Kosovo seeks to join Europe’s leading human rights organization

PRISTINA, Kosovo – Kosovo’s government on Thursday formally applied for membership of the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights organization.

Neighboring Serbia, from which Kosovo broke away after a war in the late 1990s and which does not recognize the independence of its former province, has expressed opposition to the bid.

The Council of Europe, or CoE, which has 46 member countries – including Serbia – already has an office in Kosovo to help with democratic reforms.

Kosovo’s government said in a statement that the small Balkan country had already ratified the relevant conventions to join the organization.

“Human rights and basic freedom are guaranteed” by Kosovo’s constitution, the statement said.

Foreign Minister Donika Gervalla-Schwarz handed over the bid at the Council of Europe headquarters in Strasbourg, France.

She said Kosovo is the most “democratic, pro-European and optimistic” country in the region. “This is why Kosovo deserves to be a member of the Council of Europe as soon as possible.”

A bloody 1998-99 conflict between Serbia and ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo, then a Serbian province, left more than 13,000 dead and 1,617 people still missing. NATO intervention in the form of a bombing campaign over Serbia ended the war.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a decision recognized by 117 countries, including the United States and most EU countries. Serbia has refused to recognize Kosovo as a separate nation after 11 years of negotiations negotiated under the aegis of the European Union.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has convened a session of the Council of Europe’s main security body in response to Kosovo’s candidacy. He said Kosovo’s “mentors” in the West were behind the decision, adding that Serbia would respond diplomatically and peacefully.

“We are just a small, freedom-loving country that wants to preserve its sovereignty and the right to make decisions,” he said.

In November 2015, Kosovo failed to become a member of the United Nations cultural organization UNESCO after Belgrade lobbied against the bid. But Kosovo joined the international football organization FIFA in May 2016.

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