No Clean Hands in Kosovo

In an op-ed in the University of Pittsburgh Law School’s Jurist, a former UN human rights legal advisor in Kosovo examines some of the complexities.

From the moment the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia began in 1999, the independence of Kosovo seemed a highly likely eventuality. Since that time, developments on the ground have effectively precluded virtually any other possibility. As such, an independent Kosovo does seem inevitable. However, a number of commentators have recently opined that although the purported secession of Kosovo may well be unlawful, it is nonetheless just. Both of these propositions – that it was not in conformity with international law and that it was “justified” – are open to question….

I have to admit that, upon my arrival in Kosovo in the summer of 1999, I had very much shared this simplistic view of the situation. Indeed, my work there on war crimes documentation was largely driven by a desire to secure accountability for the seemingly steady stream of international crimes being broadcast by the international media.

I was initially stationed in western Kosovo, where I, along with throngs of other international aid workers, was welcomed as a benefactor and friend of the Albanians; that is, until I questioned the acceptability of blowing up the town’s Serbian Orthodox Church. Any suggestion that Kosovo Serbs should benefit from the protection of human rights law was met with open hostility.

I later moved north to Mitrovica, the ethnically divided city bisected by the River Ibar, with Kosovo Serbs living to the north and Kosovo Albanians living to the south. Working regularly with individuals from all ethnic groups, I was one of very few people who crossed the Ibar on a daily basis. The few Kosovo Albanians who remained in the north lived in a state of continuous insecurity. Kosovo Serbs fared less well in the south. Shortly before I arrived in Mitrovica, a Kosovo Serb was discovered south of the Ibar, and was consequently beaten to death by an angry mob.

The work of documenting past abuses was quickly supplemented by the need to respond to the spike in crimes against ethnic minorities, including Kosovo Serbs. Over the course of the following 18 months, the killing and displacement of Kosovo Serbs, and other ethnic minorities, continued unabated, notwithstanding the presence of tens of thousands of NATO soldiers.

Further reflection was prompted once the percentage of the Kosovo Serb population that had been murdered or displaced surpassed the percentage of the Kosovo Albanian population that had been killed or displaced in the years leading up to the NATO intervention.

via Laurence Jarvik

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Filed under nationalism, U.N., Yugoslavia

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