PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — A U.N. human rights tribunal in Kosovo said Friday the world body should apologize and compensate the Roma community for the health impact of being housed on lead-poisoned sites after the war in 1999.
The Human Rights Advisory Panel said the U.N. Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) should "publicly acknowledge its failure to comply with applicable human rights standards," make a public apology to the victims and their families and take steps toward paying compensation for material and moral damages.
Dianne Post, an attorney for the claimants, said the report also demands "assurance that U.N. bodies will in the future not only enforce international human rights norms but live by them."
"In the 10-plus years the Roma remained on the poisoned sites, an entire generation of Roma children was lost," she said.
Following Serbia's bloody crackdown against Kosovo Albanian separatists in 1999 and the NATO bombing that stopped it, the U.N. moved some 600 displaced people from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities to five centers north of Mitrovica built on a site previously used for toxic waste from a mine complex. The communities were moved from the area in 2010-11 following widespread pressure.
UNMIK governed Kosovo at the time and still operates but in a more minor role since the country declared independence in 2008. The three-member advisory panel examines complaints of human rights violations by the mission and makes recommendations to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Kosovo.
Dzafer Buzoli, of the Society for Threatened Peoples, a German-based international non-governmental organization, said Friday that 92 of the Roma community are believed to have died due to lead poisoning.
"I am suffering myself from high lead contamination in blood because of working with those communities for 11 years," he told The Associated Press by phone.
The panel said that "four complainants claim that their family members died in the camps as a result of lead poisoning."
Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body and even small amounts can cause serious health problems, particularly in children, where it can cause cognitive problems, abdominal pain, vomiting, hearing loss and fatigue. In adults, lead poisoning can lead to high blood pressure, reduced cognitive ability, pain, memory loss and mood disorders. It can also cause abnormal sperm in men and miscarriages in pregnant women.
While hailing the report, the attorney, Post, said that "it can, in no way, make up for the deaths caused by lead poisoning, for the permanent mental impairment and physical injury caused by lead exposure, and for the family and community disruption created by the living conditions of the camps. "
Though non-binding the verdict is important as it charges the U.N. with responsibility for the wellbeing of the Roma community, she said.
"(It) is at least a recognition that the U.N. itself must follow the international principles of human rights and dignity that it establishes for others and that these principles apply equally to the Roma who have a right to a remedy and a right to justice."
This story has been corrected to show that there were about 600 people involved, and that they were in five centers, not three.