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Probe of killing of Kosovo protesters leads to call for UN review of rubber bullets

Probe of killing of Kosovo protesters leads to call for UN review of rubber bullets

The United Nations should review whether rubber bullets should ever be used again for crowd control use on a UN peacekeeping mission, an official tasked with probing the killing by UN police of two pro-independence demonstrators in Kosovo said today.

Robert Dean, the Acting Director of Justice for the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), told journalists in Pristina that the experience of the UN police during the demonstration on 10 February this year showed a “thorough review” was warranted.

Two people were killed that day when members of a Romanian formed police unit (FPU) in UNMIK fired rubber bullets during a rally by the ethnic Albanian Vetëvendosja group, which wants immediate independence for Kosovo, an Albanian-majority Serbian province that has been run by UNMIK since 1999.

The demonstration took place soon after Martti Ahtisaari, the UN envoy for the future status of Kosovo, where Albanians outnumber Serbs and others by nine to one, issued a plan widely seen by both sides as proposing independence under international supervision.

Aside from the call for a review of the use of rubber bullets, Mr. Dean’s just-completed second report into the killings includes six other conclusions and recommendations to avoid a similar situation occurring again.

“We are fully aware that the use of rubber bullets is controversial,” he said during a press briefing. “It is not our intent to defend or condemn the use of rubber bullets in general. Such policy decisions are for criminal justice professionals and experts in crowd control techniques.”

But he said that any review should examine the type and quality of ammunition, the training of police in their proper use, as well as the training on clearly defined decision-making protocols in rubber bullet deployment.

“If rubber bullets are to be available, clear and concise standards understood by all in the chain of command is essential. Particular attention should be paid to how much discretion to give subordinates in this decision.”

Mr. Dean found there had been ambiguity in the authorization to deploy the rubber bullets, a breakdown in the chain of command and in the supervision of the Romanian forced police unit, and ambiguity in the operational order for the day of the demonstration. The ammunition used by the unit was also outdated.

His report further concluded that Romanian domestic law differs from generally accepted international law and guiding UN principles on the use of deadly force and possibly on the use of rubber bullets.

“For instance, Romanian domestic law considers rubber bullets to be non-lethal. That proposition is very debatable. Therefore, attention must be paid to the domestic law of each contributing nation as to deadly force and rubber bullet deployment.

“Specific training protocols for each FPU, no matter where the FPU come from, should be carefully examined to ensure that the deployment will be consistent with UN-approved standards of usage.”

Mr. Dean reiterated the findings of his interim first report, from April, which concluded that the deaths were unjustified and unnecessary and “the facts gave rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal acts within the ranks of the Romanian gunners who fired rubber bullets at the protesters that day.”

But he also found then that there was insufficient evidence to lodge charges against any particular officer in the FPU.