Report on the human rights situation in northern Kosovo

Reporting period: December 2023

The past several months have seen an increase in violence and interethnic tensions in northern Kosovo along with a new wave of hate speech in traditional and social media as well as alleged human rights violations committed by Kosovo Police under the pretext of fighting crime and implementing the rule of law, turning many residents into collateral damage of the mentioned developments

With the aim of documenting events that can serve as indicators of the prevailing socio-political, security, and human rights situation in northern Kosovo.

 

Methodology


NGO Aktiv gathered information about potential instances of hate speech and human rights violations by monitoring media reports in Serbian and Albanian languages and through direct interviews with local residents of the four northern municipalities who reported human rights violations. The report relies on the universally accepted human rights terminology and definitions, as incorporated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and other relevant UN conventions and documents, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and applicable Kosovo legislation relative to human rights and protection from discrimination, including hate speech.        

General overview of the HR situation in December 2023

 

During the reporting period, NGO Aktiv did not notice any improvement compared to the previous period, with instances of hate speech targeting minority groups persisting in familiar ways, albeit with a heightened sense of concern due to a notably weak response from the responsible institutions, and continued inflammatory rhetoric by Kosovo officials targeting Serbia and developments in northern Kosovo. Special police units continue to occupy makeshift bunkers/checkpoints along the primary roads in northern Kosovo. Moreover, land expropriations are still ongoing without adequate notification or necessary action being taken to inform the rightful landowners(at the time of writing basic cort in Ptristina/Priština overruled the GoK decision).

 

Nikolla Xhufka and hate speech towards the SPC

 

The Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) is involved in a dispute with Nikolla Xhufka, who claims to be an Albanian Orthodox priest. The conflict arose when a group of people including Xhufka claimed that a church in Rakinicë/Rakinica, in the municipality of Podujevë/Podujevo, was an “Albanian Orthodox Church” honouring the Albanian figure Theofan Noli. Xhufka accused the SPC of hiding weapons in the church and stated that it was an “Albanian national Orthodox church.”

 

The SPC Raška-Prizren Diocese eventually filed a criminal complaint against Xhufka for intrusion, misuse of the religious facility, and incitement to discord and intolerance.

 

This clash is symptomatic of tensions over religious and ethnic identities in the region, with conflicting claims over the church’s ownership and significance. Xhufka’s actions, including hateful comments and destruction of SPC property have drawn attention on his contentions related to the existence of an Albanian Orthodox identity. Xhufka accused the SPC of supporting terrorists, hiding weapons for them, and labeling them as satanic and illegitimate. The responsible Kosovo institutions initially ignored Xhufka’s actions for a period of time before returning the church under the SPC control, and enabling the replacement of the door lock. Of note, it is not the first time that Xhufka clashes with and uses hate speech against the SPC in Kosovo.

 

KLA inscription in Draganac Monastery

Also during the reporting period, unknown perpetrators wrote the inscription “KLA” on the entrance of the Draganac Monastery, causing property damage and perpetuating feelings of hate towards Serbs in Kosovo and potentially posing a threat to their safety.

 

“Expropriation” of land located in the municipality of Zvečan/Zveçan

 

Alleged land expropriation took place in the village of Suvi Do/Suhodoll in the municipality of Zvečan/Zveçan in disrespect of due process rules and in the absence of the prescribed documentation. When requesting documents, affected landowners faced denial of access to crucial paperwork from the present police and workers of the company carrying out the works pertaining to the case. This information was gathered through interviews with individuals from the village. to their land and property destruction took place, notably with an orchard being uprooted and destroyed.

 

The illegitimate character of the land expropriation,

In addition, there were reports from individuals interviewed in the village of Banov indicating threats of arrest for those opposing the ongoing work. Residents mentioned that police officers warned them of potential arrests if they resisted or hindered the continuation of the construction activities. and the wanton destruction of property, is creating a deep feeling of fear among the affected population, as well as constant uncertainty about the security of their homes and their future.

 

The Kosovo Ministry of Infrastructure and the Kosovo Ministry of Internal Affairs are responsible for these developments and their severeconsequences, including in relation to the rapid reduction in the number of northern Kosovo residents and further damage to the already low trust of the population and credibility of Kosovo institutions.

 

NGO Aktiv reacted by notifying the ministries involved and is actively seeking relevant information and connections associated with this case, and conducted filled wists to those who have their land and property damage. While the machines involved have temporarily halted their operations and media coverage has highlighted the issue, there has been a disappointing lack of response from the Ministries contacted.

 

 

 

Damage to the health facility located in Suvi Do/Suhodoll

The Office for Kosovo and Metohija recently reported an incident targeting a healthcare facility located in the multi-ethnic neighborhood of Suvi Do/Suhodoll near North Mitrovica. Vandals reportedly shattered the windows and forcibly removed the metal gates securing the healthcare institution, fostering unrest and a sense of insecurity among the local residents and impeding their fundamental right to access to medical care.

 

Church in the municipality of Zvečan/Zveçan

 

The Kosovo Ministry of Culture has been unilaterally renovating an Orthodox Church in Gornje Vinarce/Vinarc i Epërm, without consulting the SPC, and claimed it is a “Catholic Church” to appropriate the material and spiritual heritage of the SPC, in violation of their right to religious identity and property.

 

The church, historically Serbian, dates back to the 14th century and was desecrated during the conflict in the late 1990s. Despite its historical significance to the Serbian community, the Kosovo authorities have renamed and altered its identity without consulting the SPC.

 

The Serbian Orthodox Diocese is protesting this alteration of the identity of the church and the failure to consult the SPC, as a violation of religious and cultural rights and raising concerns about historical revisionism, erasure of the SPC’s heritage, and failure to uphold legal obligations.

 

These actions violate the SPC’s right to religious identity, property rights, and cultural heritage. The unilateral renaming of the church by Kosovo authorities undermines religious and cultural rights, incites intolerance, and undermines the rule of law and ensuing respect due to legal obligations.

 

Excessive use of force

 

On 19 December, reportedly Kosovo police members resorted to excessive use of force against an individual they had stopped during an Administrative Boundary Line control in Jarinje and questioned about the presence of a dog in the car, reportedly leading to an escalation of the situation when the issue of the term border or boundary line was brought up.

 

 

According to the account of the person involved, the verbal exchanges degenerated into a physical altercation, during which he received blows, his arms were twisted and he was confined to a dark area and handcuffed. He was eventually released after approximately five hours and, received a citation for disobeying an order from the Kosovo police. He has expressed his willingness to address the events at a press conference, highlighting concerns about mistreatment and a pattern of behaviour towards the community to whom he belongs.

 

Upon receiving news of the incident, NGO Aktiv contacted the individual involved, who provided details about the situation and informed that he was not familiar with the existing mechanisms for submitting complaints to the Police Inspectorate of Kosovo. Aktiv provided him with guidance through the application process for filing complaints. Such actions once again diminish the perception of safety for Serbs in Kosovo, reduce their trust in the Kosovo institutions and undermine their right to safety.

NGO AKTIV Mitrovica

NGO AKTIV Priština

NGO AKTIV Beograd