Today’s hearing focuses on ethnic tensions and human rights in Kosovo, including the right of those displaced to return to their homes. Be it Kosovo, another region of southeastern Europe or elsewhere in the OSCE region, few things are cherished more than the ability of individuals to live in the security of their own home, with their human rights respected and the opportunity to provide the necessities for their family.
It was, in fact, the absence of such a climate that paved the way for the outbreak of conflict in Kosovo in 1999. The United States, the OSCE and the international community as a whole have invested significant time, effort and resources in Kosovo ever since to restore some sense of normalcy to that war torn region. While inroads have been made, the work is far from complete and is complicated due to the actions of criminals elements and extreme nationalists intent on maintaining an ethnic divide.
While it will take time for democratic institutions and the rule of law to become firmly rooted in Kosovo, it should not take time for attacks on, and harassment of, members of minority groups to stop, or for dialogue to begin. Recovery in Kosovo requires the sharing of expertise, but it also requires the willingness to change and, in this case, specifically the willingness to reach across the ethnic divide. Looking at Kosovo, one wonders who will lead the way.
In short, progress is taking place in Kosovo, but not quickly enough. For some things, we must be patient, but for other things, like attacks on churches or innocent civilians, such outrages cannot be justified. They are simply wrong and must stop now.
It is my hope that this hearing will note the progress achieved so far – it deserves noting – but also that the human rights situation in Kosovo remains uneven, especially for members of ethnic minorities. The rights of those belonging to the Serb, Romani and other communities must be respected and the rights of those Albanians who cannot return to their homes in some parts of Kosovo must be respected as well.
The Helsinki Commission looks forward to the testimony of our witnesses today, which will document the progress and the continuing shortcomings with respect to human rights in Kosovo. We also welcome concrete recommendations from our panelists on how to move more quickly to the day when the people of Kosovo, regardless of their ethnicity, can live securely in their own home, with their human rights respected and the opportunity to provide for the future of their families.