Dictionary of Gross Human Rights Violations

Kosovo, Gross Human Rights Violations in

The disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991 began a disastrous chain of events. The Yugoslavia-Croatia war of 1991 was followed by the 1992-1995 Bosnian War and genocide. The most recent humanitarian catastrophes to befall the former Yugoslavia were the gross human rights violations and conflict in Kosovo in the latter half of the 1990s.

Kosovo has long been the focal point for Serb identity in the Balkans, and yet it is also (like much of the Balkans) an ethnic crossroads (today a large majority of the people of Kosovo are ethnic Albanian Kosovars). Serbia’s defeat, at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 has come to be a vital element of Serbian mythohistory. Up until this point Kosovo was the centre of the Serbian Empire.

Although the proportion of Kosovars in the population of Kosovo continued to increase throughout the 20th century, Serbs continued to regard Kosovo as a Serbian heartland. The 1974 Constitution of Yugoslavia enshrined Kosovo’s autonomous status. With the rise of Serbian nationalism in the 1980s Kosovo gained increasing attention and in 1989 Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic stripped Kosovo of its autonomy.

Kosovar nationalism was also an increasing factor during this period as university students staged mass protests (this fed Serbian nationalists' conceptions of their “besieged” Serb brethren in Kosovo). The regional context must also be considered as the ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo bordered the independent state of Albania and was adjacent to Macedonia with its substantial Albanian minority. The potential for a “Greater Albania” was in direct contradiction to Serbian nationalists’ aspirations for a “Greater Serbia.”

A few years later the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA, a guerrilla force seeking the independence of Kosovo) began widespread attacks. Yugoslavia responded with brutal force and hundreds of thousands of Kosovars fled the fighting to become IDP’s and refugees. Moreover, at least 10 000 people were killed. Although atrocities were committed by both sides, there is evidence that Serbian forces deliberately targeted Kosovars in a campaign of ethnic cleansing and killing. NATO intervened to end the violence by launching air strikes in 1999.

Kosovo is currently a UN administered region within Serbia and it seems only a matter of time before it becomes an independent state. Crimes against humanity committed during the Kosovo conflict are currently being investigated and tried at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).