Kosovo * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Kosovo *

Kosovo *

Freedom in the World 2006

2006 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating
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Civil Liberties
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Political Rights
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In 2005, driven in part by a perceived need to settle Kosovo's unresolved legal status, and partly by the threat of violence directed against the international presence in Kosovo and non-Albanian ethnic minorities, the UN Security Council endorsed the beginning of negotiations to determine Kosovo's future status. The decision overturned previous international policy, which had held that Kosovo could not achieve "status" (generally, but not exclusively, considered to be independence) until it had made progress on a number of "standards" relating to democracy and human rights. Within Kosovo itself, political uncertainty increased after Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj was indicted for war crimes in March.

Kosovo was contested by Albanians (who, in Kosovo itself, are primarily Muslim) and Serbs (primarily Orthodox Christian) throughout the twentieth century. After the death of Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito in 1980, ethnic Albanians in the province began protesting in favor of republic status within the former Yugoslavia, and in some cases outright independence from Yugoslavia. Tensions increased after Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic came to power and revoked much of Kosovo's autonomy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For most of the 1990s, an uneasy status quo held 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, an ethnic Albanian guerrilla movement called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) began a series of attacks against Serbs in the province, as well as against fellow Albanians deemed to be collaborating with the Serbian government. 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 forcibly expelled hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from 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, 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 smaller, scattered Serb enclaves in southern parts of the province constitute virtual ethnic ghettoes. In March 2004, two days of violent riots by Albanian mobs aimed at non-Albanian ethnic groups across Kosovo left 20 dead, 800 homes and 30 churches destroyed, and more than 4,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians homeless. UN secre-tary-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." On a visit to a Serb enclave in the aftermath of the riots, Soren Jessen-Petersen, who took over as head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in June 2004, publicly decried the fact that in twenty-first-century Europe, human beings were forced to live in ghettoes enclosed by barbed wire.

Extremist violence, motivated by both politics and criminal activities, has also targeted Albanians in the province since 1999. Within the span of just a few weeks in March-April 2005, for instance, an explosive device damaged the car of Kosovo president Ibrahim Rugova as he was driving through the streets of Pristina; an explosive device damaged the political party offices of Veton Surroi, a leading Kosovo Albanian publisher and politician; and Enver Haradinaj, the brother of the former prime minister, was killed in a murder apparently related to a blood feud.

The latest elections for the Kosovo parliament, held in October 2004, were marred by a Serb boycott (99 percent of Serbs registered to vote in Kosovo refused to cast a ballot). The elections reconfirmed the basic postwar balance of Kosovo Albanian politics, as 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). A week after the elections, 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.

The March 2004 violence and the failure of the Serb community to participate in the October 2004 parliamentary elections created new uncertainties about Kosovo's future, leading the international community to officially endorse a "status with standards" strategy for Kosovo, in which decisions on Kosovo's future status will be made in tandem with Kosovo's progress on issues such as democratization, rule of law, respect for minority rights, and respecting the security of neighboring states. In October, Kofi Annan formally recommended to the Security Council that talks on Kosovo's future status should begin at the start of 2006.

In March 2005, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for the murder, rape, and torture of numerous individuals, both Albanian and non-Albanian. However, after a few weeks in confinement, he was allowed to return to Kosovo to await his trial at home, despite protests by the prosecution that Haradinaj would intimidate witnesses if he went back to Kosovo.

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. Kosovo's government currently consists of what are called the Provisional Institutions of Self-Gov-ernment, 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, who also serves a three-year term.

Elections in Kosovo in the post-1999 period, organized by the international community, have been considered "generally free and fair." However, given the large role played by international officials in the administration of the province, the lack of freedom of movement for ethnic minorities in Kosovo, and problems relating to the ability of women to participate in the political process, the actual level of democratization in Kosovo remains relatively low. In the October 2002 municipal elections, contested by more than 60 political entities, voter turnout was approximately 54 percent. Non-Albanian voter turnout in post-1999 Kosovo has been consistently low because of the lack of freedom of movement for Serb and other non-Albanian ethnic communities.

Throughout the post-1999 period, the main political parties in Kosovo have been Ibrahim Rugova's LDK, which enjoys 45 to 60 percent of the popular vote in general and municipal elections; the PDK, led by former KLA leader Hashim Thaci, which garners 25 to 30 percent; and the AAK, led by another former KLA leader, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, which usually gains 7 to 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 to 10 percent of the vote.

A major focus of the current effort to make progress on Kosovo's status is to transfer authority in various governmental fields from UNMIK agencies to Alba-nian-dominated institutions. Kosovo's civil service, however, is hurt by the fact that the various government ministries are divided up by the main political parties; thus, appointment within the civil service often depends more on party connections than personal qualifications or competence.

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. In a report on the performance of Kosovo media during the March 2004 violence, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) noted that Kosovo's media had engaged in "reckless and sensationalist reporting," had displayed "an unacceptable level of emotion, bias, and carelessness," and were deserving of "the strongest criticism." In March 2005, representatives of leading print media adopted a press code, and in October, the temporary media commissioner's office began to phase out its supervision of print media. In June, a journalist from the newspaper Bota Sot was shot in a drive-by shooting; he subsequently died of his injuries. 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 2004 violence, 30 Christian churches and monasteries were destroyed or damaged. Since NATO took control of Kosovo in 1999, approximately 130 churches and other properties belonging to the Serbian Orthodox Church have been destroyed or damaged. Over the past several years, Kosovo's small Protestant community has claimed 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 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 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. A report by Karl Eide, special envoy of the UN secretary-general, submitted to the UN Security Council in June 2005, noted that the justice system is the weakest of Kosovo's institutions. Both Kosovo's Supreme Court and local courts have been subject to political influence and intimidation. 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. The Eide report noted that in Kosovo "property rights are neither respected nor ensured." The backlog in the civil court system now stands at several tens of thousands of cases. Some 17,000 cases involving property claims were backlogged in municipal courts as of 2005-almost all are claims by Serbs. Given the breakdown of normal legal and judicial institutions, there has been 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. While many Kosovo Police Service officers tried to protect ethnic minorities during the March 2004 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 ICTY for actions committed before, during, and after the NATO intervention. The chief prosecutor of the ICTY, Carla Del Ponte, has repeatedly criticized both international officials in Kosovo and local ethnic Albanian political leaders for their unwillingness to cooperate with the ICTY's efforts.

A 2003 Amnesty International report noted 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, and the international community is doing little to promote the return of some 220,000 people the UN High Commissioner for Refugees lists as displaced from Kosovo. As the Eide report noted, "[T]he overall return process has come to a virtual halt."

As throughout the Balkans, gender inequality is a serious problem in Kosovo, but the problem is more severe in Kosovo than elsewhere. Patriarchal societal attitudes often limit a woman's ability to gain an education or to choose her own marriage partner. As of 2005, women held 36 of the 120 seats in the Kosovo Assembly, and women occupy 28 percent of all municipal assembly seats. Current election rules stipulate that women must occupy every third spot on each political party's electoral list. According to statistics compiled in 2004, women constitute 25 percent of judges, 17 percent of prosecutors, and 15 percent of the Kosovo Police Service. 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 purpose 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.