Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Kosovo declared independence on February 17, 2008, and the United States recognized and formally established diplomatic relations with the Republic of Kosovo the following day. The country has committed itself to implementing United Nations Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari's plan, which called for independence subject to a period of international supervision. Ahtisaari also proposed measures to safeguard the rights of the country's minority communities. In the year since the country declared independence, governing authorities generally respected the rights of citizens and complied with the Ahtisaari plan's provisions regarding minority rights. There continued to be problems in some areas, particularly with regard to minority communities and the ongoing threat of politically and ethnically motivated violence. The justice system is underdeveloped and subject to manipulation. It is marked by lengthy pretrial detention, lack of due process, and corruption. Societal antipathy against Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church still exists. Returns of internally displaced persons (IDPs), chiefly Kosovo Serbs, continue at a slow rate hampered by lack of economic opportunities, property problems, and security fears, as well as pressure from elements within the Serbian government and hardliners in Kosovo Serb communities on Serb IDPs not to return. Other problems include government corruption; violence and discrimination against women; trafficking in persons, particularly girls and women for sexual exploitation; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities; abuse and discrimination against homosexuals; and child labor in the informal sector.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The key U.S. priority in the promotion of human rights and democracy in the country is the development of the key governing institutions such as the parliament and political parties. This includes assisting the development of transparent government structures at the national and municipal levels. The United States promoted better rule of law by building the capacity of the country's legal sector. Key to that was training members of the judiciary, prosecutors, and police. U.S. personnel engaged political parties, the Assembly, and civil society across ethnic lines to help citizens understand their roles in a modern polity and the majority community's responsibilities towards the minority. A critical component to this process is decentralizing power from the central government to the local level in accordance with the provisions of the Ahtisaari Plan and European norms of local self-governance.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

U.S. programs enhancing good governance target both the central government and local municipalities. For government officials, the United States sponsors training on parliamentary procedures, the roles and responsibilities of parliamentarians in a multi-ethnic parliament, executive oversight, and constituent relations. As a result of this assistance, opposition party caucuses take an active role in coordinating party initiatives; members of parliament participate in question and answer sessions regarding promulgated legislation; and a women's caucus is active within the Assembly. The Party Training Academy, a U.S. program, provides political parties with trained individuals who can serve as party staff and/or party organizers at all levels of a political organization. At the municipal level, U.S. programs empower local governments and help them establish legal and regulatory frameworks for decentralization and local self-governance, provide training on laws and regulations pertaining to municipalities for all elected and appointed officials, facilitate formation of new Serb-majority municipalities, and support the transfer of budgetary competencies to the municipal level. To establish these Serb-majority municipalities, U.S. personnel work with civilian international organizations and NGOs to establish, advise, and mentor on good practices and effective governance. U.S. programs increase citizen participation in political decision-making by assisting NGOs and promoting direct community engagement. Active diplomatic engagement with the government, in conjunction with other international organizations, increases and facilitates Serb and other minority representation in the country's civil service, judiciary, central government, and elected bodies.

Developing the country's nascent rule-of-law institutions, including both the law enforcement and justice spheres, is a critical U.S. goal and incorporates both financial and program assistance. For justice institutions, U.S. personnel and implementing partners advise, mentor, and train the Kosovo Judicial Council, established in 2007 to govern courts and oversee judges and prosecutors. In conjunction with European multilateral institutions and the government, the United States is helping establish administrative and management practices to support an effective and professional prosecutor function. Current U.S. programs also provide professional development training courses for prosecutors on topics such as pretrial proceedings, evidence, trial advocacy, and efficient administrative functioning. A U.S. program supports the Special Prosecutor's Office to conduct complex investigations and prosecutions falling under its jurisdiction and provides training on the law and courtroom practices. A U.S. law firm provides pro bono support to the judicial sector, including legislative guidance and legal training. Additionally, the Legal Profession Development Initiative is a three-year, U.S.-sponsored activity to increase the professionalism of the legal community through assisting law schools to develop classes in ethics, legal clinical, and legal methodology at the Pristina and Mitrovica Law Faculties; developing a Bar that regulates the practice of law to ensure competency and ethical standards; and strengthening the ability of the Kosovo Chamber of Advocates to support and provide continuing legal education.

U.S. programs support democratic institutions in the country and include a focus on promoting social integration and decentralization that empowers minorities, enhancing good governance, and strengthening rule-of-law institutions. The Ahtisaari Plan calls for comprehensive support and protection to address problems of social discrimination against Kosovo Serbs and other minority communities. The United States supports the country's commitment to implementing the Ahtisaari principles through minority-focused programs promoting tolerance, unity, and community. U.S. assistance supports a television cooperative project that brings Kosovo Albanian and Kosovo Serb television journalists together to work on investigative news documentaries for local broadcast in both Albanian and Serbian languages. U.S. programs also focus on Serb and minority media, providing advice and financial backing to ensure that all communities have access to Kosovo-specific content in their native languages. The United States also funds several scholarships to the American University of Kosovo for minority students and facilitates a variety of conflict mitigation activities aimed at spurring dialogue between government leaders and the country's minority communities. A U.S. program providing small grants to non-governmental organizations and independent media supports projects that promote democratic institutions, rule of law, civic education and civil society, human rights, and ethnic and political harmony. Other U.S. programs support minority and majority community civil society organizations to address issues of concern to their communities, including freedom of movement, religious freedom, local government cooperation, free and objective media reporting, and cultural exchange through infrastructure projects. The United States is providing program and logistical support for the sustainable resettlement of the country's Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian families living in the lead-contaminated Cesmin Lug and Osterode camps in the northern part of the country. The program's goal is to resettle 200 people to other locations within the country where they will have improved access to healthcare, education, social services and employment.

Other programs focus on strengthening the country's law enforcement institutions through mentorship and technical support. One U.S. program focuses on increasing the professionalism of the police and improving investigative methods to combat organized crime, trafficking in persons, financial crime, and strengthening cooperation between police and prosecutors. U.S. funds provide for the continued presence of U.S. officers in the EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX). These officers bolster internal security and strengthen the capacity of the local police through mentoring, monitoring, advising, and training. The United States, working in coordination with EULEX, assists the government in establishing greater control of its borders by developing relevant institutions and a legal framework for immigration and asylum; professionalizing the border service; and providing expertise on developing relevant immigration laws, policies, and procedures. U.S. programs for law enforcement also support the government's efforts to develop its capacity to reduce trafficking in persons. Other assistance to combat trafficking in persons includes U.S. programs that support shelters for victims of trafficking and establish or expand residential reintegration facilities. U.S. personnel work with local authorities to promote prevention activities, and U.S. funding supports a trained coordinator to pilot social networks between community-based stakeholders, including social workers, community leaders, teachers, and youth peers with the goal of supporting awareness-raising activities among target groups on topics directly and indirectly related to trafficking.