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Kosovo Human Rights Still At Risk, Helsinki Commission Members Find

WASHINGTON – The state of human rights in Kosovo remains precarious and the international community must work to stabilize the situation. That was among the points that were made in a hearing held by the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

“We are not out of the woods on human rights in Kosovo,” said Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. “Kosovo may be out of the headlines, but the misery and danger there is still very real. Security, property and a whole host of human rights-related issues remain to be addressed.”

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions 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.

The Helsinki Commission has held numerous hearings on the situation in Kosovo since the 1990s, with a heavy emphasis on human rights issues.

“We must press the violators of human rights to stop and, given the international presence in Kosovo, provide better protection for potential victims, regardless of ethnicity,” noted Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ). “The testimony we have heard today shows that we still need active international, including OSCE, involvement in Kosovo.”

The hearing was held in the wake of increased diplomatic activity that may lead to consideration of Kosovo’s status in 2005. While Serbian and Kosovar Albanian positions remain far apart, the international community has so far ruled out allowing Kosovo to return to Serbian control, merge with Albania or with any other neighboring territory or to a partitioning of Kosovo itself.

“The international community needs to recommit itself to protecting minority rights and laying the groundwork for a fully democratic government,” added Commission Ranking member Rep. Ben Cardin, (D-MD). “Prosecution of war crimes also remains critical.”

Providing testimony at the hearing were Mr. Soren Jessen-Petersen, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General and Head of the U.N. Mission in Kosovo, and Mr. Charles L. English, Director of the Office of South Central European Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Both assured the Commission human rights concerns would not be ignored as wider issues are addressed. During the hearing, questions were also raised regarding the return of displaced persons, religious freedom, the particular plight of Roma, and protection of homes and places of worship.

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