World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Concern on outbreaks of violence in Kosovo

29 March 2004

Joint letter from the World Council of Churches and the Conference on European Churches
to Mr Harri Holkeri, Special Representative of the Secretary General, United Nations
Interim Administration in Kosovo, 29 March, 2004

Dear Mr Holkeri,

We write on behalf of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Conference
of European Churches (CEC) concerning the recent tragic events in Kosovo, and
their implications for stability and peace-building throughout the Balkan region.

The background to our concern is the close and long-standing involvement of our
organizations, in partnership with the religious communities in the region and
church-related humanitarian agencies from Europe and the wider world, in promoting
peace and reconciliation throughout the Balkans.

We have also, throughout this period, regarded the role of UNMIK and the
internationally-provided instruments at its disposal as being of crucial importance
in securing the immediate security needs of all communities in Kosovo, and
in providing a framework for its continuation as a multi-ethnic community. It
was this recognition which prompted the secretariats of WCC and CEC to write
on 16 August, 2002 to the-then Special Representative of the UN Secretary-
General, Mr Michael Steiner, expressing our concern at what was even then happening
in Kosovo. That letter included the following two paragraphs:

The deliberate attacks on the churches and holy places of the Serbian Orthodox Church
occurring in Kosovo and Metohija at this time are a painful and scandalous manifesta-
tion of the extremism and instability affecting parts of this region. We condemn these and
all acts of violence and destruction, and remember with sadness all those, from all communities,
who have fallen victim of extremism and intolerance in recent years. These attacks
are a major obstacle to the hope of a normalization of inter-communal relations in the

This situation also reflects the inadequacy of the international protection provided by
the interim authorities, including the UNMIK, in Kosovo to the minority communities,
and particularly to the Serbian community. We appeal to you and to the responsible authorities
in Kosovo to ensure effective security and justice for all the peoples and the protection
of their spiritual and cultural inheritance in Kosovo.

It is with great pain that we find it now necessary to repeat these sentiments
and appeals, the more so as the recent events have been even more serious in nature
and scale: the damage to or destruction of eighteen churches and monasteries, as
reported to us by the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church; the loss of life
and injuries suffered by many citizens especially in the Serbian community; and
the evictions of many families, following the destruction of their homes, who will
now join more than 200,000 displaced persons still awaiting their return to Kosovo
after the conflict of 1999.

We are relieved to hear reports that, with the strengthening of the presence of
security forces in Kosovo, the situation is now calmer, and we especially wish to
reaffirm the vital role of UNMIK, in both its administrative and security aspects,
in an exceedingly difficult context. At the same time, we wish to emphasize certain
points as follows, and urge their importance not only for the United Nations
but also for NATO and the European Union.

First, whatever the exact sequence of events which prompted the recent outbreak
of violence, the extreme continuing fragility of society in Kosovo has been
made clear five years after the international community took action in 1999. The
failure to see and prevent the latest tragedy must not be downplayed in the desire
to see a speedy return to "normality" which, in all likelihood, is bound to be superficial.

This must be a matter of serious reflection for all concerned at the international
level. The military action undertaken by NATO in 1999 was justified to
the international community as necessary to counter ethnic oppression and violence
in Kosovo being instigated by the-then Yugoslav Government. In keeping
with the fundamentals of that commitment, it is incumbent on the authorities
to ensure the multi-ethnic character of Kosovo and provide protection to its minority

Second, in addition to the suffering of the people, the deliberate attacks on religious
buildings that have tremendous sentimental value for the people of the
region are of special significance. Throughout Europe, churches and other sacred
buildings are cherished both as places of worship for believers and as beautiful
historic sites appreciated by people at large. In the Balkan region, however, they
have even more special significance: they symbolize the very identity of a com-
munity and its right to live freely and to flourish in a particular place. Any attack
on such buildings is bound to be construed as an expulsion order.

Third, we appreciate the responsible and firm manner in which UNMIK and
KFOR personnel have acted to defuse tension and conflict and restore normalcy
in the recent crisis. Our concern is that international organizations and the governments
in whose name they act should ensure that adequate resources are made
available for them to fulfill their mandate. At a time when much of the international
attention is focusing on serious situations elsewhere in the world, not least
the Middle East, it is perhaps understandable that Kosovo and the Balkans as a
whole now seem to present less of a threat to peace, and a less urgent call on
resources. This would be seriously to misunderstand the situation. Kosovo not
only remains a delicate and explosive scene in itself, but carries with it much
wider implications. A failure to prevent further conflict and to build peace here
would be interpreted in other situations as giving licence to resort to violence,
without let or hindrance by the international community.

Fourth, as WCC and CEC we are keenly aware of the immense investment -
human and material - which has been made in Kosovo and the region in recent
years by non-governmental organizations, relief and development agencies (churchrelated
and others), peace-building organizations and the churches themselves.

They have a vital role in the building of a civil society incorporating the values
of respect for human dignity, tolerance, participation and democracy, without
which there can be no stable and peaceful future. This can only be a long, difficult
and complex process. Many in this constituency of service have been dismayed
by recent events which they fear will have damaging consequences for
much of what they have achieved thus far, and will make their future efforts even
more challenging. It is vital that they be given the confidence that in Kosovo
they have a continuing and strengthened framework of stability and security such
as can only be provided by an adequate and effective UNMIK.

Finally, the recent events have shown how little progress has been made towards
an acceptable political solution for Kosovo. We are aware that this is an exceedingly
difficult and complex issue, and that there are at the moment a number of
alternatives being proposed, none of which appear to be acceptable to all parties
involved. The recent events, it is to be feared, will have deepened mistrust and
antagonism still further. As representative organizations comprising churches
which are communities of faith, however, we appeal to all actors in the political
process, both in the region and in the international community, not to yield to
despair. In particular we ask that religion, which too often in this context is seen
as a factor making for antagonism, be viewed for the potential it can offer for reconciliation,
and that the religious communities in the region be taken seriously
as partners in long-term peace-building. Our organizations will, therefore, be
doing whatever they can to encourage and enable the Serbian Orthodox Church
and other churches to play their role in promoting a spirit of dialogue within
which a constructive political process can develop.

We thank you for your attention to this letter, and assure you that your demanding
and vital work is accompanied by our prayers and good wishes.

Rev. Dr Keith Clements, CEC General Secretary
Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, WCC General Secretary