the ethnic composition of the KPS tends to reflect the ethnic make-up of the area: in predominantly ethnic Albanian areas, there are little or no Serbs and other non-Albanians participation in the KPS structures. In predominantly Serb areas such as northern Mitrovica, the KPS tends to be entirely Serb.

Morale among KPS officers remains a primary challenge, because of the distrust they face from other security organizations, particularly KFOR, and because of the low remuneration they receive for their challenging work. Mutual distrust runs deep between the ethnic-Albanian dominated KPS and the French KFOR troops in command of Multinational Brigade-North: during the March 2004 violence, French KFOR attempted to disband KPS in southern Mitrovica, refused to allow ethnic Albanian KPS officers to carry out their duties and blocked them at checkpoints, and reportedly even considered burning down the KPS police station in southern Mitrovica.32

KPS officers also are poorly equipped to carry out their duties. KPS officers have almost no riot control equipment such as tear gas, water cannons, riot shields, or rubber bullets. Most KPS officers have only been issued a single uniform.  Their pay is minimal. Two leading KPS officers interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Prizren and Kosovo Polje, respectively, earned a salary between 240 and 250 Euros a month, in an economy where prices for consumer goods rival those of Western Europe. When Human Rights Watch asked an UNMIK police commander in Prizren what the international community could do to ensure a more effective security response to violence in Kosovo in the future, his immediate response was: “Put some money in the KPS budget and give them proper basic equipment that any police officer should have—we don’t need anything more.”33

[15] See UNMIK, “Police and Justice (Pillar I)—Police, Mandate,” n.d. [online], (retrieved July 15, 2004).

[16] The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), or Ushtria Clirimtare e Kosoves (UCK) in Albanian, was the dominant armed Albanian group fighting against Yugoslav and Serbian forces during the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo. Following the end of the 1999 conflict, the KLA and KFOR signed an agreement on the demobilization of the KLA. Under the agreement, KLA members were absorbed into the newly created Kosovo Protection Force. Some KLA commanders were involved in war crimes during the 1998-99 Kosovo conflict, and have been indicted by both local and international tribunals. Some KLA members have also been accused of having ties to organized crime and Albanian nationalist elements, and played a significant role in other conflicts in the region.

[17] Standards for Kosovo, Number VIII.

[18] Human Rights Watch interview with diplomatic source, Pristina, April 18, 2004.

[19] OSCE Mission in Kosovo, Department of Human Rights and Rule of Law, “Human Rights Challenges following the March Riots,” p. 6.

[20] Military Technical Agreement between the international security force (“KFOR”) and the Governments of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Serbia, June 9, 2004 [online], (retrieved July 6, 2004). The Military Technical Agreement was accompanied by a separate agreement between KFOR and the KLA, the “Undertaking of demilitarization and transformation by UCK,” signed on June 20, 1999 [online], (retrieved July 6, 2004).

[21] United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, adopted June 10, 1999.

[22] See [online] (retrieved July 15, 2004) for a detailed description of its area of responsibility. The Multinational brigade North includes contributing troops from Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Luxemburg, and Morocco.

[23] See [online] (retrieved July 15, 2004) for a detailed description of its area of responsibility. The Multinational Brigade East includes contributing troops from Armenia, Greece, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine.

[24] See [online] (retrieved July 15, 2004) for a detailed description of its area of responsibility. Multinational Brigade Center includes contributing troops from the Czech Republic, Ireland, Latvia, Slovakia, Finland, and the U.K.

[25] See [online] (retrieved July 15, 2004) for a detailed description of its area of responsibility. The Multinational Brigade SouthWest includes contributing troops from Austria, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and Turkey.

[26] See [online] (retrieved July 15, 2004) for a detailed description.

[27] United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, adopted June 10, 1999.

[28] UNMIK, “Police and Justice (Pillar I)—Police, Mandate,” n.d. [online], (retrieved July 6, 2004).

[29] By March 2004, the number of international UNMIK civilian police had reduced to 3,248. United Nations Security Council, “Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo,” April 30, 2004,  ANNEX 1. U.N. Doc. S/2004/348.

[30] UNMIK, ”Police and Justice (Pillar I)—Police, Mandate.” In December 2003, UNMIK had Special Police Units from India, Jordan, Romania, Pakistan, Argentina, Poland, and Ukraine.

[31] UNMIK, “Police and Justice (Pillar I)—Police, Mandate.”

[32] International Crisis Group, Collapse in Kosovo, April 2004 , p. 21.

[33] Human Rights Watch interview with UNMIK official, Prizren, April 13, 2004.

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