United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The United Nations on Friday expressed regret after hundreds of displaced people in Kosovo were exposed to lead poisoning in UN-run camps and said it will establish a trust fund to help them.
The announcement followed a report by a human rights panel on complaints from 138 ethnic Roma, Askhali and Egyptians who suffered from health problems after they were relocated to the UN camps in northern Kosovo following the 1998-1999 war.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres "wishes to express the organization?s profound regret for the suffering endured by all individuals living in the IDP (internally displaced persons)camps," said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.
"In view of the unique circumstances in Kosovo, the secretary-general has decided, as an exceptional measure, to establish a trust fund," he said.
No figure was announced for the fund that will finance community projects in those areas of Kosovo affected by the lead poisoning: north Mitrovica, south Mitrovica and Leposaviae.
The decision was condemned by Human Rights Watch which said the United Nations was refusing to take responsibility for the harm it had caused to the displaced in Kosovo.
"By creating an unfunded trust fund for community assistance projects, instead of individual compensation for victims of its own negligence, the UN is selling the victims of lead poisoning at its camps in Kosovo short," said Louis Charbonneau, HRW's UN director.
"Dodging responsibility for the suffering of lead poisoning victims only serves to undercut attempts to make the UN more accountable for its own failures."
The panel looking into the UN camps, which were demolished in 2010, presented its final report last year in which it found that "there had been failures to uphold human rights standards," said the UN spokesman.
The UN mission in Kosovo was set up at the end of the war in 1999 and helped govern it until Kosovo's 2008 independence.
The United Nations will now turn to member-states to provide contributions to the fund at a time when the world body is struggling to raise money for several humanitarian appeals.
A similar fund to help Haiti deal with an outbreak of cholera introduced by UN peacekeepers has fallen far short of its $400 million goal.
Former UN chief Ban Ki-moon apologized for the cholera epidemic in Haiti but the United Nations has refused to acknowledge responsibility out of concern that it would be exposed to lawsuits.