HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, ENDING VISIT TO FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA,
CALLS AGAIN FOR END TO ETHNIC CLEANSING IN KOSOVO
5 May 1999
Mary Robinson Continues to Tirana on Tour of Region
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson ended a two-day visit to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia this afternoon by calling again on the Belgrade authorities to stop the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo and to allow the unconditional and safe return home of all refugees and displaced persons.
Speaking before travelling to Tirana, Albania, Mrs. Robinson said the accounts she had heard from refugees in the Blace, Brazda and Senokos camps since her arrival in Skopje on Sunday echo the reports of a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing and other massive human rights violations being carried out by the forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The High Commissioner said the full magnitude of the problem and its tragic consequences can only be realized when seen first hand. “Although I have been receiving reports from my field staff on the scale of the suffering being caused by this deliberate violation of human rights, I have been shocked and appalled at witnessing the actual plight of thousands of Kosovar Albanians forced from their homes. Many more have not even made it to the camps, falling victim to summary and arbitrary executions”, she said. She added that her Office continues to get reports of, among other human rights violations, the rape of ethnic Albanian women by Yugoslav army and paramilitary forces.
Staff from the Office of the High Commissioner have been deployed in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania and Tirana to investigate allegations from Kosovo refugees and others of grave human rights violations in the province. This field presence is to be reinforced with the arrival shortly of additional monitors made available by the Norwegian and Swiss Governments.
Mrs. Robinson said the work of her staff in the region, along with that of other international partners, aims to ensure that those responsible for the crimes being committed in Kosovo will be held accountable. “The savagery and utter disrespect for human rights and human dignity we are seeing cannot go unpunished. We have a chance to break the cycle of impunity, and we must seize it”, the High Commissioner said.
Mrs. Robinson arrived in Skopje on 2 May, immediately following the end of the yearly meeting in Geneva of the Commission on Human Rights. During that session, Mrs. Robinson regularly briefed the panel on the crisis in Kosovo. The Commission, the main human rights organ of the United Nations, condemned the atrocities in the province and requested the High Commissioner to report to it on possible action.
In Skopje, the High Commissioner has emphasized the importance of feeding the information collected on violations in Kosovo into the different mechanisms of the Commission, including those on torture, summary and arbitrary executions, enforced disappearances and violence against women. This should constitute an important step in establishing accountability in Kosovo and reinforce a system of early warning and prevention of massive human rights abuses, she said. Mrs. Robinson added, however, that no amount of early warning will ever prove useful if there is no political will to act on its findings.
Among the representatives of United Nations agencies, Mrs. Robinson met during her visit to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were staff from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ITCY) with whom she discussed further cooperation. Mrs. Robinson also discussed cooperation and coordination matters with representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, including Kosovo Verification Mission head, Ambassador William Walker.
Earlier today, the High Commissioner met with President Kiro Gligorov and with the Ministers of Justice and Interior, Vlado Kambovski and Pavle Trajanov, respectively. During these discussions Mrs. Robinson said she understood the concern of the Skopje authorities over the impact the crisis is having on their country and the calls for increased support to help the country avoid a further deterioration. It was especially important at this time that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be guided by a spirit of tolerance towards the different groups making up the country and pursue its path of guaranteeing the human rights of all the population, she said.