10 February 2007: A Stain on the UN’s reputation
The anniversary of the 10 February 2007 demonstration in Prishtina is always a time of reflection. For the families who lost loved ones, or those who were seriously injured, grief is at the heart of that reflection. Their loss is, however, also sharpened by the absence of justice.
Fifteen years later, no one has been held to account for the killing of Mon Balaj and Arben Xheladini, nor the serious injuries caused to Zenel Zeneli, Mustafe Nerjovaj and Hysni Hyseni. These young men were shot during a peaceful demonstration, with lethal out-of-date rubber bullets, by Romanian police serving in the UN mission in Kosovo’s police force. According to the UN’s own internal investigation, there was no justification for the police action. Yet a blind eye was turned while the police unit responsible departed Kosovo.
Back in 2007, UNMIK was responsible for protecting and promoting human rights in Kosovo, performing the role of the state. The only legal remedy available to the Xheladini and Balaj families was therefore the Human Rights Advisory Panel, which had been established by UNMIK in Regulation No. 2006/12, on March 23, 2006. The Panel was created to examine alleged violations of human rights by UNMIK, thus assisting it to uphold its human rights commitment. However, the Panel’s role was flawed from the start. It was to be advisory, and its decisions non-binding.
Due to interference by UNMIK, the Panel took eight years to reach their conclusion, but their Opinion on the events of 10 February, issued on 27 February 2015, was resounding. They concluded that the police had used excessive force, which was neither necessary nor proportionate. They also concluded that the investigation UNMIK conducted was not independent or effective.
In their Opinion, the Panel made a series of recommendations to the UNMIK Special Representative (SRSG): They asked UNMIK to publicly acknowledge responsibility for the killing of Mon and Arben, and the injury of Zenel and Mustafe, and to make a public apology. They also recommended that UNMIK assist any future independent investigation and provide compensation for moral damages. Lastly, they recommended that the UN take steps to improve standards relating to the use of force in UN peacekeeping operations.
But, UNMIK ignored these recommendations. Indeed, according to the Panel’s Final Report, published on 30 June 2016, UNMIK did not act upon any of the recommendations made by the Panel in the 335 opinions they issued in eight years of operation. Even worse, the case caused UNMIK to change the procedures to make it impossible for the Panel to hold UNMIK to account.
This is deeply troubling for those of us who support and believe in the crucial role of the UN in promoting human rights around the world. The failure to properly investigate and provide justice for those harmed by the 10 February UN police shootings, is a stain on the UN’s reputation.
The absence of meaningful action in response to any of the Panel’s investigations also means that UNMIK provided no remedy to any complainants, most of whom were from Kosovo’s minorities. These included some grievous complaints, regarding the failure to investigate the abductions, disappearances and killing of relatives between 1998 and 2000, as well as a severe case of discrimination, when internally displaced Roma were housed for years in lead contaminated camps in North Mitrovica. The panel also addressed many property claims by Kosovo Serbs. In their Final Report, the Panel conclude,
“As such, they [complainants] have been victimized twice by UNMIK: by the original human rights violation committed against them and again by receiving no compensation through this process. For many years, the Panel has carried out detailed analysis of the complaints brought before it and exhorted UNMIK and the UN to undertake some beneficial activity on behalf of the complainants before the HRAP’s mandate concluded; shamefully, this did not occur.” (p.17-18 Final Report).
But it was the 10 February complaint, recorded as Balaj et al., that became the most politically contentious complaint addressed by the Panel. UNMIK took serious steps to obstruct the Panel’s investigation and the legal representation provided pro bono by two UK barristers, Paul Troop and Jude Bunting.
The SRSG of UNMIK first intervened to prevent the Panel from holding a public hearing on the case in 2009. Then, the Panel’s Administrative Direction (AD) was rewritten. The new AD had amended admissibility criteria which excluded the Balaj et al complaint - only the Panel’s determination ensured the complaint was finally readmitted. The new AD also gave the SRSG the right to appoint the members of the Panel and required the Panel to process all public announcements through UNMIK’s communications office, thus threatening its independence.
In addition, the SRSG set a deadline of 31 March 2010, after which the Panel could no longer receive complaints. According to the Panel, during 2009, the SRSG then stalled the reappointment of Panel members, keeping them on temporary three-month contracts. He also, they report, sought unsuccessfully to replace the Panel members, and tried to resist the nomination of a new panel member by the ECtHR President, after one Panel member resigned.
It is difficult to comprehend the lengths to which UNMIK went to avoid accountability for the 10 February. But this failure can easily be rectified - if the UN Secretary General organises an independent and effective investigation into the case and provides justice for the families.
Paul Troop, now of Garden Court Chambers said: “The SRSG and UNMIK’s actions towards the Human Rights Panel were a disgrace. They combined a failure to uphold fundamental human rights with a distain towards basic standards of fairness. As well as entirely ignoring the Panel’s recommendations, SRSG and UNMIK actively conspired to obstruct its work using the most basic tactics of an unelected dictator. This stain on the UN needs to be purged by the intervention of the UN Secretary General. Failing that, it would be open to the local Kosovo courts to lift the immunity of the UN and provide accountability for the failures of the SRSG and UNMIK.”
(Dr Alex Channer is a human rights specialist and translator. She was a member of the presidency of Levizja Vetevendosje, and coordinator of the 10 February case)
© KOHA. Të gjitha të drejtat janë të rezervuara.