On Tuesday, (Nov. 29), the report “Human Rights Strategy for Kosovo 2016-2020: A Way Forward” was presented during a conference at Sirius hotel that gathered together representatives of government institutions and civil society. Published by the European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI) Kosovo under the umbrella of the Equal Rights for All Coalition, ERAC, the report offers recommendations to the government on its draft strategy and action plan on human rights, which is currently in the process of being finalized.
Through the Constitution and legal framework, Kosovo has a sound legal framework that guarantees the respect and promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms. International human rights instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are also applicable in Kosovo and supersede the national legislation, while the package of human rights laws (the laws on anti-discrimination, the Ombudsperson Institution and gender equality), were amended in 2015 with the aim of addressing former deficiencies in the legal framework.
However, in practice, lack of efficient law implementation leaves many groups in a vulnerable position, particularly those in the LGBTI community, ethnic minorities, children and women. The aim of the government’s 2016-2020 strategy and action plan will be to serve as a base document with concrete steps that relevant stakeholders need to take in order to promote and advance human rights for all Kosovar citizens.
Speaking first at the conference, head of the EU office’s political section, Thomas Gnocchi, said that the report is of huge importance since human rights are at the heart of the EU integration process.
“Civil society participation … is particularly important because NGOs and grassroots organizations work directly with disadvantaged and marginalized people,” he said.
Gnocchi also added that the final responsibility for ensuring the drafting and implementation of the strategy will lie with the government and relevant responsible bodies. In this regard, he referred to different ministries that need to take steps that would ensure better conditions for vulnerable groups. “For example, the Ministry of Public Administration, should revise the budget and implement concrete plans on how and when to make public buildings more accessible for people with disabilities,” he said. “Likewise, the Ministry of Education needs to present concrete measures that it will take to reduce dropout rates from schools for children from marginalized communities.”
Gnocchi also recommended that the judiciary should find ways to efficiently implement new legislation to combat hate crimes and punish those who commit them.
Habit Hajredini is director of the Office of Good Governance (OGG) within the Prime Minister’s Office, which is leading and coordinating the strategy drafting process. He said that ECMI’s report comes at a very important time. “These kind of reports are helpful during our work and we will utilize the recommendations,” he said.
Hajredini also noted that the recent establishment of the Inter-Ministerial Coordination Group on Human Rights will serve as an important mechanism as it will enable better coordination between ministries at the central level and municipalities. Led by the prime minister, the group consists of relevant ministries, institutions, the Ombudsperson Institution — the institution that initially recommended the drafting of a comprehensive strategy on human rights — and civil society representatives; it will report to the Assembly, dispersing information to local and international organizations and prioritizing the main problems that are related to implementation.
“It will also establish the priorities regarding the issue of human rights in general, since it will have the mandate to review the legislation and monitor implementation of laws,” said Hajredini.
The third panelist was Deputy Ombudsperson Isa Hasani, who stated that the protection of human rights is an obligation for state authorities. Confirming the special role of the Ombudsperson Institution regarding protection and advancement of human rights, Hasani criticized the government for not taking a more robust approach in the protection of human rights.
“The Ombudsperson Institution has detected that despite the positive efforts of the government, there was a lack of implementation of these [human rights strategies], either as a result of lack of financial means that would enable its implementation or other reasons,” said Hasani.
Adrian Zeqiri, executive director of ECMI, has been a civil society representative on the strategy drafting group since the beginning of the process in 2015. He said that the current draft has taken into consideration comments and criticisms that were made in the initial stages, as it now suggests a division of roles and competencies, coordination between human rights structures, and the monitoring and identification of actual concerns.
Pointing to lessons that need to be learned, Zeqiri also discussed the problems of the previous 2009-11 Strategy and Action Plan on Human Rights, such as lack of information by institutions, inefficient reporting by implementing institutions and bodies, and budgets of activities being conducted in an ad hoc manner.
“The criticism is that it lacked focus, it was formulated in a very general way that didn’t have measurable indicators and sometimes [things needed to be done] in very ambitious time spans, which couldn’t be implemented as foreseen in the strategy,” Zeqiri said.
Zeqiri also welcomed the establishment of the Inter-Ministerial Coordination Group on Human Rights, however he suggested that it should be referred to as an inter-institutional working group.
“We don’t have only governmental ministries, but also independent institutions, such as the Ombudsperson,” he said. “One of the recommendations is to involve the Prosecutorial Council and judiciary, which we think will contribute to the work of the working group.”
According to ECMI’s report, the strategy should pay particular attention to increased promotion and protection of the rights of vulnerable groups in line with the international commitments undertaken by the government. Children, women, elderly people, people with disabilities, LGBTI people, ethnic minorities, asylum seekers, internally displaced people and prisoners are the vulnerable groups that should be considered as target groups for the strategy, reads the report.
Another issue raised in ECMI’s report is the concept of the ‘umbrella strategy’ that has been introduced in the current strategy draft, which aims to include other strategies pertaining to specific vulnerable or marginalized groups into its structure. The report recommends that the working group needs to better clarify what is meant by an ‘umbrella strategy’ and what the relationship will be between sub-sector strategies and the main strategy.
The report goes on to recommend that the draft needs to consider the best practises from other countries, such as the national strategy from Georgia which functions as an ‘umbrella strategy’ and is based on four overarching binding principles: inviolability of human rights by the state, defense against human rights violations by others, creation of a system that will allow persons to realize their rights in practice and adequate informing of the population on their human rights.
The report calls for a continued inclusive and transparent drafting process, by consulting and involving all key stakeholders in the process. It concludes that following the final endorsement by the inter-ministerial group, further consultations should be held to finalize the action plan. When the strategy is finalized, it will need to be ratified in the Assembly.K
Feature image: Bess Hamiti / ERAC.