"A panel of United Nations human rights advisers urged the global organization more than a year ago to publicly apologize and compensate hundreds of ethnic Roma who were poisoned by lead waste in decrepit camps run by its peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. But it is increasingly unclear whether the Roma, also known as Gypsies, will get even an apology.
A draft statement that would 'sincerely apologize' for the poisoning and other problems that the panel attributed to negligence by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, known as Unmik, has been under revision since March, according to people in and outside the United Nations who are knowledgeable about the deliberations.
Those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were talking about internal United Nations discussions, also said that the precise mechanism and amount of any financial remedy, should there be one, had not been determined.
The main obstacle, they said, was the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs' objections to any language in the statement that could be construed as acknowledging liability...
The issues surrounding the lead poisoning, which affected as many as 500 people in three camps that have long since closed, reflect an underlying tension within the United Nations over grievances from civilians victimized by the organization's operations around the world.
As in the much larger cholera scourge that was traced to infected United Nations peacekeepers in Haiti, the organization's lawyers have tended to resist any acceptance of legal responsibility or mandatory compensation to victims...
The advisory panel found that Unmik had failed to protect Roma families uprooted from their homes and moved into three camps in the northern part of Mitrovica, Kosovo, after war broke out in 1998 between Serbia and ethnic Albanian separatists. All the camps were within 200 yards of industrial waste from a lead-smelting factory.
Although the United Nations realized the families were living on toxic land and health specialists urged their relocation, nothing was done to move the residents for years, even as many - especially older people, expectant mothers and children - were sickened by lead-contaminated soil and dust..."