Position paper on Kosovo
In view of the current efforts to bring peace to the Balkans and within the framework of the integrated response by the Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement to the crisis in the region, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) wishes to make the following points.
The ICRC has been working in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including Kosovo, since 1990, with a large number of staff based in the province since early 1998. When the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launched its air campaign on 24 March 1999, the ICRC decided to maintain its presence throughout the country – with offices in Belgrade, Podgorica and Pristina – so as to provide assistance, together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and protection for those affected by both the conflict inside Kosovo itself and the international conflict taking place there and in other parts of Yugoslavia.
On 29 March, however, the ICRC was obliged to withdraw its staff from Pristina for security reasons. However, it was anxious to return to the province, particularly in view of the extremely alarming accounts from ethnic Albanian refugees concerning the conditions being faced by civilians inside Kosovo.
Following assurances given by the highest Yugoslav authorities to the ICRC President on 26 April and an exploratory mission conducted in mid-May, the ICRC reopened its Pristina office on 24 May. The expatriate staff present there have since focused their efforts on resuming humanitarian operations in a complex security environment. ICRC delegates have thus provided assistance to health-care facilities, carried out direct distributions to internally displaced persons and col lected information on detainees.
In Montenegro, the Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement has stepped up its activities since 24 March, assisting tens of thousands of displaced persons from Kosovo with the support of the Montenegrin branch of the Yugoslav Red Cross.
With the full participation of the Yugoslav Red Cross, staff from the Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement have surveyed needs throughout Serbia and come to the aid of civilians affected by NATO airstrikes. Among other things, they have assisted hospitals, provided clean water in urban centres and distributed food and other items directly to those in need.
The ICRC is now shifting the focus of its operation to take into account changes occurring in Kosovo as a result of the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces and the deployment of international forces. It has set itself the following priorities in Kosovo for the coming weeks:
- obtain access to all persons arrested and detained in connection with the conflict – regardless of the authority detaining them and of their place of detention – in order to ascertain their whereabouts and conditions of detention, restore contact between them and their families, and be in a position to facilitate their release and transfer;
- restore contact between members of dispersed families, whether within Kosovo itself, between Kosovo and the rest of Yugoslavia, or between Kosovo and foreign countries;
- assist the families of those who remain unaccounted for, who are detained or who have been killed (i.e. search for the persons concerned, clarify what has happened to them, and provide psychological, legal and administrative counselling);
- help protect all ethnic groups from violence (acts of reprisal, expulsion, etc.).
- promote landmine awareness by means of community-based work, media campaigns , etc.
Together with the International Federation and a number of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the ICRC will also help to ensure that key social-welfare and medical establishments and other services (hospitals, psychiatric institutions, assistance for particularly vulnerable groups, etc.) continue to function in the immediate post-war period.
At the same time, the Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement will undertake the important task of strengthening civil society by providing support to local Red Cross structures throughout Yugoslavia, including Kosovo.
Given the scale of the needs, the ICRC will continue mobilizing and coordinating resources and expertise within the Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement to address the emergency in Kosovo. At the same time, the Movement remains firmly committed to its ongoing humanitarian operations in Serbia, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania.