Don's diary

August 13, 1999


Learn we have received a grant from the Princess of Wales Memorial Fund for our Children and Armed Conflict Unit. It is a good start to a fortnight to be spent in Kosovo.


Catch the plane from Heathrow to Skopje in Macedonia with two colleagues from the unit. We are off to Kosovo for the third time in a year to monitor the implementation of children's rights. Arrive very late, miss our lift and end up staying in Skopje.


Phone home to be told by my husband there is no point trying to get to Pristina today as Tony Blair will be there and the security will be tight. Ignore him: I am definitely not staying in Skopje for another day. Arrive in Pristina. Meet with agencies to discuss shelter and lack of special food aid for children. Walk into the centre in the early evening. Get stopped by a British K-For armoured vehicle asking us if we know the way to K-For headquarters. The latest must-have fashion for Kosovar children is miniature British army uniforms. Meet American policemen who have just arrived and have nowhere to live. They are handing out sweets to the kids and kissing them. Do they do this at home?


Drive to Peja, the second largest town in Kosovo. Peja is largely burnt. Travel to Lubanic to see a children's project. Of the 200 or so inhabitants of this village, 78 were killed on one day. Clothing worn by the victims still lies where the massacre took place. Many of the children are now orphans. Villagers are exhuming bodies buried in makeshift graves to check the identity of victims. They are surrounded by a gaggle of silent children.


Meet NGOs interested in education. Subjects covered are rehabilitation of school buildings, the need to pay teachers and catch-up classes for children who missed much of the past school year. Virtually all schools are damaged. Spend the rest of the day talking to agencies, K-For and the civil administration about how they incorporate children's rights into planning and delivery of their services. Only two agencies have a copy of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: how lucky for them that we brought lots with us. No water today.


The legal situation for children here is unclear. No one is quite sure which system of law is applicable. Few appear to have a copy of the relevant legislation and codes, let alone an Albanian or English translation. Lawyers are about to be in big demand and children's lawyers are virtually unknown here. I am quickly offered a job at a tax-free salary five times that paid by the university. Sounds a wonderful job and am very tempted for two minutes. Wonder what the children would say when told they are relocating to Pristina. Water back on but no electricity.


Discuss juvenile justice and police training with lawyers and the UN police. UN policy on the criminal justice system does not mention juveniles and nobody seems terribly interested. Confusion is rampant: 70 per cent of the international police sent to Kosovo are unsuitable for the job and have to be sent home. Told there is no children's rights training planned for the police but if we want to come and give them 15 minutes on the subject we are welcome. No water or electricity today - what are the Royal Engineers up to? Carolyn Hamilton is a reader in law, University of Essex and director of the Children's Legal Centre, a national non-governmental organisation, which runs the Children and Armed Conflict Unit jointly with the university's Human Rights Centre.

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