On the occasion of the 18th anniversary of the beginning of the March 2004 violence in Kosovo, Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Serbia and Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Kosovo, are calling their governments to show sincere respect for all victims of ethnically motivated violence in order to start building societies where everyone has the right to live free and to feel safe.

According to the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), 23 people lost their lives in the March violence in Kosovo: Macedonian Jana Tucev, nine Serbs – Dragan Nedeljković, Slobodan Perić, Dusanka Petković, Borivoje Spasojević, Borko Stolić, Dobrivoje Stolić, Slobodan Tanjić, Zlatibor Trajković and Nenad Vesić, and thirteen Albanians – Fatmir Abdullahu, Ferid Çitaku, Bujar Elshani, Kastriot Elshani, Isak Ibrahimi, Alumuhamet Murseli, Agron Ramadani, Nexhat Rrahmani, Arben Shala, Gazmend Shala, Ajvaz Shatrolli, Esat Tahiraj and one Albanian from Prishtinë whose name the HLC has not been able to identify.

At that time, about 170 Serbs were injured, 150 of them were beaten in their homes, while 20 of them were injured in attacks on the roads. As for the buildings, about 800 Serb, 90 Ashkali and two Albanian houses were either completely destroyed or severely damaged. In addition to civilian properties, 36 Orthodox Churches were completely demolished and burned. According to the UN Secretary-General, 954 people were injured in the March violence, including 65 international police officers, 58 members of the KPS and 61 members of the international peacekeeping force.

The OSCE report on the assessment of the rights of communities in June 2021 states that, as of December 2019, 28,302 displaced persons have returned to Kosovo since 2000, and that the return rate has decreased every year and that this trend continues to decline. UNHCR also estimates that there are 16,151 displaced persons in Kosovo, of which 412 live in one of the temporary collective shelters.

For more than two decades, commemorations and victims have been misused for the spread of states’ propaganda and national political gain. This current behavior of the governments is fuelling ethnic tensions, creating even stronger barriers for the process of reconciliation.

While in Kosovo, the isolation of Serb community is being boosted through actions such as the video “Besa Besë” that is broadcasted on the portals Ekonomia Online and Telegrafi, in Serbia the nationalistic and discriminatory rhetoric continues to be used by some of the highest state’s representatives encouraging further violence against Albanians – as we witnessed in December, 2021 in Bor, where a family was threatened with the graffiti “Kill Shiptars”.

Therefore, we demand from the Government of Kosovo to unequivocally condemn ethnically motivated attacks directed towards Serbs in Kosovo, while ensuring internally displaced people and refugees a safe return to their homes. We call on the Serbian government to stop instigating hate towards Albanians, particularly on dates such as March 17 and to publicly apologize for not preventing violence aimed at destroying the property of Albanians, Bosniaks and Turks in Serbia and setting fire to mosques in Belgrade and Nis.