Peaceful protests in Kosovo amid growing ethnic tensions

As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, 2019 has seen civil society mobilise against new laws which could have curtailed freedom of association. In this update, we detail how people in Kosovo have exercised their right to peaceful assembly. As described in this update, evidence from local partners suggests that no protest in this time period was unwarrantedly denied or met with excessive force by security forces. 

This update was written in collaboration with CIVICUS Monitor research partners the Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN) and the Kosovo Civil Society Foundation (KCSF)

Peaceful Assembly & Expression

On 20th May 2019, The Kosovo Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims (KRCT) organised a protest named "Treat Me With Dignity". The protest drew attention to the plight of survivors of sexual violence during Kosovo's war in the late 1990s. While conveying solidarity between victims, the protest was also a reaction to the issue being used for current political gain by politicians in Kosovo. The issue started after a Member of Parliament, Flora Brovina, showed the media a photo which appeared to depict Serbian soldiers raping a 35-year old Kosovo Albanian woman. Brovina, who herself was was also held in a Serbian prison during the war, noted that the story of this woman is just one of thousands. The photograph was waved at journalists ahead of a resolution on "genocide, crimes against humanity, and the war crimes of the former Serbian state regime in Kosovo" during the 1998-99 war. The use of the photograph was met with fierce criticism, as activists, victims and civil society groups mobilised to denounce the insensitive use of a traumatic image. Tensions were raised even further when the photograph later transpired to be fake. Estimates claim that as more than twenty thousand people, mostly women, were subject to sexual violence during the conflict in the late 1990s. The protest on 20th May 2019 took place without incident. 

In a separate incident, on 30th May 2019, people in Prishtina mobilised in solidarity against the assault of a woman in Lipjan. The 29-year old woman, who was of Roma ethnicity, was physically attacked on 29th May 2019 by a group of unknown assailants, after rumours spread via media and social media that she had been kidnapping children. All allegations against the 29-year old were later were proven to be completely baseless. In a statement, a CSO, The Equal Rights for All Coalition of Kosovo (ERAC), commented on the incident by saying

“ERAC invites Kosovo media not to fall prey to unfounded news, especially when that news includes hate speech that has the potential to turn into violence against our citizens, as was the case yesterday.”

The incident is emblematic of the discrimination faced by members of the Roma community across the continent of Europe. The case was later handed to Kosovo's prosecution for further investigation follwing calls from civil society for justice. The solidarity protest on the 30th May 2019 took place without incident and was attended by some political officials. 

Several other protests have also taken place without reported restrictions. Below are some other examples:

  • On 27th May 2019, 25 local building companies have protested in front of Bechtel & Enka camp in Ferizaj. The companies mobilised after they did not receive payment for their role in the construction of the "Arben Xhaferi" highway. 
  • In ethnically divided town of North Mitrovica, local Serbs protested on 29th May 2019, after Kosovo police raids in the area. The tensions started after 19 people, including local police officers were arrested and accused of smuggling. At least three police officers were injured in an operation which saw gunshots fired at police. While Kosovar authorities claim the move was part of a broader clampdown against organised crime in Kosovo, local Serbs claim the tactics are intended to intimidate Serbs living in Kosovo. In response, Serbian troops were deployed to the border as tensions escalated between the two nations. More on this incident can be seen in the video below. 
  • In Pristina the “March of refusal” was held on 17th June 2019 against the draft-law on financing of political parties. More than 100 civil society organisations opposed the plans which violates standards international best practice standards on the financing of political parties. 
  • On 7th July 2019, residents of Pristina's neighbourhood, “Mati 1” protested against the municipality, due to lack of investments and general mismanagement. Mobilising under the hashtag #Protesta locals gathered to decry the lack of basic services by the municipality.