Kosovo wants to join European human rights organization

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The government of Kosovo decided Thursday to apply for membership in the Council of Europe, the continent’s top human rights organization.

The council, which has 46 member nations, already has an office in Kosovo to assist with democratic reforms.

The government said in a statement that the small Balkans country already has ratified the relevant conventions for joining the organization.

“Human rights and elementary freedom are guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo,” the statement said.

A bloody 1998-1999 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’s intervention in the form of a bombing campaign on Serbia ended the war.

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

Media reports say Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has indicated his government would object to the Council of Europe recognizing Kosovo by admitting it as a member. Serbia is a Council of Europe member country.

In November 2015, Kosovo failed to become a member of U.N. cultural organization UNESCO after Belgrade lobbied against the application. But Kosovo joined international soccer body FIFA in May 2016.