Aug 16 2018

The EU’s Contradictory Stance Towards the Kosovo Specialist Chambers

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 Dr Aidan Hehir is a Reader in International Relations at the University of Westminster. He recently completed a project part-funded by Robert Bosch Stifung and in collaboration with the RIT Kosovo “Peace and Conflict Program” examining perceptions of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, and the potential for its proceedings to generate instability in Kosovo. The project comprised a series of workshops held in Pristina as well as interviews with officials from the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, international organisations working on transitional justice (especially in Kosovo and the former Yugoslavia), legal experts, civil society organisations, academics, and journalists.

Pristina, Kosovo/copyright: Shutterstock

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) was established in August 2015; despite initially generating much commentary, the lack of any indictments to date has meant it has become increasingly peripheral, with some already labelling it a “ghost court”.

Yet, while the pace of the process has frustrated many, at some point, indictments willbe issued. Unfortunately, when they are, there is a strong possibility that far from catalysing a new era for Kosovo, the KSC may well inadvertently precipitate instability.

An Important Step?

Transitional justice is predicated on the belief that post-conflict societies must deal with the past in order to move forward. Proponents – such as the EU– argue, that addressing past crimes promotes reconciliation, ensures societal stability and ultimately enables the state to develop robust institutions with popular legitimacy.

When the KSC was established, this was indeed the narrative advanced by the EU and the US; in a joint statement, their Pristina embassies declared the court was “an important step on Kosovo’s Euro-Atlantic path”, that would enable Kosovo to “achieve reconciliation and build a better future.” Yet, the actual means by which the KSC was established were themselves at odds with the EU’s own prescriptions.

Local Ownership

Within the voluminous literature on how to make transitional justice effective, certain core prescriptions repeatedly appear. One relates to the need for local ownership; there is widespread agreement that transitional justice can only be effective – in terms of promoting reconciliation, societal stability and fostering new public confidence in national institutions – if the process is both driven and supported by national authorities, the general public and domestic civil society. As noted by the EU, “Transitional justice can only reach its goals if the process of its design and implementation is nationally and locally-owned…It is essential that the process is initiated and driven by government authorities and local civil society”.

In the case of the KSC, however, the opposite was the case; though established by Kosovo’s parliament and based on Kosovo’s constitution, the court is based in The Hague, staffed by non-Kosovars and more importantly, its creation was driven by external actors. Debates on establishing the court in the Kosovo Assembly were marked by public protests, and MP’s initially rejected the court. It was established only after sustained and overt international pressure, comprising a mixture of threats and incentives.

To the dismay of transitional justice organisations in Kosovo, political figures who spoke in favour of the KSC did so reluctantly and in purely instrumental terms, invariably presenting the court as an unpleasant hurdle that had to be leaped in order to reap certain monetary and geopolitical gains. Indicatively, the then Prime Minister Hashim Thaci supported the court whilst describing it as “the biggest injustice and insult which could be done to Kosovo and its people”. Thaci subsequently declared he only supported the court because he was “under great pressure from the international community”.

Opposition to the court increased in the wake of the formation of a new government in September 2017 comprising a so-called “war wing” coalition of parties linked to the KLA; in December 2017, a group of MPs attempted to revoke the KSC and the effort was abandoned only after more international pressure, with the ‘Quint’ warning of “severe negative consequences”.

Lacking Public Support

A series of interviews and workshops conducted as part of this project, revealed that public support for, and understanding of, the KSC remains low, while many fear the KSC will have a negative impact on societal stability and inter-ethnic relations. Civil society organisations within Kosovo, and throughout the former Yugoslavia, blamed the Government of Kosovo for the court’s limited popular legitimacy and the pervasive lack of public understanding of the KSC’s remit and procedures. The absence of governmental efforts to boost the legitimacy of the court, has meant that its opponents have been free to spread propaganda, further degrading public perceptions of the KSC.

Yet, this can hardly be a surprise; none of Kosovo’s main political parties suggested establishing the court, while the main opposition party Vetëvendosje vociferously opposes it. The current governing coalition have little interest in facilitating the process given their association with the very criminality under examination. Transitional justice organisations noted that the lack of governmental support had left pro-KSC civil society organisations isolated, and vulnerable to intimidation and accusations of “treachery”. This underlying lack of public support for, and understanding of, the KSC is potentially ominous.

Kosovo: An Example to the World?

Since the establishment of UNMIK in 1999, Kosovo has been subjected to various forms of invasive external administration across all sectors; while this has invariably been justified as a means towards “progress” and “reconciliation”, in fact that “the internationals” have treated Kosovo as something of a prop for their own ends. Kosovo has been repeatedly used as a means by which Western actors constitute themselves by initiating ostensibly transformative and progressive processes primarily designed to highlight their own benevolence and capacity rather than improve conditions on the ground in Kosovo. Indicatively, Victoria Nuland, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, heralded Kosovo’s progress towards becoming a place where ‘all ethnicities can live in peace, because not only does the region need that but the planet needs it and Kosovo has an opportunity to set that example.”

In reality, beneath the superficial veneer constructed by its Western sponsors, Kosovo has steadily atrophied; unemployment remains high, corruption is rife, and the public mood has soured due to ongoing delays over visa liberalisation, concessions made to neighbouring states, and recent lukewarm – if not actually negative – feedback from the EU regarding future membership prospects. The underlying widespread societal frustration coupled with the lack of public understanding of, and support for, the KSC revealed through this project, thus creates a potentially toxic context in which future indictments by the KSC will emerge.

While the EU’s own prescriptions on transitional justice stress the need for local ownership, the KSC has in fact been created in a way which runs counter to this advice due to the overriding need to maintain an externally-driven process designed to perpetuate a particular image of Kosovo’s foreign sponsors. The KSC’s proceedings may well explode the international’s narrative, with potentially grave implications for peace and stability in Kosovo. With little existing domestic support for, or ownership of, the court, its indictments – highly emotive as they are given they will challenge the image of the KLA as “heroes”– are likely to precipitate political instability and possibly inter-ethnic animosity; the very opposite of what the court’s external architects promised.

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Mar 2 2016

On different tracks: Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism

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Eli GatevaRomania and Bulgaria both joined the EU in 2007 and became subject to an ad hoc tool created by the European Commission to evaluate the progress of the two countries. Today, however, there is a growing gap between the two states: while European Commission officials have suggested the possibility of Romania graduating out of the mechanism soon, there has been very little progress recorded in Bulgaria. Eli Gateva argues that the questions about how and when the CVM will be ended have overshadowed the debates about its effectiveness and that the recent worrying developments in Poland and Hungary show that a more comprehensive approach to the rule of law is needed.

Laura Codruța Kövesi, Chief of the Romanian National Anti-Corruption Agency (DNA).

Laura Codruța Kövesi, Chief of the Romanian National Anti-Corruption Agency (DNA).

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Nov 30 2015

Views from north Kosovo: the ethnic distance is not getting any closer

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Joanna HansonA recently published report represents the first attempt to assess the views of the citizens in four Serb-majority municipalities in north Kosovo. The goal of the research was to gain insight into the key social and economic issues Kosovo Serbs face. Joanna Hanson provides an analysis, remarking that a lack-of-trust theme runs throughout the report. 

Church in northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, Kosovo. Credit: Tiia Monto / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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Nov 18 2015

Experts react: EU progress reports 2015

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On 10 November, a month later than usual, the European Commission released its annual reports on the progress achieved by EU candidate and potential candidate countries. We asked seven experts in the region to give their responses to the key points raised for each state. (If you are interested in how this compares to last year’s reports, the 2014 expert reactions are available here).

Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement. Credit: Friends of Europe / Flickr (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement. Credit: Friends of Europe / Flickr (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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Oct 6 2015

James Ker-Lindsay on the refugee crisis: “I have never seen the EU so utterly divided and working against the very principles upon which it was built”

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How has the refugee crisis affected countries in South Eastern Europe? In a discussion on the situation in Serbia, Croatia and Hungary, James Ker-Lindsay argues that with no country – Germany included – managing to get all of their moves right, the crisis is proving to be the most divisive issue Europe has so far had to face.

A man carries a 6-day-old child at Horgoš near the Hungary-Serbia border. © Elio Germani 2015 / Politico (published with the permission of the author)

A man carries a 6-day-old child at Horgoš near the Hungary-Serbia border. © Elio Germani 2015 / Politico (published with the permission of the author)

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Jul 7 2015

The Association of Serbian Municipalities: “The Sum of all Fears”

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Joanna HansonSerbs in the North of Kosovo, whose status was at the centre of the 2013 Brussels Agreement, were not a part to the negotiations. Today, their still unclear position is causing “uncertainty, dissatisfaction, distrust and fear” among the community. A recent report has attempted to tell the story through their voices. Joanna Hanson runs through the key points.

Mitrovica city centre: the town is divided by the Ibar river both geographically and politically. North Mitrovica's population is inhabited by 76.6% Serbs, 16.6% Albanians and 6.8% others. Photo by Agron Beqiri, Wikimedia commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

Mitrovica city centre: the town is divided by the Ibar river both geographically and politically. North Mitrovica is inhabited by 76.6% Serbs, 16.6% Albanians. Photo by Agron Beqiri, CC-BY-SA-3.0

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Jul 2 2015

The paradoxical Kosovo ‘special court’ was a guarantee of political stability – that is why the ruling class wanted it

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Andrea Lorenzo CapusselaAndrea Capussela discusses the many paradoxes of Kosovo’s special court, which was supposed to investigate and deliberate upon the serious human rights abuses during and after the 1998-1999 war – and asks six questions. 

 

ICJ – Public Hearing of the “Accordance with International Law of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo”. CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Jun 24 2015

Trouble at the Top: Corruption, anti-corruption, and the battle for political survival

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Dan Brett x 100 option 2The latest corruption scandal in Romania has brought charges against Prime Minister Victor Ponta. Despite calls from President Klaus Iohannis for Ponta to resign, Ponta is so far refusing to go, claiming that the case will be “meticulously dismantled … through clear proof and certified documents”. The scandal threatens to produce another summer of political conflict and polarisation with attention focussed on corruption and internecine political battles rather than economic, social and international issues. Words by Daniel Brett.

Politician and businessman Liviu Dragnea and PM Victor Ponta during the recent floods n Romania - from media.hotenews.ro

Politician and businessman Liviu Dragnea and PM Victor Ponta during the recent floods in Romania – from media.hotenews.ro

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Jun 19 2015

Postcard from Visegrad: five lessons for South East Europe

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wisniewskiSouth East Europe could take inspiration from its Central European neighbours and focus on regional cooperation to boost its talks about Euro-Atlantic integration, Jarosław Wiśniewski suggests. 26 years after the region ‘returned to Europe’ following the first partially free elections in Poland, he outlines five key lessons for the Balkans.

V4+ Western Balkans summit in Bratislava, November 2014. Photo: AFP

V4+ Western Balkans summit in Bratislava, November 2014. Photo: AFP

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