In the 1990’s Kosovo was steeped in conflict, the scars of which are still visible within its society today. The Kosovo conflict was the last chapter in the violent dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. During the late 1990’s peaceful and armed- resistance groups in Kosovo began a battle for self-determination and independence. The overwhelming majority of those who perished were murdered by Serbian army, police, and paramilitary forces in a state-orchestrated ethnic cleansing campaign aimed at crushing the resistance.
The conflict was characterised by large numbers of casualties, devastating war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and international military intervention. The number of casualties during the conflict reaches nearly 14,000. Approximately 80% of the casualties were Kosovo Albanians, 16% Serbian, and 4% came from other ethnic communities. Mass graves have been found throughout Kosovo and to this day, many of those disappeared are still missing, regardless of their ethnicity or religious affiliation. These atrocities amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In the immediate aftermath of the armed conflict, many acts of ethnic revenge we committed against minority groups, such as murder and orchestrated acts of property looting. Since the end of the armed conflict in 1999, Kosovo has struggled to establish stable peace, recover from the devastating effects of the conflict, re-build state institutions and re-establish rule of law. The legacies of the conflict continue to negatively affect prospects for reconciliation.
The conflict ended without a peace settlement between Kosovo and Serbia. This lack of consensus and agreement between the two countries meant that the ad-hoc transitional justice mechanisms that were implemented- were imposed from outside the region and widely unpopular. The decade’s long hostilities between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo left a deep distrust in mono-ethnic domestic courts based in either Serbia or Kosovo.
For various political reasons, criminal justice for war crimes cases in Kosovo had been predominantly administered by the international community. Their efforts for the former Yugoslavia have been mainly focussed on criminal justice, implemented through the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and hybrid domestic courts. As the main focus on dealing with the past in Kosovo was on criminal justice approaches, other approaches which could comprehensively deal with the legacies of past violence were overlooked. This space has been filled by institutions and civil society groups within Kosovo, who have undertaken a wide range of reparative and restorative justice initiatives.
An Inter-Ministerial Working Group for Dealing with the Past and Reconciliation (WG-DwPR) was established in 2012, which was mandated, among other tasks, to devise a national strategy on transitional justice in Kosovo. The WG-DwPR has however, fallen short of promoting truth-telling and ethnic reconciliation in Kosovo, largely due to a lack of political commitment from the Government of Kosovo, internal disagreement among the representatives, and inadequate donor support. It has since concluded.
The establishment of Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (the SC and SPO) in 2015 represents the most recent effort to find justice for the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) between 1998 and 2000, during and immediately after the violent conflict. While formally part of the Kosovo legal system, the SC and SPO enjoy complete autonomy from all Kosovo institutions, are located outside Kosovo in The Hague, and are financed by the European Union (EU). The SC’s and SPO’s jurisdiction encompasses the investigation of grave trans-boundary and international crimes committed during and immediately after the conflict in Kosovo (1998-2000). The alleged crimes that the SC and SPO will try have been raised in a Council of Europe report (widely known as the Marty Report).
At the beginning of 2017, the president of Kosovo announced the establishment of a Commission for Truth and Reconciliation (CTR) that would “promote truth and reconciliation and the protection of human rights”. It remains to be seen if this initiative will become an effective truth-seeking mechanism and whether it will learn from the mistakes and impasses experienced by the Working Group for Dealing with the Past and Reconciliation (WG-DwPR).
Our Work in Kosovo:
We started working in Kosovo in 2015 together with PAX and in close collaboration with local partners, the Centre for Peace and Tolerance (CPT) and Integra. We have been working predominantly on transitional justice issues such as accountability, rule of law and ensuring that the accountability measures are effective and meet the needs of affected communities. Our aim is to work together with civil society organisations to ensure their engagement in transitional justice measures. With regard to the WG-DWPR, the SC and the CTR we advocate for effective outreach to ensure the participation of civil society and victims organisations. Finally we aim to assist civil society organisations in the development of a strategic and integrated national strategy on transitional justice in Kosovo.
To read more about our work in Kosovo click here.
The Observatory of Judicial Independence is a tool to monitor and analyse the internal and external factors that threaten judicial independence in Guatemala.