Kosovo’s Legal Framework

Kosovo’s Legal Framework

Since its independance Kosovo has adopted a wide variety of legislation that ensure and protect the rights of all communities.

Click on the following links to learn more about the legal framework in Kosovo relating to the communities:

Constitution of Kosovo

The Constitution of Kosovo protects and promotes the rights and interests of communities and their members living in Kosovo. It states that “Kosovo is a multi-ethnic society consisting of Albanian and other Communities, governed democratically with full respect for the rule of law through its legislative, executive and judicial institutions”, and guarantees full and effective equality for all its citizens. The Constitution defines that “the official languages in Kosovo are Albanian and Serbian. Turkish, Bosnian and Roma languages can have the status of official languages at the municipal level or will be in official use at all levels as provided by law”.

Reflecting the importance of community rights in Kosovo, Kosovo’s Constitution has one full chapter dedicated to the Rights of Communities and their Members. This chapter states that every member of a community can “freely choose to be treated or not to be treated as such”.

It also ensures equitable representation in public institutions, requires the representation of communities through several specific posts at the municipal level , enshrines the right of communities to “freely express, foster and develop their identity and community attributes” and establishes obligations of the state to ensure “full and effective equality among members of communities”. Finally, Chapter III also foresees the establishment of a Consultative Council for Communities, consisting of, amongst others, representatives of communities, with the mandate to afford communities the opportunity to comment at an early stage on legislative or policy initiatives, and to seek to have their views incorporated in relevant projects and programs.

The Constitution also protects the rights of communities in the legislative process. Out of an Assembly of 120 seats, it guarantees 20 seats for parties representing minority communities, with a specific number of seats assigned to the different communities. Additionally, the Constitution requires the creation of the Assembly Committee on Rights and Interests of Communities and ensures that legislation covering certain issues will be considered legislation of vital interest, which requires a double majority for their adoption, amendment or repeal, both a majority of the entire Assembly and a majority of the deputies holding seats guaranteed for communities. Finally, any amendment of the Constitution itself requires a double two thirds majority, of both the entire Assembly and the deputies holding seats guaranteed for communities.

Law on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Communities and their Members in Kosovo

The purpose of the Law on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Communities and their Members in Kosovo and its amendment 04/L-020 is to enable communities to cultivate, develop and express their identity, to protect their fundamental and human rights and to ensure their full and effective equality through special measures implemented by the Kosovo government. It provides a general definition of communities as:

“National, ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious groups traditionally present in the Republic of Kosovo that are not in the majority. These groups are Serb, Turkish, Bosnian, Roma, Ashkali, Egyptian, Gorani, Montenegrin, Croatian and other communities. Members of the community in the majority in the Republic of Kosovo as a whole who are not in the majority in a given municipality shall also be entitled to enjoy the rights listed in this law.”

Together with the Law on the Use of Languages, this is the most important law with regard to community rights. It has provisions on: identity; language; culture; media; religion; education; economic and social opportunities; health; political participation; and the Consultative Council for Communities. The Law protects communities and their members’ right to freely express, maintain and develop their culture and identity. It also guarantees the equality of communities and protects them from discrimination.

The Law also sets out some basic provisions with regard to language, such as the official status of Serbian and Albanian and their alphabets at the central level and Turkish, Bosnian and Roma at the municipal level. However, for more specific guidelines it refers to the Law on the Use of Languages.

Law on Anti-Discrimination

The purpose of the Law on Anti-Discrimination is to prevent and combat discrimination, promote of effective equality and put into effect the principle of equal treatment of the citizens of Kosovo under the rule of law.

As such, this Law applies to all natural and legal persons as regards both the public and private sectors, including public bodies, in relation to any action or inaction which violates the right or rights of any natural or legal person or discriminates based on sex, gender, age, marital status, language, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, political affiliation or conviction, ethnic origin, nationality, religion or belief, race, social origin, property, birth or any other status.

The Law on Anti-Discrimination aims to ensure that members of all communities enjoy equal access to education and fair representation in public bodies and public affairs. According to the Law, direct and indirect discrimination, i.e. where an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put persons in a particularly disadvantaged condition, shall be prosecuted. Moreover, harassment shall be deemed to be discrimination when an unwanted conduct takes place with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment, as determined by that person; finally, victimisation and segregation shall be considered acts of discrimination by all means.

Law on Local Self Government

In order to establish a sustainable system of local administration and improve the efficiency of public services in Kosovo, the Assembly adopted the Law on Local Self Government.

This law foresees the establishment of several municipal institutions for the protection of communities in Kosovo. The Municipal Assemblies of Kosovo must establish a Municipal Communities Committee with the responsibility to review municipal policies, practices and activities to ensure that rights and interests of the communities are fully respected and issue recommendations to the Municipal Assembly. Moreover, in municipalities where communities make up at least 10% of the population, a Deputy Mayor for Communities must be appointed to advise the Mayor on community issues, and a Deputy Chairperson for Communities must be installed to form the “focal point for addressing non-majority communities’ concerns”. However, it is questionable whether the 10% percent threshold is justified, particularly given the fact that the role of the Deputy Mayor for Communities is also to uphold special rights, notably regarding the use of languages: if a community constitutes more than 5% of the population of a given municipality, their language is recognised as an official language with equal status to the other official languages, and if a community constitutes more than 3%, its language is recognised as one in official use.

Furthermore, the Law foresees the provision of enhanced participatory rights in the selection of the local police station commanders and enhanced competencies in the area of culture to municipalities with Serb-majority population. In reference to health and education, it outlines the provision of enhanced competencies regarding university education in the municipality of Mitrovicë/Mitrovica North, as well as in secondary health care in the municipalities of Mitrovicë/Mitrovica North, Graçanicë/Gracanica, Shtërpcë/Štrpce. Significantly, it also expressly allows municipalities to cooperate directly with institutions of the Republic of Serbia.

Law on the Use of Languages

The Assembly of Kosovo adopted the Law on the Use of Languages in order to respect the linguistic identity of all people living in Kosovo and to create an environment for all communities to express and preserve their language and culture. The Law reaffirms that the official and equal languages in Kosovo are Albanian and Serbian, while “other community languages, such as Turkish, Bosnian and Roma can be languages in official use” at the municipal level.

Use of Languages in Municipal Institutions

A language is an official language at the municipal level if it is the mother tongue of at least 5% of the inhabitants of that municipality, and such a language will have equal status in that municipality to Kosovo’s official languages. Regardless of this provision, Turkish is defined as an official language in the Municipality of Prizren; as under Article 2.4, a language will be considered a language in official use at the municipal level if it is the mother tongue of at least 3% of the municipality’s inhabitants or if that language was traditionally spoken in the municipality. People belonging to communities whose language is in official use also have the right in their communication with the municipality to “present oral or written submissions and documents, and to receive a reply in their own language”.

Use of Languages in Judicial Proceedings

The Law stipulates that a person who is arrested or charged with a criminal offence and who does not speak or understand the language(s) of the proceedings has the right to be promptly informed about the reasons for the arrest and of any charge against him or her in a language he/she understands. Moreover, “persons belonging to communities whose mother tongue is not an official language who are participating in criminal proceedings have the right to make submissions, testify and hear the facts of the case and any evidence against them, in their mother tongue” . The court and prosecution bodies are required to provide free translation to those involved in the criminal proceedings.

These two provisions can be understood together as an overall guarantee that any judicial proceeding will be carried out in such a way that all people involved can be informed and communicate in their native language, regardless of its official status or lack thereof.

Use of Languages in Education

The Law on the Use of Languages specifies that community members have the right to receive public school education in their mother tongue. At the same time, one official language of choice must always be studied, and a student with his/her parents has the right to “decide in which official language his/her school records will be kept, and reports issued, by the educational institutions that he/she attends”.

Use of Languages in the Media

According to Article 25, any person in Kosovo has the right to establish media and broadcasting time on the public broadcaster in the language of his/her choice.

Personal Names and City, Street, and Topographical Names

According to Article 27.1, a person has the right to have his/her name and surname registered in the public civil records and written on personal identification documents in the official language of his/her choice, which includes the writing system. The law also establishes that “official signs indicating or including the names of municipalities, villages, roads, streets and other public places shall be displayed in the official languages and in the languages that have the status of official language in the municipality”.

Office of the Language Commissioner

In order to ensure, promote and supervise the implementation of Law on the Use of Languages, and in accordance thereof, the Government of Kosovo established the Office of the Language Commissioner.