Criticism as EU justice mission leaves Kosovo

Kosovo Albanians show support for jailed ex-Kosovo Liberation Army commander Sylejman Selimi, sentenced for torturing prisoners, and opposition to the EU-backed court that tried former fighters with varying degrees of success
AFP

Pristina (AFP) – As an EU judicial mission prepares to leave Kosovo, the assessments of its decade-long mandate are mixed — hailed by officials but criticised by the public.

The EU’s rule of law mission (EULEX) that will cease its judicial operations on June 14 was set up in December 2008, 10 months after Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia.

Spending several hundred million euros over the decade, hundreds of judges and police officers served with EULEX, the political bloc’s largest civilian mission ever.

They were dealing with some of the most serious crimes committed during and after Kosovo’s 1998-1999 war between ethnic Albanian guerillas and Serb forces, the fight against corruption and organised crime as well as boosting citizen confidence in the judiciary.

“I have every reason to be dissatisfied with EULEX,” said 46-year-old Silvana Marinkovic, an ethnic Serb.

Her husband Goran was abducted in the aftermath of the war and his fate, like those of about 1,600 other people, still remains unknown.

“They did not even try to solve my problem,” she told AFP.

– ‘Visible legacy’ –

Alexandra Papadopoulou, a Greek diplomat tasked with winding up EULEX’s mandate, defended what she described as a “visible legacy in Kosovo with many achievements that are evident”.

European judges delivered over 648 verdicts, including for corruption, organised crime, money laundering, war crimes and human trafficking, she said.

The authorities share her assessment of EULEX’s achievements.

“It has been a worthy decade for Kosovo,” President Hashim Thaci said. “Kosovo institutions have benefited greatly from cooperation with EULEX.”

Even so, Kosovo is ranked only 85th out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perception index, above Albania and below Serbia, albeit up from 110 in 2014.

In its latest report the European Commission said “corruption is widespread and remains an issue of concern” for the country of 1.8 million people.

The Zeri newspaper referred sarcastically to EULEX’s initial pledge to tackle “big fish”, saying the mission eventually remained a “mission of small fishes”.

Of three key ethnic Albanian rebel leaders who were put on trial, Sami Lushtaku and Fatmir Limaj were acquitted of war crimes charges, while Sylejman Selimi was sentenced to eight years in jail for torturing prisoners.

Among unsolved cases is the assassination of prominent journalist Xhemail Mustafa, who was shot dead at his home in 2000.

In his columns, the former advisor to late president Ibrahim Rugova had denounced violence committed by Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrillas against opponents.

For his daughter Beriane Mustafa, EULEX is “completely a failed mission”.

“It is not clear to me how it is possible that an EU mission with all those resources has failed to solve any of these murders,” Mustafa, 36, told AFP, referring to a series of post-war political assassinations.

– No wartime rape punished –

Kosovo’s war claimed 13,000 lives.

But EULEX eventually solved only 25 war crimes cases, according to the Humanitarian Law Centre rights watchdog.

“Despite systematic rape numbering thousands of victims committed by the Serbian security forces, there was no one single case solved and perpetrator punished,” it said in a statement to AFP.

“EULEX is a failure… a very good idea, but it was very badly implemented,” said Andrea Capussela.

Capussela, a former top official of the International Civilian Office (ICO), an international body charged with helping Kosovo function in its first independence years, wrote a book on the issue — “State-building in Kosovo: Democracy, Corruption and the EU in the Balkans.”

“All available indicators suggest that over the 10 years of EULEX mandate the rule of law has not strengthened in Kosovo but even seems to have weakened.”

He blamed “managerial incompetence and opportunism, and a political preference for not upsetting the status quo”.

Although they have not been proven, several corruption allegations targeting EULEX judges did not improve the mission’s image among local population.

“It would have been better if Europe had invested this enormous amount money in the creation of jobs,” said Jonuz Muftiu, a retired lawyer.

However, Papadopoulou argued that her mission was “never to solve with a magic wand all Kosovo problems on the rule of law in just a few years”.

Ariana Qosja, a researcher at local think-tank KIPRED, said shee was pessimistic about the outcome of unfinished EULEX investigations now being transferred to the local judiciary.

In Kosovo, she said, the “judiciary continues to be under political directives”.

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