Kosovo * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Kosovo *

Kosovo *

Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Trend Arrow: 

Kosovo received an upward trend arrow due to elections held in November for a provincial assembly that were held in relative peace, and because of a noticeable drop in terror attacks against ethnic minorities after September 11.


Kosovo’s first post-1999 elections for a provincial assembly were held in relatively peaceful circumstances in November, raising hopes that a degree of normality was returning to the province. Importantly, the Serb minority agreed to participate in the elections, raising more hopes that a meaningful degree of interethnic cooperation could begin. Nevertheless, numerous attacks on ethnic minorities during the year again showed that postwar Kosovo was far from conflict-free.

Control over the Yugoslav province of Kosovo has been a source of conflict between Albanians and Serbs in the Balkans for most of the twentieth century. The current round of troubles began in the 1980s, especially after then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic came to power and began to revoke much of Kosovo’s autonomy. For most of the 1990s, an uneasy but generally nonviolent status quo was maintained between the Yugoslav government and the Kosovo Albanians, who, under the leadership of Ibrahim Rugova, developed an entire parallel society in Kosovo, replete with quasi-governmental institutions, hospitals, and school systems.

In late 1997, a guerrilla movement called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) began a series of attacks on Serbian police forces, government officials, and Serb refugees in the province, provoking harsh reprisals from Yugoslav government forces. In March 1999, NATO launched a 78-day air campaign against Yugoslavia to force it to relinquish control over the province.

Under the terms of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1244 of June 1999, Yugoslav forces withdrew from the province, and a NATO-led peacekeeping force (KFOR) assumed responsibility for security in Kosovo. UNSCR 1244 turned Kosovo into a protectorate of the international community, while officially maintaining Yugoslav sovereignty over the province.

Since international forces moved into Kosovo in mid-1999, a campaign of reverse ethnic cleansing has been taking place. More than 250,000 Serbs, Roma (Gypsies), Bosniacs, Croats, Turks, and Jews have been forced to flee the province. Most of the non-Albanian population remaining in Kosovo lives in small clusters of villages or in urban ghettoes under round-the-clock KFOR protection. The largest Serb population left in Kosovo is concentrated in a triangular-shaped piece of territory north of the Ibar River.

In May, after months of difficult negotiations, international officials and local Albanian politicians (albeit not representatives of the Serb population, who boycotted the work) produced the “Constitutional Framework for Provisional Self-Government” for Kosovo. The agreement created a 120-member assembly for the province, in which delegates will be proportionally elected. The assembly will in turn elect a “president” of Kosovo, who is responsible for nominating a prime minister. The Constitutional Framework is considered a first step in allowing a measure of self-government in Kosovo, although the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) retains responsibility for the administration of justice and law enforcement, and KFOR remains in charge of overall security. The head of UNMIK (formally, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General) also retains the power to veto any decisions of the provincial assembly considered to be at odds with UNSCR 1244. The Constitutional Framework also avoided creating a constitutional court for Kosovo and, importantly, provided no provision for a potential referendum on independence, dashing Albanian hopes for giving the provincial assembly the power to weigh in on Kosovo’s final status. 

The Constitutional Framework also left UNMIK in charge of the increasingly controversial Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), the successor to the KLA intended to serve as a national guard for Kosovo. Many leading members of the KPC were during the course of the year involved in the fighting in neighboring Macedonia, leading U.S. President George Bush in June to sign an executive order declaring that these individuals were engaging “in actions that constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” Throughout the year, Macedonian officials repeatedly charged that Albanian insurgents in Macedonia were using NATO-occupied Kosovo as their staging ground. Similarly, Yugoslav officials criticized NATO for failing to prevent Albanians from crossing the border into Serbia proper to participate in the incipient rebellion in the Presevo Valley.

Kosovo’s elections for a provincial assembly, held on November 17, were contested by 26 political parties. Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), considered relatively moderate by international officials, won a plurality in the elections, gaining some 45.7 percent of the votes cast; former KLA leader Hashim Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo came in second with 25.7 percent; and the mainly Serb Return Coalition won 11.3 percent. The elections brought out more than 64 percent of eligible voters.

Despite the fact that the elections went off relatively peacefully, there is uncertainty about how the new provincial assembly will function. There are still considerable concerns about guaranteeing the safety of non-Albanian delegates who have to participate in the assembly’s work. Although there appears to have been a noticeable drop in the number of terror attacks on the non-Albanian population in Kosovo after the September 11 attacks in the United States out of the fear on the part of Kosovo Albanian leaders that continuing terror against civilians could hurt their cause), ethnic minorities in the province still have to live under 24-hour KFOR protection. Among the worst acts of violence during the year was the February 16 bombing of a bus carrying Serb civilians in which 11 people were killed and more than 40 injured.

The overall failure of the international community to create a secure environment in the province has made Kosovo a European hub for Albanian organized-crime syndicates trafficking in women from the former Soviet Union, narcotics, illegal aliens, and stolen cars.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

According to UNSCR 1244, ultimate authority within Kosovo resides with the UN Special Representative in the province, who is appointed by the UN secretary-general. UNMIK is responsible for implementing civilian aspects of the agreement ending the war.

Freedom of expression is limited because of the overall lack of security in the province. Journalists report frequent harassment and intimidation. In August, a journalist from a newspaper sympathetic to LDK leader Ibrahim Rugova was assassinated in a drive-by shooting.

The Albanian population in Kosovo on the whole enjoys freedom of belief and religious association. Throughout the year, however, there were frequent attacks on Orthodox churches and other holy sites associated with the Serb population. Since NATO took control of Kosovo, more than 100 churches and other properties belonging to the Serbian Orthodox Church have been destroyed or damaged.

Freedom of movement continues to be a significant problem in Kosovo for ethnic minorities, who face frequent attacks from the majority Albanian population once they leave their NATO-protected enclaves. Ethnic minorities living in these enclaves also suffer from lack of access to health and social services, schools, and employment opportunities.

Kosovo lacks a functioning criminal justice system. International agencies report that ethnic Albanian judges are unwilling to prosecute cases involving Albanian attacks on non-Albanians, and the physical safety of non-Albanian judges cannot be guaranteed. By mid-2000, for example, more than 500 murders in Kosovo had not resulted in a single conviction. UNMIK has brought international judges into the province, but this is only considered a temporary measure. Criminal suspects who have been arrested according to the Special Representative’s power to order executive detentions are frequently released on the orders of local judges. Several leading members of the formally disbanded KLA are under investigation for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for actions committed before, during, and after the NATO intervention. During the course of 2001, KFOR also frequently engaged in military detentions of Albanians caught crossing the Kosovo-Macedonia border or the Kosovo-Serbia border near the Presevo Valley.

Gender equality continues to be a serious problem in Kosovo Albanian society. Patriarchal societal attitudes often limit a woman’s ability to gain an education or to choose the marriage partner of her choice.