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The UN resettled 600 Roma to a mining/smelting complex exposing them to lead poisoning, Kosovo

Trepça is a mining complex with lead tailings in contact with drinking water. The United Nations Administration (UNMIK) housed 600 Roma refugees there, exposing them to years of lead poisoning by air, water, and soil.


Between 1999 and 2013, the UN housed approximately 600 members of Roma, Ashkali and Balkan Egyptian families, displaced during the Kosovo conflict, in camps constructed on lead-contaminated toxic wasteland. The camps were established close to the Trepça industrial complex, containing a lead smelter and three tailing ponds of waste. The facility was known to be the source of lead contamination and other forms of toxic pollution in the area since the 1970s. Reports of lead poisoning among residents of the camp were available as early as 1999, and protective measures to prevent lead exposure were taken for peacekeeping soldiers in 2000. Preventative measures for the Roma residents were not taken until 2006, which were still deemed insufficient by the World Health Organization as late as 2009. Lead poising is believed to have contributed to the death of several children and adults [11]. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:The UN resettled 600 Roma to a mining/smelting complex exposing them to lead poisoning, Kosovo
State or province:Kosovska Mitrovica
Location of conflict:Mitrovica
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Other
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Tailings from mines
Metal refineries
Specific commodities:Lead
Industrial waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The proximity of Trepça mining and smelting complex and the poor living conditions in the camps for 14 years indicated a clear and long exposure to lead. The UNMIK, that was the effective civil authority in Kosovo from 1999 to 2008, placed the Roma in need on a heavily contaminated and dangerous ground [7]. The UN estimated that the cost of 2,4 million euros for moving the Roma to a safe and healthy environment is too high, and therefore decided they should remain on the lead contaminated mining complex [6] [7]. Only about 200 individuals were resettled 150 m away from the core source of lead contamination- in the UN's military base [7].

Level of Investment for the conflictive project2,400,000
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:600
Start of the conflict:01/01/1999
Relevant government actors:United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:-The Open Society Roma Initiatives Office.
- European Roma Research Center (ERRC)
tests conducted by the World Health Organisation in 2004
Himan Rights Watch actively reported on the case trough media
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
Reaction stageLATENT (no visible resistance)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills, Soil erosion
Potential: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Noise pollution, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths
Potential: Accidents, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights
Potential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Proposal and development of alternatives:International aid organizations: Open Society Foundations and European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) have been confronted with an abundance of challenges in attempting to move the Roma away from the toxic campsites. Many Roma lack the birth certificates and citizenship documents necessary to obtain jobs, housing permits, and permission to move freely outside of the camps [3]. A criminal complaint filed with the Kosovo prosecutor in September 2005 against unknown perpetrators alleging criminal neglect resulting in prolonged exposure to a highly toxic environment did not result in an investigation [7]. A complaint filed by the international NGO the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) in February 2006 with the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of Roma IDPs was ruled inadmissible on the ground that the court lacked jurisdiction over UNMIK-administered Kosovo [7]. The ERRC then started a campaign following a damning report published by the Human Rights Advisory Panel in 2016. This panel called on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to publicly acknowledge its abject failure to comply with applicable human rights standards and apologise to Roma placed in lead contaminated camps, and to compensate victims for material and moral damage [4]. In 2016, the Human Rights Advisory Panel (HRAP) of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) released an opinion on the case [11]. The opinion concluded that numerous articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child were violated by UNMIK. Among the human rights identified by the Advisory Panel as being violated were the rights to life, freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, health, respect for private and family life, an adequate standard of living, and suffered discrimination. Numerous violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child were identified, including exploitation. The HRAP found that for many years, UNMIK failed to make sufficient efforts to relocate the displaced families despite awareness of serious risk to the internally displaced community’s health and wellbeing from the toxic contamination present in the camps. HRAP recommended that UNMIK make a public apology to the victims and their families, as well as take appropriate steps towards payment of adequate individual compensation for both material and moral damage to 138 members of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities who resided in the camps from 1999 [11]. Then in 2019, 55 Members of the European Parliament wrote to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, expressing dismay at the UN’s failure to remedy harm inflicted on ethnic minorities in Kosovo. The letter urges the Secretary General “to ensure that the victims of widespread lead poisoning at UN-run camps in Kosovo receive individual compensation, adequate health care and educational support” [9]. In 2019, the UNMIK expressed “profound regret” that hundreds of Roma [including Ashkali and Balkan Egyptian] were poisoned by lead waste while living in camps run by the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. Yet the UNMIK did not offer an apology or individual compensations [8].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The 14 years of continuous failure of UNMIK and its international partners to find a durable solution for the Roma of the camps constitute multiple human rights violations, including of the right to life; the prohibition of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; the right to health, including medical treatment; the right to a healthy environment; and the right to adequate housing. This failure is the subject of growing international criticism, including from UN human rights bodies and experts [7]. “Decades ago, UNMIK did not fulfil its mandate to promote and protect the rights of these children and their families,” the Special Rapporteur said.” Nothing will replace what these victims have lost, but now (2019) the United Nations has an opportunity to do what it can to atone for past mistakes" [10]. According to recent testimonies, many of those affected, including children, are still experiencing a myriad of health problems, including seizures, kidney disease, and memory loss – all common long-term effects of lead poisoning [11].
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

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[1] Wikipedia: Trepča Mines
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[1] Wikipedia: Trepça Mines
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[2] Twenty years later, the Trepča mines of Kosovo

[2] Toxic Leaks 2019: Twenty years later, the Trepča mines of Kosovo
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[3] Open Society Foundations 2009: We Are Roma
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[6] VQR 2010: Here Everything is Poison by J. Malcolm Garcia, Photography by Darren McCollester
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[6] Here Everything is Poison
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[7] Human Rights Watch 2009. Kosovo: Poisoned by Lead.
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[8] The New York Times: U.N. Offers Regret but No Compensation for Kosovo Poisoning Victims
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[9] Human Rights Watch 2019: EU Legislators Urge UN to Compensate Kosovo Lead Poisoning Victims
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[10] UN News 2019: UN must provide redress for minorities placed in toxic Kosovo camps, says rights expert
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[10] UN News 2019:
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[11]United Nations Human Rights: Lead contamination Kosovo* – Dialogue with UN Secretary General
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[11]United Nations Human Rights 2019: Lead contamination Kosovo* – Dialogue with UN Secretary General
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Meta information
Contributor:Ksenija Hanaček ICTA-UAB
Last update21/09/2019
Conflict ID:4731
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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