U.S. Department of State: Kosovo facing corruption, interference in judiciary

The U.S. Department of State says that the most significant human rights issues in Kosovo during 2017 included assaults on journalists; violence against displaced persons; endemic government corruption; lack of judicial independence, including failures of due process and selective implementation of decisions; and violence against members of ethnic minorities and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.
The annual U.S Department of State Kosovo report on human rights practices for 2017 emphasizes that the government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Many in the opposition, civil society, and the media believed that senior officials engaged in corruption with impunity.

According to the report the EULEX and domestic prosecutors continued prosecuting war crimes cases arising from the 1998-99 conflict. “As of August EULEX prosecutors were working on 37 war crimes cases. Under the understanding in effect, EULEX may be assigned new cases only in exceptional circumstances, with approval of the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council. The Special Prosecution of the Republic of Kosovo (SPRK) office was, as of August, investigating approximately 104 war crimes cases, of which 44 had been suspended because the alleged perpetrators’ whereabouts were unknown,” it is stated in the report. In the report is mentioned also the December 22, initiative of a group of parliamentarians from the governing coalition to abrogate the law on Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecution Office. “Some parliamentarians reported doing so under instruction from political leaders. The initiative stalled under pressure from opposition leaders and the international community, but supporters continued to push for abrogation through the end of the year. The SPO had not issued any indictments as of year’s end,” it is stated in the report.

In the report are included also the conditions in the prison and dentition centers reporting that these centers met some international standards, but significant problems persisted in penitentiaries, specifically, the lack of rehabilitative programs, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, corruption, exposure to radical religious or political views, and substandard medical care.

The U.S. Department of State report mentioned that Kosovo government, with the help of international forensics experts, continued to investigate the death of Vetevendosje party activist Astrit Dehari, who allegedly committed suicide in prison in 2016. “In September the Kosovo chief state prosecutor announced that the Austrian Internal Affairs Ministry completed the analysis of the video footage of the surveillance cameras in the Prizren Detention Center at the time of Dehari’s death. The analysis found no sign of manipulation of the raw video surveillance footage. The State Prosecutor’s office stated it would further analyze evidence related to this case,” it is stated in the report.

Addressing the issue of fair public trial in the report is mentioned that Kosovo constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary did not always provide due process. “According to the European Commission, NGOs, and the Office of the Ombudsperson, the administration of justice was slow and lacked means of ensuring accountability by judicial officials. Judicial structures were subject to political interference, with disputed appointments and unclear mandates. Efficiency in case resolution improved during the year, but the courts were burdened by a case backlog. During the first six months of the year, the courts resolved 170,000 cases and received 130,000 new ones. According to the Kosovo Judicial Council, 358,135 civil and criminal administrative and commercial cases awaited trial as of July. In addition, 154,596 minor offenses awaited adjudication,” it is stated in the report.

In the report is mentioned also implementation of the Agreement on judiciary in the north. On October 24, the president issued a decree appointing 40 Kosovo Serb judges and 13 prosecutors as agreed under the Dialogue Agreement on the Judiciary. Courts in Mitrovice/a North, which had previously operated under the Serbian judicial system, were recognized as Kosovo courts and began implementing Kosovo law. A backlog of 8,000 civil and criminal cases from the four Serb-majority municipalities, which had been transferred to Vushtrri in 2016, was returned to Mitrovice/a North for processing.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected this right, credible reports persisted that some public officials, politicians, businesses, and radical religious groups sought to intimidate media representatives, according to the report. “The media also encountered difficulties in obtaining information from the government and public institutions as provided by law. An Independent Media Commission regulates broadcast frequencies, issues licenses to public and private broadcasters, and establishes broadcasting policies,” it is concluded in the report.

“Growing financial difficulties of media outlets put the editorial independence of all media at risk. While some self-sufficient media outlets adopted editorial and broadcast policies independent of political and business interests, those with fewer resources sometimes accepted financial support in exchange for positive coverage or for refraining from publishing negative stories harmful to funders’ interests.”

According to the report there were no reports of direct censorship of print or broadcast media; however, journalists claimed that pressure from politicians and organized criminal groups frequently resulted in self-censorship. “Some journalists refrained from critical investigative reporting due to fear for their physical or job security. Journalists occasionally received offers of financial benefits in exchange for positive reporting or for abandoning an investigation. According to the AJK, government officials, as well as suspected criminals, verbally threatened journalists for perceived negative reporting. According to some editors, government agencies and corporations withdrew advertising from newspapers that published material critical of them,” it is stated in the report.

According to the report freedom of movement across the Austerlitz Bridge connecting Mitrovica North and South was impeded despite a 2016 agreement between the prime ministers of Kosovo and Serbia to open the bridge. North Mitrovica’s mayor halted reconstruction work on the northern side of the main bridge in April citing security reasons and a rise in interethnic incidents. As of September work had not resumed. The Austerlitz Bridge remained open to pedestrians and other bridges connecting Mitrovica North and South remained fully open.

In the report it is stated that Kosovo Serbs in four northern municipalities were not able to register births, marriages, or divorces and thus obtain official government documents because their existing documents of life events were registered only under the government of Serbia’s parallel system. During the year the government worked to establish civil registry offices in Kosovo-Serb majority areas in the north of the country, although they struggled to open them and implement a new arrangement to permit registration. At the end of 2016, the Civil Registration Agency announced that citizens who had previously been registered in the country’s system could renew identification cards, passports, drivers licenses, and vehicle registrations in Zubin Potok, Leposaviq, Zvecan, and Mitrovica, all Serb-majority municipalities.

According to the findings of the report the law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively and corruption remained a serious problem. “A lack of effective judicial oversight and general weakness in the rule of law contributed to the problem. Corruption cases were routinely subject to repeated appeal, and the judicial system often allowed statutes of limitation to expire without trying cases,” is concluded in the report. In the report are mentioned also data on violation of children’s rights, forced marriages, sexual exploration of children, as well as violation of rights of the LGBTI community.

Human remains found in Gjakove may belong to Kosovo Serbs killed during the war

Human remains of at least three people discovered in a targeted alleged mass grave near Gjakova, may belong to Kosovo Serbs who were killed during the war, Kosovo TV channel KTV has learned.
Tarja Formisto, Deputy Director of EULEX’s Department of Forensic Medicine (DFM) confirmed to KTV that they have exhumed remains of three peoples who are suspected to have been killed during Kosovo war in 1998-99. “The first indications are that the remains belong to victims killed during the last war in Kosovo. Their ethnicity and other details will be set after the DNA analysis. Currently, we have discovered three bodies and this is all what I can confirm for the time being, the excavation is ongoing and I cannot make further comments. Everything will be explained next week after finishing the work,” said Formisto. The excavation of the site on Friday was supervised also by government commissions on missing persons of both Kosovo and Serbia. The excavations at the site will continue also next week.

Positive signals for Kosovo ahead of EU-WB6 Summit

All EU member countries have agreed to a draft statement ahead of the EU-Western Balkans Summit which will be held in Sofia on 17 May, overcoming internal disagreements related mainly to Kosovo.
Radio Free Europe (RFE) reports that on 19 April the EU ambassadors agreed with the content of the draft statement which will be sent to the six Western Balkan countries expected to attend the summit, including Kosovo. According to RFE Kosovo’s presence has complicated the work on drafting of a joint statement because of the five EU members which did not recognize Kosovo’s independence: Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain. EU diplomats told RFE that some of the EU members were not happy that the document was called as “statement” preferring more the document be labeled as “Conclusions of the Bulgarian Presidency”, or proposing drafting of a single statement on behalf of the EU institutions by excluding the six Western Balkan countries. In the EU’s draft the six Western Balkan countries will not be mentioned individually, but in the statement are referred only as “partners” instead of “countries” or “states”. This was done primarily to avoid complications related to Kosovo’s statehood, RFE reports.

Kosovo Serb leader says Association ‘stronger’ than Republika Srpska

Mayor of Mitrovica North and head of Srpska List, Goran Rakic, said that they informed Vienna and Berlin that the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities in Kosovo will be established in compliance with the Brussels agreement.
“The Community of Serbian municipalities will be established as soon as possible,” Rakic told journalists in Mitrovica North. He sent a message to Albanians in Kosovo that the Community of Serbian Municipalities does not pose any threat for other communities, Belgrade news agency Beta reports. “We informed our interlocutors in Vienna and Berlin that the Community of Serbian Municipalities will not be like Republika Srpska but it will be stronger than Republic Srpska in the economic sense, we will bring new investors, open new jobs and strengthen all ten Serb-run municipalities in Kosovo,” Rakic said.

Visa liberalisation confirmation before summer recess, says Kosovo PM Haradinaj

Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj addressing Parliament on Friday said that the European Union will confirm visa liberalisation for Kosovo before summer recess.
“I am convinced that visa free regime will happen. I think before summer recess it will be confirmed,” when Kosovo citizens will be able to travel without visas in the EU Schengen area said Haradinaj. The European Commission has recommended last year visa liberalisation for Kosovo under condition to fulfil the two remaining criteria – ratification of the Agreement on border demarcation with Montenegro, and fighting organised crime and corruption. The Parliament of Kosovo has ratified las month the disputed Agreement on demarcation with Montenegro almost three years after its signing. The EC in its report published on Tuesday concluded that Kosovo has stagnated in many fields, including in the rule of law. A fact-gathering EU mission is set to visit Kosovo in May to assess whether Kosovo has marked progress in fighting high level organised crime and corruption which is the last criteria for Kosovo to get visa free regime.

Haradinaj answering to criticism of MPs on findings of the European Commission Report on Kosovo published on Tuesday said that the report asks a thorough analysis in order to address all the recommendations. “We have drafted an operational plan on how to address these challenges deriving from the report. This issue will be discussed during Monday’s meeting of Government,” he said.

Djuric to visit Kosovo today with Pristina’s permission

Head of Serbia’s Office for Kosovo, Marko Djuric, will be visiting Kosovo today to attend a political activity in Mitrovica North.
Kosovo Ministry of Internal Affairs has granted Marko Djuric the permission to attend a political activity in Mitrovica North inhabited mainly by Serbs. Djuric will be accompanied by Permanent Secretary of Serbia’s President Office, Nikola Selakovic. Djuric and Selakovic are expected to arrive in Kosovo at around 11:00 and will be escorted by the Kosovo Police to Mitrovica North, when they will attend a meeting at the University Centre hall in Mitrovica North.

Marko Djuric was arrested and deported on 26 March by the special police after challenging Kosovo authorities ban to enter Kosovo territory.

President Thaci not afraid of Special Court

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci in an interview with the TV7 program ‘Pressing’ hosted by Leonard Kerquki, said that he is not afraid of the Kosovo Special Court which will deal with alleged crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Thaci who was political representative of the KLA during Kosovo 1998-99 Kosovo war said that they have nothing to hide from this international tribunal based at The Hague.
“We have nothing to hide from the Special Court,” he said when asked whether he expects an indictment will be filed against him. “I was not afraid during the war and I am not afraid now. I survived the war and I believe I will survive this,” he said. Asked whether he has been interviewed by the Special Court investigators Thaci answered briefly “No!’. He also said that he does not know when the first indictments will be filed. “We have no information on filing of the indictments. Everything what was stated is pure speculation,” he said referring to the media reports that he will be one of the indictees for his role in the KLA during and righter after the war in Kosovo.

The Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecution Office will deal with the cases deriving from the Special Investigative Task Force (SITF) report published in 2014, which said that unnamed KLA officials carried out a “campaign of persecution” against Serbs, Roma and some Kosovo Albanians. Alleged crimes include killings, abductions, illegal detentions and sexual violence. The SITF report was commissioned after the Council of Europe published an inquiry in 2011 which alleged that some senior Kosovo officials, including President Thaci, were responsible for various human rights abuses. International judges and prosecutors staff the new court, although it operates under Kosovo’s laws. In December last year Kosovo MPs launched an initiative asking abrogation of the law which was harshly criticised by international community. Media reported that the initiative was secretly backed by Thaci. Later Thaci changed his mind and said that Kosovo remains committed to its international obligations including the implementation of the Law on Specialist Chambers which was approved by Kosovo Parliament.

Kosovo President: Arrest of Gulenists was wrong

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci in a televised interview for T7 admitted for the first time that the arrest and deportation of the six Turkish men suspected of their links with Fetullah Gulen’s movement was wrong. Thaci has earlier publicly endorsed the extraditions, saying the six Turks were a danger to the fledgling country’s national security.
“This process should not have happened under any circumstances. The action against them was wrong. Relevant mechanisms should explain in details of what has happened with the deportation of the Turkish men,” Thaci said contradicting his earlier public stance. President Thaci also disagreed with as he said opinions of Turkish president Erdogan addressed against Kosovo PM Ramush Haradinaj. Erdogan on 31 March had warned that Haradinaj would “pay” after he dismissed his interior minister and intelligence chief for deporting without his permission six Turks with ties to the movement of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan blames for a failed coup attempt against his government.

Thaci said that he finds Erdogan’s statements “unnecessary.”

“I don’t agree with the opinions addressed towards Kosovo leadership. Kosovo is not a place neither for Gulenism, nor Erdoganism,” said Thaci.

The six Turkish nationals were arrested in Kosovo in March at Turkey’s request over alleged links to schools financed by the Gulen movement, which Ankara blames for a failed 2016 coup. Following the arrest and deportation Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj sacked his interior minister and secret service chief for failing to inform him about the arrests.

Kosovo Serbs abandon plan to form ‘Association’ unilaterally

Srpska List, a political entity representing Serbian community in local and central institutions of Kosovo, gave up threats to form the Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities in their own on 20 April, as announced earlier.
Srpska List representatives held a meeting on Thursday with the Managerial Team on drafting the statute of the Association, which was established by the Government of Kosovo. During the meeting Srpska List representative, Igor Simic, said that they are open to discuss any solution when it comes to creation of the Association, as foreseen by the Agreement reached between Kosovo and Serbia during the EU-facilitated dialogue in Brussels. “Many have expected that we today to act as Serbs usually act – heart before brain,” said Simic, adding that this time they will decide wisely in order to prevent anybody blaming Serbs for taking unilateral decisions. “When we waiting for five years, we can wait for additional three and a half months,” said Simic, citing Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic who on Wednesday in Belgrade made the same remarks. Simic said that Managerial Team tasked to draft the statute of the Association will work based on the Brussels Agreement.

Kosovo authorities have established the Managerial Team as the first step on implementing the original Agreement reached in 2013 between Kosovo and Serbia in Brussels and pledged that the Association will be in compliance with Kosovo laws and without executive powers. Serbs are hoping the Association of the ten Serb-run municipalities in Kosovo will have extended authorities. The principles of the deal on Association agreed during EU-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia dialogue in Brussels in August 2015 stipulate that Kosovo Serbs should have full “oversight” over economic development, education, healthcare, urban and rural planning, with budgetary contributions coming directly from Serbia. In exchange, the municipalities would agree to full integration into Kosovo.

Jack wakes up with a black eye and hangover, finds wife’s strange note and starts to cry

You should always be careful with alcohol. If you happen to drink too much, odds are that you’ll do something that you’ll regret in the morning. Or even worse, you could do something absolutely amazing and forget about it right afterwards…

I found this story earlier today and I just had to share it with you. The man wakes up with a disfigured face, and only remembers fragments of the previous night. What happens next is… well, I won’t spoil the ending for you!

A married man, Jack wakes up with a huge hangover after a night out drinking with the boys.

He doesn’t even remember how he got home from the party.

“Oh, damn,” he thinks to himself, wondering if he did something wrong the night before.

Jack had to force himself to open his eyes, and the first thing he sees is a couple of aspirins next to a glass of water on the nightstand.
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Jack sits up and sees his clothing in front of him, all clean and pressed.

He takes the aspirins, and then cringes when he sees a huge black eye staring back at him in the bathroom mirror.

Then he notices a note hanging on the corner of the mirror written in red with little hearts on it and a kiss mark from his wife in lipstick: “Dear husband, last night you came home drunk and made a huge racket. But don’t worry! Breakfast is on the stove. I left early to get groceries to make your favorite dinner tonight. I love you, darling!
Love, Jillian”

He stumbles into the kitchen and sure enough, there is hot breakfast, steaming hot coffee, and the morning newspaper all waiting for him. His son is also at the table, eating.

Jack asks, “Son… what happened last night?”

The truth is revealed

“Well, you came home after three in the morning, drunk and out of your mind. You fell over the coffee table and broke it, and then you threw up in the hallway, and got that black eye when you ran into the door.”

Confused, he asks his son, “So, why is your mother in such a good mood, and why is there breakfast on the table waiting for me?”

His son replies, “Oh THAT! Well, when Mom dragged you to the bedroom, and tried to take your pants off, you screamed, ’Leave me alone, I’m married! I’m married!’”

Jack was so relieved that he started crying!

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