Last Updated 21 February 2020

Kosovo is a multi-party democratic republic bordered by the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Serbia. Kosovo became a UN protectorate following the Kosovo War of 1999 with prolonged tensions and violence between its Albanian and Serb populations. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, Serbia continues to claim the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija, and Kosovo’s independence remains unrecognised by Russia and China, along with five EU member states, however 108 UN states recognise Kosovo as a sovereign state.

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Constitution and government

The constitution affirms the right of freedom of expression, conscience, and religion for all residents regardless of their religious convictions. It provides for the separation of religious groups from public institutions and for equal rights for all religious groups, stipulates the country does not have an official religion, is a secular state and prohibits discrimination based on religion and ethnicity.

Education and children’s rights

In Kosovo, public education institutions shall refrain from teaching religion or other activities that propagate a specific religion.

However, in practice this rule is not upheld consistently. the government provides funding to the madrassahs of the Kosovo Islamic Community (BIK). It does not fund religious education for any other religious group. In addition, ethnic Serbs, Gorani, Croatians, and some Roma attend Serbian-language public schools, which follow a curriculum designed by the Serbian government. The restriction on religious instruction does not apply to those schools. It has been reported that most ethnic Serbs enroll in Serbian Orthodox religious classes instead of civic education. The salaries of all teachers working for Serbian Language schools are funded by the Serbian government, including religious instruction.

Confusion on headscarves

In January 2009, 16-year-old girl Arjeta Halimi was banned from school when she was ordered by the principal and a security guard at her school to remove the headscarf or leave the institution’s grounds. She was not allowed to return to school, although school authorities permitted her to take her final examinations while in hijab.

However, there is no clear national legislation banning headscarves in public schools across Kosovo. The Ministry of Education issued a set of guidelines to municipal education authorities with respect to school dress codes and uniforms but there is no mention of a complete ban on headscarves. Municipalities may however decide on how they want to approach the matter and may adopt administrative bans.

Family, Community, Society

Census data from 2011 estimated that 95.6 percent of the population is Muslim, 2.2 percent is Roman Catholic, and 1.4 percent is Serbian Orthodox.

There is very limited evidence of overt atheism in Kosovo.

The mainstream of Muslim culture in Kosovo is usually considered very “moderate” by global standards. One observer comments that “Kosovo’s brand of Islam may be the most liberal in the world”, with conservative religious dress in a minority, alcohol openly and lawfully available, and a “European” attitude to social norms cited approvingly by many.

LGBTI+ rights

Article 24 of the Constitution of Kosovo bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, law enforcement remains weak.

Despite the generally relatively liberal culture, there are reports of widespread homophobia, and members of the LGBTI+ community are often forced to remain hidden.

Public incidents of homophobia include disruptive and threatening behaviour at the September 2013 launch of the “SEX” issue of a magazine Kosovo 2.0 magazine, during which the police are accused of failing to adequately protect the participants; and in July 2016 an attack on a gay couple by the owner of the apartment they were renting out, when he discovered their sexual orientation. The renters were forced to jump from the second floor balcony, but even though the perpetrator threatened the victims in the presence of the police, he was not arrested.

There are currently three national active LGBT organisations in Kosovo. The organizations are often targets of hate speech and online harassment.

In Kosovo, transgender people are not allowed to legally change their gender, even when they undergo sex reassignment surgery.

Although abortion is legal up to the 10th week of pregnancy, only 5 out of the 122 gynaecological clinics are permitted by the Ministry of Health to provide abortions, and only one of these clinics is public. Even at this one clinic, posters containing quotes such as: “Abortion is a crime committed by the mother” are displayed.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

While the constitution protects freedoms of expression and the press, it makes exceptions for speech that provokes ethnic hostility. Freedom of assembly is guaranteed by the constitution, but with safeguards for national security and public order.

Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by fines. On April 26 2017, the Justice Ministry proposed the enforcement of articles criminalizing insults and defamation of the president and other senior officials, subject to up to five years imprisonment. Following criticism, the Ministry retracted the proposal.

Direct and indirect political interference remains widespread in the media. The Radio Television of Kosovo (RTK) is financed by taxpayers and governed by a board appointed by the parliament.

The Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AGK) has claimed that government officials, businesses, radical religious groups, and media owners have repeatedly issued verbal threats against journalists and their employers, which frequently result in self-censorship. Due to this, editors have reportedly barred their reporters from publishing or broadcasting stories that are critical of the government.

Journalists occasionally received offers of financial benefits in exchange for positive reporting or for abandoning an investigation.

The AGK estimated more than 20 attacks and threats against media workers in the first months of 2017. However, successful criminal prosecutions of attacks against journalists are rare.

In September 2017, Insajderi, an internet news portal, reported that Assembly member Beke Berisha threatened to kill its editor in chief, Vehbi Kajtazi. The alleged threats related to an article stating that an advisor to the prime minister, Gazmend Syla, had criminal affiliations and that Berisha had been convicted of murdering his neighbor. <state.gov/documents/organization/277425.pdf>

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