Human rights remain priority, director for South Central European Affairs says
By Jeffrey Thomas
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- In the coming months, a process might be launched to determine Kosovo’s future status. In this new phase, the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms would remain at the forefront of U.S. policy, the State Department’s Charles English told a congressional hearing May 25.
English, the director for South Central European affairs at the State Department, was testifying at a hearing of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on the future of human rights in Kosovo.
“We cannot achieve a lasting settlement in Kosovo until structures, institutions and habits that protect the rights and liberties of all of the people of Kosovo are in place,” he told the commission, which has held numerous hearings on the situation in Kosovo since the 1990s. “Principles of democracy and multi-ethnicity -- the cornerstones of our overall Balkans policy for over a decade -- will continue to guide us.”
English referred repeatedly in his remarks to testimony given May 18 by Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns before the House Committee on International Relations. Burns said the Bush administration believes that 2005 is a “year of decision” for Kosovo. He described a process whereby the United Nations would this summer launch a comprehensive review of Kosovo's progress in achieving certain basic human-rights and democratization benchmarks. If that review is positive, a process to determine Kosovo's future status will then be launched. (See related article.)
Burns spoke more broadly about the Balkans in a major policy speech on May 19, citing the effort by the United States, the United Nations and partners in Europe to launch a process to determine the future status of Kosovo as well as to encourage political and economic reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to bring war crimes indictees before the Hague tribunal. (See related article.)
English told the Helsinki Commission that the human rights challenges in Kosovo remain significant. Minority communities in particular “continue to face extraordinary obstacles to creating a sustainable life for themselves,” he said, citing such problems as discrimination, harassment, uneven access to public services, limited freedom of movement, and fears for personal safety.
The violence that erupted in March 2004 showed how much work Kosovo needs to do to develop into a free and pluralistic society, English said. “The primary responsibility for this lies with Kosovo's majority Albanian community,” he said. “Until that community adequately protects and guarantees the rights of its minority communities, the pace of Kosovo's Euro-Atlantic integration will suffer.”
English assured the commission that, even though many details of the process to determine Kosovo's future political status remain to be elaborated, “[W]e have already said that the protection of human rights must be at the core of any status settlement. We have said that this settlement must be based on multi-ethnicity and respect the rights of all citizens. We also envision effective constitutional guarantees to ensure the protection of minorities, as well as safeguards for the protection of cultural and religious heritage.”
Even after Kosovo's status is resolved, the work to defend human rights and democracy must continue and accelerate, English said, “if Kosovo is to meet the European Union's high standards for membership.
“The people of Kosovo -- minority and majority alike -- must never stop working to ensure that institutions are transparent, that the political culture is inclusive and that laws are just. This ongoing commitment to democracy, based on the rule of law, is the most basic criterion for joining the Euro-Atlantic community and calling oneself a free, just society. The United States will continue to support Kosovo's efforts to achieve this objective.”
Soren Jessen-Petersen, the special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General and head of the U.N. Mission in Kosovo, also testified at the hearing.
The unofficial transcript of Charles English’s statement is available on the U.S. Helsinki Commission Web site.
The U.S. Helsinki Commission, a U.S. government agency, monitors progress on the implementation of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the departments of State, Defense and Commerce.