U.S. SENATOR SAM BROWNBACK (R-KS) CHAIRMAN U.S. SENATOR GORDON H. SMITH (R-OR) U.S. SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R-TX) U.S. SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA) VACANT U.S. SENATOR CHRISTOPHER J. DODD (D-CT) U.S. SENATOR RUSSELL D. FEINGOLD (D-WI) U.S. SENATOR HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY) VACANT
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH (R-NJ) CO-CHAIRMAN U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FRANK R. WOLF (R-VA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPH R. PITTS (R-PA) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT B. ADERHOLT (R-AL) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE MIKE PENCE (R-IN) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE BENJAMIN L. CARDIN (D-MD) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE LOUISE MCINTOSH SLAUGHTER (D-NY) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE ALCEE L. HASTINGS (D-FL) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE MIKE MCINTYRE (D-NC)
SOREN JESSEN-PETERSEN SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL HEAD U.N. MISSION IN KOSOVO
The hearing was held at 11:00 a.m. in Room 124 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., Sam Brownback, co-chairman, Helsinki Commission, moderating.
[*] BROWNBACK: Good morning. We'll call the hearing to order.
And I thank you all for being here today, and apologies for being a bit late from a prior hearing.
In recent weeks, increased attention's been paid to Kosovo, the status of which is probably the single greatest issue yet to be resolved in the Balkans.
Leaving it unresolved, of course, leaves it as a source of instability in the region, given vast differences of positions regarding what the final status might be.
On the other hand, any effort to resolve the issue of Kosovo's status also poses certain risk.
The result is the careful creation of a process by the international community to move forward to the open-ended talks later this year. Dependent on the outcome of a midyear review of progress and implementing standards, this process was outlined to the Congress by Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns just last week.
Today's hearing on the future of human rights in Kosovo has been scheduled in order to go beyond the broad outline for proceeding with status questions this year, and to examine, instead, the specific impact this process may have on people living in the region.
In particular, many of us believe that there cannot be forward movement or a viable end result regarding Kosovo if human rights do not play a central role in the process.
Whatever status Kosovo achieves, the bottom line is that Kosovo is part of Europe, and all of Europe has committed to respect human rights and fundamental freedom, particularly in the context of the Helsinki final act and subsequent OSCE documents.
All too often, unfortunately, human rights problems can get sidelined in international talks. Those responsible for violations are usually unwilling to change their ways, or the actual exercise of individual rights and freedoms is perceived to be the source of friction.
The easiest course often appears to be one in which victims get ignored if not blamed.
In the case of Kosovo, the leading human rights issues relates to minority communities, including not only the Serb community, but the Roma and others as well.
Parts of these communities have struggled, since 1999, to survive in isolated enclaves with little freedom of movement, while other parts remain displaced and unable to return safely, let alone make a living.
In parts of northern Kosovo and other areas under Serb control, displaced Albanians also have been unable to return to their homes.
Fortunately, several of the aid standards outlined by the United Nations seek to address the rights of members of minority communities in Kosovo. By viewing these standards as excuses to delay or condition a determine of status, however, many Kosovar leaders seem not to understand that respecting human rights is not an option by a requirement.
Our witnesses this day can hopefully shed some light on how to change the situation on the ground in Kosovo, and how human rights will or will not play a role in what has been dubbed, "The year of decision in Kosovo."
BROWNBACK: Before I introduce the witnesses, I'd like to turn to my colleagues for any opening statements.
I understand they may be called for a vote at 11:30, so I would like to ask that they put forward their statement.
C. SMITH: Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman.
Today's hearing, ladies and gentlemen, is very important because the issues surrounding Kosovo are developing at a rapid pace.
Having cooperated with them on a number of Helsinki Commission issues in the past, including efforts to combat trafficking person, I was very pleased that Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns appeared before the House International Relations Committee on this very important issue.
I am confident that the high level of U.S. engagement on Kosovo his personal involvement represents and that of other very dedicated servants like Charles English, will indeed have a positive impact on Kosovo.
Similarly, I want to thank our distinguished witnesses here today for their willingness as officials of the United Nations and, of course, the State Department, to discuss the situation in Kosovo.
I enthusiastically welcome your participation in this public hearing despite the sensitivities and emotions that obviously surround the debate on Kosovo's future.
While the question of Kosovo's status is important, we must encourage those most directly concerned to arrive at the answer through democratic processes and dialogue. Whatever determination is made regarding Kosovo's status, respect for internationally agreed upon human rights is prerequisite.
Unfortunately, six years after the conflict, the human rights situation in Kosovo is still not a good one, particularly for minority communities who live in enclaves and for the displaced.
We must condemn the sporadic acts of violence, the refusal to permit people to return or move about freely, and the destruction of homes and places of worship. The violence should not be allowed to happen especially when the peace-keeping force and international police are on the ground.
Regardless of what status is being advocated, independence for Kosovo and autonomy or something else, it is only reasonable to insist on the guarantee of basic human rights and freedoms for all people of Kosovo.
Over the years, Mr. Chairman, Helsinki Commission has held, as you know, numerous hearings relating to Kosovo. At times the focus was necessarily on the plight of Kosovar Albanians and the repression they endured during the years of the Milosevic regime.
We also brought attention to those Albanians who were held in Serbian prisons after Milosevic was ousted. We pressed for their release and we did so very vigorously.
Later, it was necessary for us to focus on the plight of Serbs, Roma and others living in Kosovo as minority populations.
We called upon Kosovo's Albanian majority to respect the rights of others just as they themselves deserved. We focused on the situation in Serb-controlled Lichuvisa (ph) as well as finding out what happened to missing persons regardless of their ethnicity.
We called for the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes also without regard to which side they represented. Last year, we condemned the outbreaks of violence in March of 2004 and the targeting of people's homes and their places of worship.
So this hearing indeed comes at a very timely time and I really congratulate you on calling the hearing.
And I yield back the balance of my time.
BROWNBACK: Congressman Cardin?
CARDIN: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. I join with Mr. Smith in thanking you for holding this hearing on the human rights in Kosovo.
CARDIN: The hallmark of the Helsinki Commission's work has been in the human dimension basket, and we think this is an extremely important hearing for us to know the current situation in Kosovo, as it relates to respect of human rights.
And what we can do as a commission in our work with our colleagues in the parliamentary assembly as well as with the representatives in the State Department, to be as aggressive as we can in moving forward the human rights dimension.
So for that reason we're very pleased to have our two witnesses, an expert from the United Nations and from the State Department, to help us in understanding the current situation.
Let me just mention one area which has been of particular interest to our commission, and particular interest to me and that's the International Criminal Tribunal for war criminals. I'd be very interested as to how that is currently affecting attitudes within Kosovo.
It was a stark contrast when the prime minister of Kosovo was indicted and turned himself in at The Hague and the problems that we've had in other parts of that region in getting those who were indicted before The Hague.
So I'd be interested to see how that is playing within Kosovo itself and what the future holds for trying to bring to justice this part of the tragedy within the former Yugoslavia. We still have a lot of work to do in this regard.
So, Mr. Chairman, I thank you for this hearing. I look forward to hearing the witnesses and looking forward to developing a strategy for our commission to play a constructive role in advancing human rights in Kosovo.
BROWNBACK: Thank you, Congressman Cardin, and it's been noted the gentlemen may be called for a vote over to the House side. They may have to leave for that.
Panel, thank you very much for joining us today.
First, we have Soren Jessen-Petersen of Denmark, special representative of the U.N. Secretary General and head of the U.N. Mission in Kosovo.
This assignment, which he took last year, is a part of a distinguished career that includes years working for the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, and with the stability pact on refugee, internally displaced persons and migration issues in the Balkans.
BROWNBACK: Later this week, Mr. Jessen-Petersen plans to report to the Security Council in New York on the current situation in Kosovo.
Our second witness is Mr. Charles English, director of the Office for South Central European Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Mr. English also has a distinguished career in the U.S. Foreign Service that includes assignments in South Central Europe.
We're grateful that Mr. English has offered to participate in the hearing today, especially in light of Undersecretary Burns' presentations just last week.
Gentlemen, thank you very much for being here with us.
Mr. Jessen-Petersen, welcome. And the microphone, the floor is yours.
JESSEN-PETERSEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, honorable members of the commission, ladies and gentlemen, as you mentioned, Mr. Chairman, on Friday, I will be addressing the U.N. Security Council to provide a quarterly update on the situation in Kosovo.
The meeting is crucial for confirming the path for the future status of Kosovo. Kosovo remains the last and the most difficult knot in the Balkans.
The present status quo of its undefined status is not sustainable, not desirable and not acceptable.
If we don't address it in the near term, we risk much of what the international community has achieved in the Balkans over the last 10 years.
In this context, the topic of today's meeting is of utmost importance and very timely.
I would like to commend you, Mr. Chairman, and the commission's membership, for taking this initiative and for inviting me.
Mr. Chairman, the U.N. Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, incorporates a strong human rights component in its mandate. At the end of UNMIK's mission, success will ultimately depend on the efficiency of the mechanisms we have created for the protection of human rights. It is important that the Kosovo institutions and the people of Kosovo have ownership of the human rights principles and mechanisms and ensure their sustainability.
There have been several positive indications recently. The substantially improved security climate reflected in the absence of major interethnic crimes in the past year is a sign that lessons from the riots of March 2004, have been learned, namely, that human rights violations are undermining the image of Kosovo and are against its interests.