The 1999 Kosovo War cost thousands of civilians their lives and left over a million displaced.

Between 1988 and 1989, in what came to be known as the anti-bureaucratic revolution, a campaign of street protests by supporters of Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević overthrew the governments of Serbia’s two autonomous provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo, as well as the government of the Socialist Republic of Montenegro, replacing them with allies of Milošević. In protest, Kosovo Albanians engaged in mass demonstrations. As tensions increased over the next decade, violent civil war finally broke out in 1998.

Read about PJI’s work in Kosovo.

In 1989, the Yugoslav parliament adopted a new constitution, which transferred authority for the police, the court system, the education system, and language policies from the provinces to the Serbian authorities.[1] In accordance with the constitutional changes, the parliaments of all Yugoslavian republics and provinces were dissolved and multi-party elections were held for them. Kosovo Albanians refused to participate in the elections and held their own, unsanctioned elections instead. As election laws required turnout higher than 50%, the parliament of Kosovo could not be established. Kosovo Albanians saw a significant reduction in what they’d previously seen as their rights: State owned media was transferred to Serbian authorities. Albanian language textbooks were withdrawn in favor of Serbian language texts. Kosovo Albanians were dismissed from jobs en masse.

In 1992, Kosovo held elections, which overwhelmingly elected Ibrahim Rugova as “president” of a self-declared Republic of Kosovo; however these unsanctioned elections were not recognised by Serbian authorities nor any foreign government. Ibrahim Rugova initially advocated non-violent resistance, but later opposition took the form of separatist agitation by opposition political groups and armed action by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

In 1998, civil war broke out in Kosovo between Serbian forces and the KLA. The mass displacement and widespread sexual violence attendant to the conflict that arose in Kosovo between Serbian armed forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army is well known.[2]

Following the failure of international efforts to resolve the conflict, on March 23, 1999, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) announced the commencement of air strikes against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). Air strikes ended on June 8, 1999 when the FRY agreed to withdraw its forces from Kosovo. On June 9,1999, the International Security Force (KFOR), the FRY and the Republic of Serbia agreed on the withdrawal of all FRY authorities from Kosovo, including military, judicial and police authorities. Kosovo was placed under the governmental control of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the military protection of Kosovo Force (KFOR). The 15-month war had left thousands of civilians killed on both sides and over a million displaced.  Since then, the region has been governed by a complex web of international and local actors.

The UN Security Council vested UNMIK with authority over the territory and people of Kosovo, including all legislative and executive powers and administration of the judiciary. UNMIK operated the civilian justice apparatus until it could hand over these operations to EULEX between 2008 and 2009. 

In February 2008, the European Union established EULEX with a mission that included assisting judicial authorities and law enforcement agencies in their progress towards sustainability and accountability and adhering to internationally recognized standards and European best practices. UNMIK began to shift operational responsibilities to EULEX in December 2008, and EULEX was declared fully operational in April 2009.

Also in February 2008, the Assembly of Kosovo adopted a declaration of independence despite strong objections from Serbia who still considers Kosovo as part of its inalienable territory. In July 2010, the International Court of Justice issued an Advisory Opinion on the declaration that stated it did not violate international law. 

After five years of operations, EULEX announced in 2014 that its mandate would end in 2018 and that all functions of government would be handed over to the local authorities by that date. EULEX began handing over criminal case files to the local prosecutors in January 2016.  In December 2018, the European Rule of Law Organization (EULEX) reached the end of its mandate and transferred close to 900 case files relating to war crimes to the local Special Prosecutor of the Republic of Kosovo (SPRK) in addition to nearly 2,000 missing persons files.

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[1] See Malcolm, Noel. Kosovo: A Short History. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998 at p. 50. 

[2] See, e.g., Kosovo: Rape as a Weapon of “Ethnic Cleansing,” Human Rights Watch, 2000 (available at https://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/2000/fry/index.htm#TopOfPage) and I Want to be Heard: Memory Book with Stories of Women Survivors of Torture During the Last War in Kosovo, Integra, 2017.