First I want to congratulate you Senator Campbell as the new Chairman of the Helslinki Commission, and commend you for holding today’s hearing on Kosovo and the region. Senator, I am confident that as Chairman you will be – in the Helsinki tradition – a champion of human rights.
Like so many of our hearings, the topic of the Commission’s hearing today is very timely. The Commission has held numerous hearings over the years which have focused on Kosovo and, again, we find the issues and challenges facing the people of the region on the front page of the news.
Kosovo is receiving much attention right now because of the situation in southern Serbia and, most recently, in Macedonia. Mr. Chairman, I think it is important to go on record, as many have, in condemning the violence which now threatens Macedonia. Violence is not an acceptable means for addressing grievances, even when those grievances may be legitimate. In the past, the Helsinki Commission has raised concerns regarding minority issues, such as education and citizenship, with Macedonian authorities. Certainly progress has been made in Macedonia, and those avenues for achieving additional progress still exist. But, I am particularly concerned that continued violence by Albanian militants can only threaten those avenues. At the same time, I join those in calling upon the Macedonian authorities to utilize restraint and to abide by the rule of law in enforcing the law. Basic issues of citizenship and non-discrimination require a principled approach by all sides. Violence is not the means to a just end.
Among the issues relating to Kosovo, those which cause so much suffering are of greatest concern to me. There are many missing persons – Serbs, Albanians and others – and surviving friends and relatives wonder about their fate. Hundreds of Kosovar Albanians wrongfully languish in Serbian prisons, losing precious time in their lives, not to mention the denial of personal freedom. Members of minorities in Kosovo do not know what their future or that of their children will be. The situation in and around Kosovo encourages the trafficking of enslaved women in the region’s horrific and booming sex trade.
I am also concerned about the future of Kosovo. Democratic development must proceed. The holding of elections, the operation of the free media, the creation of a functioning economy, and the establishment of institutions to respond to people’s needs are all critical.
Mr. Chairman, I hope that our panel will shed some light on what is being done in response to these volatile issues. What progress have existing efforts yielded and what are the prospects for the future in the region, including a description of what the United States and the international community can do to foster constructive change and the rooting of democracy?