Statement of Mr. Eric Morris, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Kosovo at the Launch of the UN Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for South-eastern Europe 2001 (Brussels)
Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour to be here today to represent the humanitarian needs in Kosovo and in the region, particularly given the recent developments that we have witnessed over the past few months and the potential for peace and stability in South East Europe. As both the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Kosovo and the Special Envoy of the High Commissioner for Refugees for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, I believe that there are still major challenges ahead of us in the region that will require continued commitment both from the international donor community and from the agencies working on the ground.
Impact of the Changes in FRY and Challenges Ahead
I would like to begin by saying a few words about the democratic changes that have taken place in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and their impact on the region. When I met with President Vojislav Kostunica in Belgrade several weeks ago, it was clear that he placed the need to find solutions for all the refugees and the displaced in FRY, among his priorities and that he had high expectations for cooperation and assistance from the international community in solving these and wider humanitarian issues.
Postive signs have been the establishment of a Federal Ministry for National and Ethnic Communities, the drafting of an Amnesty Law for Political Prisoners, support for changes of FRY citizenship laws which affect the refugee populations from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the creation of an Office within the President's Cabinet to specifically deal with refugees and the displaced, as well as with the issues of the detained and the missing, and a willingness to consider local settlement as a solution for refugees and displaced persons. We must move quickly, however, to support and encourage these positive signs.
Despite these developments, and at the risk of sounding too pessimistic, the potential for future displacement in the region is still very much alive with hotspots for inter-ethnic violence still existing, particularly in the Kosovo context. Currently in Southern Serbia, for example, clashes between the Serbian Police forces and members of a local Albanian guerrilla force have resulted in the displacement of over 3,000 people to both Kosovo and FYROM during the past week. The added pressure of the displaced has the potential to result in a backlash against the Serb minority in Kosovo and, should further outflows continue, to offset the delicate ethnic balance in the neighbouring former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The challenge for the international community is to allow flexibility in both programming and funding in order to respond rapidly and effectively to such humanitarian needs as they present themselves. For this reason, the 2001 CAP humanitarian assistance programmes cannot ignore the remaining possibility of regional instability, nor the high degree of unpredictability that has been evident during the past decade.
Humanitarian Needs in Kosovo
Let me turn now to my Humanitarian Coordinator role and the perspective on Kosovo. With the dissolution of the Humanitarian Pillar of UNMIK, the humanitarian emergency in Kosovo was declared over in June of 2000. However, due to resource shortfalls and the slow progress in creating structures such as social support systems and longer term, sustainable development mechanisms, humanitarian relief programmes are still a necessary reality under the present circumstances. In this respect, IOM and UNDP have greatly contributed to the reconstruction of Kosovo's decimated physical infrastructure and utilities, and to the capacity building of local administrators.
In addition to the physical infrastructure needs, the under-resourcing of the basic services and facilities provided both by UNMIK and the slowly-developing national institutions such as health care, remain a major concern. For example, in October I visited, along with UNFPA, a maternity clinic near Prizren which had only a temporary water and electricity supply and for which emergency funds were desperately being sought. With the lead of WHO in the health sector, UNFPA and UNICEF have cooperated in the reconstruction of maternity wards and mother and child health services in order to improve the situation.
The humanitarian community in Kosovo also remains preoccupied with the continuing violence and intimidation of non-Albanian populations in Kosovo, which stands in stark contrast to one of the declared purposes of the international intervention - to preserve a multi-ethnic Kosovo. Two weeks ago four displaced Ashkalija (an Albanian speaking minority group), including a sixteen year old boy, returned to their homes in northern Kosovo only to be brutally massacred a few days later. We must overcome the cycle of violence and revenge and the climate of impunity that exists in Kosovo in order to make the return of some 200,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians displaced from the province a reality.
While UNHCR continues to advocate that minority returns to Kosovo must be safe and sustainable, I believe that the international community has managed to find a balance between keeping hope alive and caution, by concentrating efforts on the stabilization of minority communities that have either remained in Kosovo or returned spontaneously. Although security is a priority concern for isolated Serb communities throughout Kosovo, a number of other conditions need to be addressed by all actors in Kosovo in order to make returns viable such as access to public utilities, reconstruction, property disputes, economic opportunities, social and health services, and education. During a visit to Velika Hoca, a Serb enclave in Kosovo, the village leaders told me that security had improved recently but that the lack of social and employment activities for young adults was in the long term only going to worsen the relationship with the majority community.
While there has been some progress, with some one and a half thousand Serb returns to parts of Kosovo, the international community must continue to try to build upon this limited success during the next year. I have also argued for the need for the Kosovo Albanian political leaders to be engaged in a dialogue on the issue of return without too many conditions which have so far prohibited progress, and have stressed the importance, through my Humanitarian Coordinator function, of focusing attention on the reconstruction and other assistance needs of vulnerable neighbouring Kosovo Albanian communities. For some estimated 3,000 Kosovo Albanian families still living in tents (many for their second and even third winter), their suffering from the recent conflict is still ongoing. I would urge donors to consider any emergency shelter and heating needs for vulnerable families this winter.
I would also like to take a brief moment to underline some of the work that has been done by the various UN agencies working in Kosovo, which I have not yet had an opportunity to mention:
- In the education sector, UNICEF has been instrumental in the reconstruction of schools and in improving the overall educational school system, and has also played an active role in promoting mine awareness.
- The UN Mine Action Coordination Centre, and agencies working under its umbrella, have been able to successfully clear over 5,900 cluster bomb units, 9,800 anti-personnel mines, 5,370 anti-tank mines, and 11,900 unexploded ordnances. This would not have been possible without the continued support of the donor community - thank you.
- On agriculture, FAO reports a rapid recovery of the sector which has enabled WFP to make progress in phasing out food assistance, meanwhile still targeting the most vulnerable people in Kosovo.
- WFP has also played a leading role in the establishment of the UNMIK Centres for Social Welfare which are beginning to take over more responsibility with respect to vulnerable sectors of the population.
- Finally, let me not forget the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights which has been instrumental in the development of appropriate legislation and the rule of law, as well as in assisting in the resolution of cases regarding detainees and the missing.
As the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Kosovo, I initiated a process of "humanitarian accounting" with the UN agencies in August, shortly after my arrival in the region. The purpose of the Humanitarian Accounting Project was to impel agencies to identify gaps in the transition between humanitarian assistance and development in their respective sectors. I believe that this process assisted the agencies in targeting their programmes for 2001, to match the needs of the vulnerable populations, including minorities, and to ensure that they do not fall through the gaps in assistance. To fulfil their responsibilities, the appealing agencies are therefore seeking approximately 120 million US$ for their programmes in Kosovo next year, down from some 250 million US$ for the previous year. This represents a total of 301 million US$ for FRY as a whole for 2001.
"Women and War"
Before concluding on Kosovo, let me address for a moment the theme of this Launch - "women and war". Women make an important contribution to the economy in Kosovo and to its health and education systems. Despite the significant role they have played in the previous parallel systems, and the strength and resourcefulness they displayed in holding their families together during the recent conflict, women are virtually absent from political and economic decision-making. The unequal share of family responsibilities and the heavy domestic burden of women in Kosovo further limit their access to emerging economic opportunities compared with men. To help remedy this situation, UNIFEM has been promoting the mainstreaming of gender issues at all levels in the province and conducting awareness training. Customary legal practices, which have a tendency to overshadow the equal treatment of women before the law, and the current absence of rule of law are fertile ground for the trafficking of women. Violence against women, including domestic violence, is also extremely high. For many women in Kosovo, the war goes on. Currently in Kosovo, agencies (including WHO, UNICEF, UNHCR, and IOM) and NGOs are sponsoring an awareness raising campaign of violence against women, including 15 days of activism on the issue which will last through the 10th of December.
In order to improve the situation of women in Kosovo, I have encouraged all appealing agencies to include a gender perspective as an integral part of their proposed 2001 programmes. I hope this will ensure that women become active partners in the rehabilitation, reconstruction and development of Kosovo, and that their views are heard and their needs and rights are addressed.
To conclude, let me say that the humanitarian community is greatly concerned about the shift in donor government attention away from Kosovo. While the positive changes in Serbia certainly merit increased support from the donor community, I appeal to you today not to underestimate the humanitarian needs that still exist in Kosovo and the pivotal position of Kosovo in maintaining peace in the region.
Solutions to Regional Displacement
Turning now to the UNHCR perspective on the region, our programmes are aimed at facilitating the return of displaced populations, protecting minority groups, and working with governments to find alternative lasting solutions for those unable to return. For 2001, UNHCR will concentrate its efforts on speeding up repatriation for refugees who want to go home, on searching for local solutions for those who are unable to return, and on exploring new possibilities for those who do not wish to return or integrate locally.
The repatriation strategy will also focus on ensuring freedom of movement, accelerating the property restitution process and making quick impact interventions to fill gaps and facilitate returns. In addition, the completion of full registration exercises, identifying not only the numbers of those displaced still needing assistance but their preferred solutions, is fundamental for all countries in South East Europe. Finally throughout the region, there remains much to be done to ensure the legal rights of refugees, the displaced and the socially vulnerable are respected. In Croatia, for example, the poor implementation rate thus far in property restitution must be urgently resolved by the Government. While we still have some way to go, we are making headway in a task many once thought impossible.
Nearly five years after the Dayton Peace Agreement, we have reached a turning point in the search for solutions for refugees from Croatia and from Bosnia and Herzegovina. After years in limbo, refugees and displaced persons are finally able to return home. Minorities are returning to places that would have seemed unimaginable just one year ago - such as Banja Luka, Foca, Mostar, Prijedor and Stolac - and which were virtually synonymous with ethnic cleansing during the war.
Despite these positive developments, humanitarian needs in the region still remain relatively high. More than a million displaced people in the region continue to require international humanitarian support. In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia alone, some half a million refugees and almost a quarter of a million internally displaced persons continue to be highly dependent this winter on humanitarian assistance. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, some returnees are still living in tents due to the failure of the housing reconstruction effort to keep pace with the number of displaced people who have been returning. The gap between returns and the essential reconstruction and economic revitalization must now be closed, and the Stability Pact for South-eastern Europe's promised resources be brought to bear.
While we are gradually diminishing our humanitarian assistance role, as longer-term development and reconstruction specialists assume their responsibilities in the region, UNHCR, WFP, ICRC, and others, will continue to provide needed humanitarian assistance to refugees, IDPs, returnees, and other vulnerable groups, which are targeted in the 2001 CAP programmes.
After so much bitter conflict, it may perhaps still take many years before the people of South East Europe can live harmoniously together once again. However, the recent positive developments in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Croatia have shown us that the goals of refugee return, integration and co-existence may be much closer now than ever before. If we are to achieve them, your continued and timely financial and political support is critical.
Thank you for your attention.