Kosovo * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Kosovo *

Kosovo *

Freedom in the World 2005

2005 Scores

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Kosovo's political rights rating declined from 5 to 6, and its status from Partly Free to Not Free, due to the Serbian community boycott of parliamentary elections following an increase in ethnic violence.


The year 2004 saw aggression against non-Albanian ethnic communities in March, the international community's weak response to the crisis, and elections in October boycotted by 99 percent of Kosovo's Serbian minority.

Control over Kosovo was a source of conflict between ethnic Albanians and Serbs throughout the twentieth century. The current round of troubles began in the early 1980s after the death of Yugoslav dictator Marshal Josip Broz Tito, when ethnic Albanians in the province began a series of demonstrations in favor of republic status within the former Yugoslavia, and, in some case, outright independence from Yugoslavia. Tensions increased 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 status quo was maintained between the Yugoslav government and the Kosovo Albanians, who developed an entirely 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, as well as against fellow Albanians deemed to be collaborating with the Serbian government. These moves provoked harsh reprisals from Yugoslav government forces, and various forms of political and social repression against Kosovo Albanians. In March 1999, NATO launched a 78-day air campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) to force it to relinquish control over the province. During the war, Yugoslav military forces and paramilitary gangs forced hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians out of 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. Although in 2003 the FRY was officially transformed into the union of Serbia and Montenegro (SCG), this did not affect Kosovo's international legal limbo as a province formally a part of the SCG but practically a protectorate of the international community.

Since international forces moved into Kosovo in mid-1999, tens of thousands of non-Albanians have been forced to flee the province. A large Serb population is concentrated in a triangle-shaped piece of territory north of the Ibar River, and there are smaller, scattered Serb enclaves in southern parts of the province. On a visit to a Serb enclave in October 2004, Soren Jessen-Petersen, who took over as head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in June, decried the fact that in twenty-first-century Europe, human beings are forced to live in ghettoes enclosed by barbed wire.

Tensions in Kosovo exploded into two days of violent upheaval on March 17 and 18 of 2004. Although no one officially claimed responsibility for the riots, most analyses laid the blame on KLA successor groups, and claimed that the riots were both organized and systematic. During the violence, 20 people were killed, 800 homes and 30 churches were destroyed, and more than 4,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians were left homeless. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the March events "an organized, widespread, and targeted campaign" against non-Albanian communities in Kosovo, and Human Rights Watch reported that international organizations in Kosovo "failed catastrophically in their mandate to protect minority communities during the March 2004 violence." In the aftermath of the violence, the chief of UNMIK, Harri Holkeri, resigned from his position, allegedly because of ill health, though most observers believe that he was forced out because of poor leadership in dealing with Kosovo's problems.

Elections for a provincial parliament, held on October 23, were marred by a boycott by the Serb community (99 percent of Serbs registered to vote in Kosovo refused to cast a ballot). The elections did not significantly alter the political balance of power in Kosovo, as Kosovo president Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) maintained its position as the Kosovo Albanians' leading political party, followed by Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK). Further trouble with the ballot was seen a week after the elections, when Kosovo's Central Election Commission called for a recount of all the ballots cast in response to numerous complaints. Overall turnout for the elections was 53 percent.

Non-Albanian ethnic minorities have not been the only victims of persecution by extremists in the province. Over the past four years, criminal elements associated with the former KLA, Thaci's PDK, and Haradinaj's AAK have repeatedly been accused of murdering political opponents. In March, unknown attackers threw a hand grenade at the home of Kosovo president Ibrahim Rugova. Although no one was injured in the attack, it provided further confirmation of the violence plaguing Kosovo's political and social life.

The March violence and the failure of the Serb community to participate in the October parliamentary elections have created new uncertainties about the future of the province. In the aftermath of the March violence, many international officials began arguing that the official "standards before status" policy for Kosovo, in which Kosovo's political leaders and society at large had to achieve certain performance benchmarks on issues such as democratization, minority rights, and respect for neighboring states, was no longer tenable because of tensions building within the province for independence. According to this view, only a quick move towards final status for the province, to begin at some point in 2005, could alleviate the pressure from the ethnic Albanian majority for independence. There was significant fear that another round of violence would soon break out, this time aimed against the international community as well as against non-Albanians. The Serb boycott, however, means that there are no legitimate representatives of the Serb community in Kosovo to deal with; at year's end it was unclear whether the government Belgrade would consider Kosovo's new government legitimate.

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 chief of UNMIK, 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," although, given the large role played by international officials in the administration of the province, and the lack of freedom of movement for ethnic minorities in Kosovo, in many ways the level of democratization in Kosovo remains quite low. In the October 2002 municipal elections, contested by more than 60 political entities, voter turnout was approximately 54 percent. There was a disproportionately low Serb turnout because of continuing complaints about the lack of freedom of movement to and from polling places.

Kosovo's government currently consists of what are called the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG), including a 120-seat Assembly whose members are popularly elected and serve three-year terms. Twenty seats in the Assembly are reserved for representatives of ethnic minorities. The Assembly elects a president (currently, Ibrahim Rugova of the LDK) who also serves a three-year term.

Throughout the post-1999 period, the main political parties in Kosovo have been Rugova's LDK, which enjoys anywhere between 45-60 percent of the popular vote in general and municipal elections; the PDK, led by former KLA leader Hashim Thaci, which garners between 25-30 percent; and the AAK, led by another former KLA leader, Ramush Haradinaj, which usually gains 7-8 percent. Serbs (when they have chosen to participate in elections) have generally voted for an umbrella organization named the "Return Coalition" which usually gets 5-10 percent of the vote.

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 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (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 reprisal. In a report on the performance of Kosovo media during the violence in March, the OSCE noted that Kosovo's media had engaged in "reckless and sensationalist reporting," had displayed "an unacceptable level of emotion, bias, and carelessness," and was deserving of "the strongest criticism." New regulations imposed by the international community after the violence in March to prevent similar abuses have subsequently been criticized by local journalists. According to the executive director of the Association for Professional Journalists in Kosovo, the new regulations "have worsened the media's un-professionalism." In September 2004, a Kosovo Albanian journalist known for her investigative reporting against corruption and nepotism was the victim of an assassination attempt. There were no reports of government attempts to restrict access to the Internet.

The Albanian population in Kosovo, which is predominantly Muslim, on the whole enjoys freedom of belief and religious association, but there have been consistent, systematic attacks on Orthodox churches and other holy sites associated with the Serb population. During the March violence, 30 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries were destroyed and/or damaged. Since NATO took control of Kosovo, in total more than 130 churches and other properties belonging to the Serbian Orthodox Church have been destroyed or damaged. There were also reports in 2003 from Kosovo's small Protestant community that "Islamic extremists" were attending services so as to be able to identify worshippers and later harass them. There were also several reported incidents of attacks on Protestant places of worship. Academic freedom, however, has not been restricted.

Freedom of assembly, especially in flashpoints for ethnic conflict such as the divided city of Mitrovica, is occasionally restricted by UNMIK and/or KFOR (the NATO peacekeeping force) because of security concerns. Both domestic and foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally function freely, although lack of donor funding in the past two years has forced a large number of NGOs to cease operations. Current UNMIK regulations governing workers' rights allow for workers to join unions, although there is no explicit right to association. Similarly, the law does not recognize the right to strike, although no attempt is made to prevent workers from striking. The largest union in Kosovo, BSPK, claims to represent some 100,000 workers.

Kosovo lacks a functioning criminal justice system. One report on the state of Kosovo's judicial system after five years of international rule claimed that Kosovo's justice system "is on the verge of collapse." Ethnic Albanian judges are generally unwilling to prosecute cases involving Albanian attacks on non-Albanians, and the physical safety of non-Albanian judges brought into Kosovo to try cases is difficult to guarantee. Criminal suspects who have been arrested under the UN special representative's power to order executive detentions are frequently released on the orders of local judges. Given the breakdown of normal legal and judicial institutions, international observers have noted an increase in the number of murders attributable to blood feuds and vendettas, carried out in accordance with a medieval Albanian legal code known as the Kanun of Lek Dukagjini. Since 1999, approximately 40 murders have been attributed to blood feuds in Kosovo.

Prison conditions in Kosovo are generally in line with international standards, although prison overcrowding remains a problem. Police are generally believed to act professionally. While many Kosovo Police Service (KPS) officers tried to protect ethnic minorities during the March riots, others were accused of actively participating in the violence. Also, KFOR arrest and detention procedures remain the object of criticism for their lack of transparency.

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. The KLA's successor organization, the Kosovo Protection Force, has been widely implicated in numerous violent acts since its formation in 1999, and especially in the events of March 17 and 18. In October 2004, the chief prosecutor of the ICTY, Carla Del Ponte, criticized both international officials in Kosovo and local ethnic Albanian political leaders for their unwillingness to cooperate with the ICTY's efforts.

During 2003, Amnesty International issued a report noting that non-Albanians in Kosovo "find themselves subjected to both direct and indirect discrimination when seeking access to basic civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights." Freedom of movement continues to be a significant problem in Kosovo for ethnic minorities.

Gender inequality continues to be a serious problem in Kosovo. Patriarchal societal attitudes often limit a woman's ability to gain an education or to choose her own marriage partner. According to the results of a study published in 2004, only half of Kosovo women between the ages of 25 and 64 have received even basic elementary education. In some rural areas of Kosovo, this figure reaches 90 percent. Similarly, in many rural areas of Kosovo, women are effectively disenfranchised by "family voting," in which the male head of a household casts ballots for the entire family.

Trafficking is a major problem in Kosovo, which serves as a place of transit, a point of destination, and a source for women and children trafficked from Eastern to Western Europe for purposes of prostitution. The presence of a large international military force and of numerous civilian agencies provides a relatively affluent clientele for the trafficking trade in the province. NGOs estimate that 80 percent of the clients at brothels in Kosovo are locals and 20 percent are foreigners.