Kosovo * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Kosovo *

Kosovo *

Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Kosovo's political rights and civil liberties ratings increased from 6 to 5, and its status from Not Free to Partly Free, because the wave of postwar ethnic discrimination and terror has largely subsided.


In 2002, there was little noteworthy political progress in the disputed province, which still legally remains a part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). Although elections for the provincial assembly were held successfully in October, increasing tensions between the local Albanian political leadership and international officials running the province, along with the lack of a strategy for resolving Kosovo's final status, continued to raise considerable uncertainty over the future of Kosovo's development.

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 early 1980s and accelerated after former Serbian strongman 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 Serb targets in the province, provoking harsh reprisals from Yugoslav government forces. In March 1999, NATO launched a 78-day air campaign against the FRY to force it to relinquish control over the province.

Under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1244 of June 1999, 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, Romas (Gypsies), Bosniacs, Croats, Turks, and Jews have been forced to flee the province. Most of the non-Albanian population remaining in Kosovo live in small clusters of villages or in urban ghettoes under round-the-clock KFOR protection. The largest Serb population is concentrated in a triangle-shaped piece of territory north of the Ibar River.

Municipal elections were held in Kosovo on October 25 after a campaign that international observers claimed was "generally free and fair." The election results confirmed the continuing dominance of Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) over former KLA leader Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), while Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) made a very strong showing in traditionally sympathetic regions in western Kosovo.

During the year tensions grew between the local Albanian political leadership of the province and international administrators. On May 23, the UN Special Representative for Kosovo, Michael Steiner, immediately declared "null and void" a resolution adopted by the Kosovo Assembly challenging a border agreement between the FRY and Macedonia. Steiner claimed the assembly, which under the terms of UNSCR 1244 has no authority over internal security or Kosovo's relations with the outside world, had no jurisdiction in the matter. The assembly went ahead with the vote despite letters from the UN Security Council and the EU warning it not to proceed with such a vote. A similar effort by the Kosovo Assembly to sign a memorandum of cooperation with Albania a few days later was also immediately struck down by Steiner. By the end of the year, Kosovo Albanian legislators were threatening a unilateral declaration of independence if a proposed agreement between the two remaining Yugoslav republics--Serbia and Montenegro--was ratified; Kosovo Albanian rejection of the agreement was prompted by the stipulation in the draft agreement that should the FRY break up, Serbia would inherit all legal claims to Kosovo in place of Yugoslavia. In a more promising development, however, in November the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) assumed administrative control over the Serb enclaves north of the Ibar River, thereby unifying the province under international supervision for the first time since the war.

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. The Special Representative, who also serves as UNMIK chief, is responsible for implementing civilian aspects of the agreement ending the war. Elections in Kosovo in the post-1999 period, organized by the international community, have been considered "generally free and fair." In the October municipal elections, contested by more than 60 political entities, voter turnout was approximately 54 percent. There was a disproportionately low Serb turnout, however, because of continuing complaints about the lack of freedom of movement to and from polling places.

Freedom of expression is limited because of the overall lack of security in the province. Although a wide variety of print and electronic media operate in Kosovo, journalists report frequent harassment and intimidation. A survey conducted by the OSCE Mission in Kosovo in December 2001 found that 78 percent of the journalists questioned did not feel free to do investigative journalism without fear of threat or reprisal.

The Albanian population in Kosovo on the whole enjoys freedom of belief and religious association. There are, however, 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 NATO-protected enclaves. An EU report issued in 2002 noted that because of their poor access to public and private sector employment, income-generation programs, market venues, property rights, vocational education training, and public and social services, minorities are being "economically cleansed" from Kosovo. In September, the coordinator of UNMIK's science and education efforts in Kosovo announced he was leaving his post, saying it was proving impossible to stop discrimination against Serbs and other local ethnic minorities in educational institutions.

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. 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.

The lack of a functioning judicial system in Kosovo was apparent in a 2002 case involving several East European women forced into sexual slavery. In September, their Kosovo Albanian pimp was brought to trial, but the proceedings were neither translated into the women's native language nor did the local court provide lawyers for the women. The Albanian judge sentenced the defendant to 3 1/2 years (out of a maximum sentence for trafficking of 12 years), but the defendant was released while he appealed his sentence. International officials reported charges of bribery of the judge involved and death threats made against the witnesses to recant their testimony.

Several leading members of the former 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.

Gender inequality 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.

Trafficking is a major problem in Kosovo, which serves as both a point of transit for women trafficked from Eastern to Western Europe and as a point of destination. The presence of a large international military force and of numerous civilian agencies provides a relatively affluent clientele for the white slave trade in the province.