Rethinking the role [...]

Rethinking the role and mandate of municipal mechanisms for the protection and promotion of the rights of non-majority communities

Kosovo’s commitment to the rights of non-majority communities is reflected in its comprehensive legal and policy infrastructure, which, on paper, promises an inclusive and multiethnic society. Yet, despite these provisions, the practical realities reveal that the intended beneficiaries continue to face systemic challenges, marginalization, and underrepresentation. This opinion piece examines the intricacies of Kosovo’s municipal mechanisms for the rights of non-majority communities, and the need for reform to truly empower such mechanisms.

Where we stand with municipal mechanisms for non-majority communities?

Kosovo’s approach to safeguarding the rights of members of non-majority communities is perhaps the most elaborate in the Western Balkans, with over a dozen laws dedicated to this cause. The Municipal Communities Committee (MCC), Municipal Offices for Communities and Return (MOCR), and Deputy Mayors and Deputy Chairpersons for Communities constitute the core of this framework at the municipal level. These bodies are tasked with an important mandate: to ensure the safety, rights, and participatory inclusion of non-majority communities in the social, political, and economic life at the municipal level.

The law No. 03/L-040 on local self-government creates three important institutions at the local level to ensure representation and participation of non-majority communities in decision-making process. In municipalities where non-majority communities constitute at least 10% of the population, a Deputy Mayor for Communities is appointed to advise the Mayor on matters concerning the members of non-majority communities. Additionally, the position of Deputy Chairperson of the Municipal Assembly for Communities is specifically reserved for a representative from the non-majority communities. This Deputy Chairperson plays a crucial role in promoting inter-community dialogue, serving as the main liaison for the concerns of non-majority communities within the Assembly. They are tasked with investigating any claims that the municipal assembly’s actions or decisions infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed rights of members of non-majority communities and are responsible for bringing such matters to the Municipal Assembly for further consideration.

The Committee on Communities, mandated as one of the two permanent committees within Municipal Assemblies, consists of Municipal Assembly members and community representatives. By law, community representatives must form the majority of the members in the Communities Committee, ensuring significant community influence and oversight. The role of this Committee is very important as it is “responsible to review compliance of the  municipal authorities with the applicable law and review all municipal policies, practices and activities related with the aim to ensure that rights and interests of the Communities are fully respected” (Article 53 (2) of the Law No. 03/L-040 ).

The Regulation No. 02/2010 mandates the establishment of Municipal Offices for Communities and Return (MOCRs) in all municipalities to safeguard community rights, ensure equal service access, and facilitate sustainable returns. A report from 2020 of OSCE Kosovo, showed that 35 municipalities have established MOCRs, and they constitute a staff of 136 officers, averaging about four officers per office, with women constituting 32%. Kosovo Serb and Kosovo Albanian officers represent 38% and 23% of MOCRs employees, respectively, ensuring representation from each community.

What are some of the challenges with municipal mechanisms for non-majority communities?

However, the reality on the ground paints a less rosy picture. First and foremost, it remains rather unclear the extent to which municipalities in Kosovo respect the role and mandate of these mechanisms, especially the role of the Municipal Community Committees (MCC) and Deputy Chairperson for Communities. In other words, despite their critical mandates, these mechanisms often falter in their implementation, marred by insufficient resources, limited political support, and a lack of genuine cooperation among municipal entities. The MCCs, for instance, despite their potential to influence municipal budgeting and decision-making, rarely exercise their full potential due to passivity or ineffective functioning as this report by Sbunker shows, as well as this report from PIPS and HD.  Similarly, the MOCRs, which should serve as the primary point of contact for minority community issues, are stretched thin, trying to be a one-stop shop for a myriad of concerns, thereby diluting their effectiveness.

The MOCRs, established in 2010, have not had their mandate revised to reflect the evolving needs of the communities they serve. Initially focusing on immediate or humanitarian needs like heating, food, and shelter, these offices may not fully address the current, diverse requirements of the communities, particularly among the youth. Modern demands include support for educational opportunities, such as scholarships and internships, and tackling structural issues.

Additionally, there’s a significant concern that MOCRs are inadvertently diminishing the political agency of non-majority community members. They are often utilized by mayors and senior municipal officials as a deflective tool, redirecting individuals from these communities who seek to engage with municipal leadership. This practice can create a perception that non-majority community members are not viewed equitably by municipal authorities, potentially relegating them to a secondary status rather than recognizing them as full citizens with equal rights to municipal engagement.

One of the most glaring issues is the systemic overlooking of smaller non-majority communities. The institutional mechanisms, while comprehensive, often fail to adequately represent or address the unique challenges faced by these groups, such as the Kosovo Turks, Bosniaks, and Gorani. This oversight not only perpetuates feelings of exclusion and marginalization but also undermines the very ethos of these institutions, which is to foster an inclusive, cohesive society.

Moreover, the efficacy of these bodies is frequently hampered by a lack of clear reporting, oversight, and prioritization, further compounded by inadequate budget allocations that cripple their operational capacity.  The underrepresentation of women within these mechanisms is another critical concern, highlighting a broader issue of gender inequality in political and social representation, including among the non-majority communities.

Ensuring the effective enforcement of the Law on Language Use is critical for promoting fair and functional municipal institutions, particularly for non-majority communities. However, obstacles such as limited resources and insufficient political commitment hinder its implementation. Consequently, access to services in official languages for non-majority communities at the municipal level remains a persistent issue. To tackle these challenges, Kosovo institutions should prioritize several key actions. These include allocating adequate financial, human, and technical resources to fully implement the legal framework, raising public awareness about language rights across all communities, recognizing all official languages and languages used at the municipal level, enhancing the language proficiency of civil servants through comprehensive training, and ensuring the optimal capacity of municipal translation units.

The need for reform

The current state of Kosovo’s municipal institutional mechanisms for non-majority communities necessitates some level of reform, one that is grounded in improving inclusivity and effectiveness of these mechanisms. Firstly, there needs to be a concerted effort to enhance the cooperation and coordination among the existing mechanisms, as well as coordination between municipal mechanisms with the central level or the government ministries, and Office of the Prime Minister, to ensure a unified approach to addressing the rights and needs of the non-majority communities. This includes better resource allocation from the Government of Kosovo, ensuring that these bodies have the financial and operational capacity to fulfill their mandates effectively. But also, more coordination and consultation. For instance, when was the last time that the Office for Community Affairs of the Office of the Prime Minister has organized a meeting with Municipal Offices for Communities and Return, or with Deput Mayors and Deputy Chairpersons for Communities?

Secondly, the reform should aim at increasing the representation and active participation of all non-majority communities, especially the smaller or more marginalized groups, ensuring that their voices are heard and their concerns are addressed. This also involves empowering women within these communities, ensuring they have equal opportunities for participation and representation. Accordingly, the government should commission a study of the work and impact of the Municipal Community Committees in the municipal decision-making processes.

Finally, there must be a shift towards a more action-oriented approach, where these mechanisms are not just consultative bodies but have the authority and resources to implement changes, monitor progress, and hold relevant stakeholders accountable. The institutions should be empowered to not only recommend but also enforce measures that promote and protect the rights and interests of non-majority communities.

Kosovo’s extensive legal framework concerning the rights of non-majority communities is a testament to its commitment, but the true test lies in the translation of these laws into tangible, positive outcomes for all its citizens. The Kosovo government should revise the regulation from 2010 on Municipal Offices for Communities and Returns, and advance these mechanisms, by strengthening their mandate and increasing their resources.


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