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Page last updated at 13:35 GMT, Thursday, 23 July 2009 14:35 UK

Kosovo let down by failing judiciary

By Paul Moss
Radio 4's The World Tonight

Francesco Florit (left) and Hamdi Ibrahimi
Francesco Florit (left) says witnesses are often reluctant to speak the truth

Watching Francesco Florit in action, it is hard not to be impressed.

For a start, this judge from the north-east of Italy is speaking Albanian, apparently with some fluency.

He has been learning the language for less than a year, but more impressive still is the task he faces.

Mr Florit volunteered to work for Eulex, the European Union's justice mission in Kosovo.

At the central criminal court in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, he trains and mentors local judges, trying to help them operate more efficiently, and also more fairly.

It is a challenging environment.

"Witnesses come before the court, but very often they are reluctant to speak the truth, because they are threatened," he says.

"And they have a loyalty to their clan which is stronger than what they feel towards society in general."

Intimidation

One of the Kosovan judges whom Mr Florit is mentoring acknowledges this problem.

But Hamdi Ibrahimi makes it clear that witnesses are not the only ones who face intimidation.

Eulex police officers on the Kosovo border (2008)
The main aim of Eulex is to strengthen the rule of law in Kosovo

"We judges are dealing with organised crime, war crimes, and cases of ethnic conflict," Mr Ibrahimi says.

"In most of these cases, local judges cannot take part, because of the lack of security. It's a fact that we - judges and prosecutors - we are not safe here in Kosovo."

Intimidation of judges was just one of the problems highlighted by a Eulex report on the state of Kosovo's justice system that was published on Thursday.

It warned that there was also political influence on the appointment of judges, and that they were not held sufficiently accountable.

The report said a "daunting array of reforms" within Kosovo's judiciary were required, but added that prosecutors too were subject to intimidation and other forms of pressure.

'No justice'

Claims like this come as no surprise to ordinary people in Kosovo, whose cynicism about their legal system is well-documented.

People thought that after we declared independence that, all of-a-sudden, things were going to improve overnight automatically
Shpent Ahmeti
Institute of Advanced Studies

Recent research by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), found that Kosovans have less faith in their judiciary than in any other public body.

"What's the point of having a state if you don't have justice?" one businessman asked rhetorically, adding that if you knew people working in the system, you could easily "buy" them.

The owner of a private school concurred.

"Being a new country, it's the rule of law that gives direction to the whole way we develop," he said. "A lot of work has not been done."

Of course, a failed justice system would be a source of grievance for any population. However, Kosovo's recent history makes it a particularly sore point.

A man walks past anti-EULEX Graffiti in Kosovo
Many ordinary people in Kosovo are suspicious of Eulex

It is only a year since it unilaterally declared independence from Serbia, and only 10 since the ethnic Albanian population fought a bitter war against the authorities in Belgrade.

There are war crimes cases outstanding, as well as more basic litigation concerning property that was allegedly stolen during the conflict.

So the fact that the justice system does not function properly is seen as a major indictment of the way this country is run.

Part of the problem is raised expectations.

"Every little problem we had, we used to blame it on the lack of independence", says Shpent Ahmeti of Albania's Institute of Advanced Studies.

"People thought that after we declared independence that, all of a sudden, things were going to improve overnight automatically."

'Long-term mission'

And when it comes to the state of the justice system, the editor of one of Kosovo's leading newspapers, Koha Ditore, believes the problems are particularly deep-rooted, and so will take a particularly long time to change.

Agron Bajrami
If we really want this mission to succeed, it will take ten years, or even more
Agron Bajrami
Editor, Koha Ditore

Agron Bajrami argues that the dilapidated justice system is a result of the way Kosovo's Albanian population was treated when the territory was part of Serbia.

"Kosovo Albanians were driven out of their jobs. They were not part of the legal system, so, as a result, judges and prosecutors didn't work for 10 years. This makes their experience quite questionable."

Mr Bajrami believes that the Eulex mentoring system can improve the situation here, but not any time soon.

"It can and should help," he says, but then adds a crucial plea to the EU not to lose interest in the project.

"This will take more than a couple of years. If we really want this mission to succeed, it will take 10 years, or even more," he adds.

Asked about the duration of their mission in Kosovo, an EU spokeswoman said it had an initial mandate of one year, but that it would certainly be renewed.

However, she added, it was not their intention to remain in place "for years and years and years".

Hear Paul Moss's report from Bosnia on The World Tonight.



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