A guiding light: UNMIK helps develop guidelines to implement law on languages – and protect language rights

26 Jun 2023

A guiding light: UNMIK helps develop guidelines to implement law on languages – and protect language rights

Language rights are sometimes huge – and sometimes as small as a door label.

This month a set of guidelines for municipalities were published, based on joint research between UNMIK and IOM Kosovo on the implementation of the Law on Use of Languages. The guidelines are intended to help municipalities overcome shortcomings caused by the lack of multilingual staff, limited availability of interpretation services, and an absence of translated documents.

There are no minor issues in using the languages

Dr Uranella Demaj was one of the experts working on the research and was part of the team to present the findings of the research, conducted in 15 Kosovo municipalities, on 14 June.

"Our research…showed that non-majority communities, particularly Serbian-speakers, face barriers in participating fully in civic life," she said.

Fellow language expert Xhavit Rexhaj encouraged everyone to think about language rights – “not only the institutions”.

"There are no minor issues in using the languages. A door tag in a municipality in official languages is equally important as other issues.”

Joint push for performance evaluation of languages by Language Commissioner and Ombudsperson

Indicators of levels of implementation should be evaluated during performance evaluations for municipalities, the research also recommends.

Kosovo's Language Commissioner Slaviša Mladenović said while most people and authorities alike do not proactively think about language rights they become aware when their rights are breached or not respected.

“Our joint goal [with the Kosovo Ombudsperson Institution] is to promote language rights [and] improve translation, also in close cooperation with CSOs and the media,” he said.

He endorsed the need for performance evaluation of institutions:

“It is crucial to develop indicators to measure the performance of institutions when it comes to the implementation of the Law on Use of Languages.”

Kosovo Ombudsperson Naim Qelaj acknowledged municipalities had to juggle many competing priorities.

"But we have to improve the situation to the point where we can say that the Law is implemented, also in the judicial proceedings, both for Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians who live in the north."

Language rights are a priority

Chief of UNMIK Human Rights Section Jerome Bouyjou said promotion of language rights were part of the mission’s priority to advance human rights in Kosovo.

“It is gratifying to see the continued cooperation between the offices of the Language Commissioner and the Ombudsperson on this topic – jointly I’m sure they will be able to have a real impact on the protection and promotion of language rights,” he said.