This week the Kosovo Assembly voted in favour of the constitutional amendments that allows the creation of the so-called ‘Special Court’; a court that would specifically investigate the allegations detailed in EU Special Rapporteur Dick Marty’s report into crimes committed by Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) members. The Assembly voted on the establishment of the court in April 2014 but then in June this year, amid public protects, it rejected the vote on making the constitutional amendments necessary for the court to be established.
This re-vote highlights two key indicators of Kosovo’s progress sixteen years after the end of the war: the willingness of Kosovo’s institutions to promote the issue of dealing with the past and reconciliation; and the continuing balancing act of the international presence in Kosovo between developing and promoting democratic institutions, and influencing those institutions when they are in danger of deviating from international expectations.
While proponents of justice cannot deny that the pursuit of prosecutions for war crimes should be welcomed, the manner in which this is done should be carefully considered in a delicate post-war society. Given the current climate where a significant proportion of Kosovo’s Albanian population continues to reject the possibility that war crimes were committed by its own community (the rejection of the first bill, coupled with yesterday’s government approval of a bill ‘For the Legal Protection and Financial Support of Accused Persons’, suggest that this view is supported within Kosovo’s political institutions), it remains to be seen how much a court that has the focus of investigating crimes committed by only one group will contribute to inter-ethnic reconciliation. There is a danger that it could in fact contribute to increasing ethnic tensions.
Regardless of such question marks over the potential risks of the court being established, it is evident that influential spheres of the international presence in Kosovo regard the establishment of this court to be a necessity. Over the past weeks there have been reports of various international stakeholders encouraging Kosovo’s MPs to vote in favour of the constitutional amendments, including public statements by both the UK and US Ambassadors warning of the consequences for Kosovo if it does not choose to establish the court. Kosovo’s hopes for the signing of a Stabilisation Association Agreement and the commencement of the visa liberalisation process if the court is not approved were also threatened in the lead up to the vote.
Such statements and actions are compelling examples of the difficult balance with which the international presence in Kosovo continues to struggle, between promoting democracy and strengthening Kosovo’s democratic institutions on one hand, and intervening when these institutions are in danger of making decisions regarded as being contrary to the international community’s vision for Kosovo on the other. While it is not uncommon for international stakeholders to voice opinions on such matters, rarely has any issue aroused such strong public reactions as the establishment of this court. The fact that these statements were being made after the Kosovo Assembly had already rejected the amendments once, further highlights the extraordinary nature of these attempts to influence the democratic process.
The danger of such interventions delegitimising Kosovo’s institutions by such overt influence has not been lost on opposition party members who have made public statements voicing resentment against such attempts, including NISMA, which issued a statement declaring that ‘such pressure is unacceptable in democratic societies’. Moreover, the legality of the Assembly voting on the same issue twice has also been questioned by those who opposed the vote, including representatives from Vetëvendosje and AAK.
Ultimately the members of Kosovo’s Assembly voted in favour of the establishment of the court, which was hailed by a joint EU/US statement as being a step through which ‘Kosovo can achieve reconciliation and build a better future’. While the court’s contribution to reconciliation remains to be seen, the process to approve the court has been revealing in terms of both Kosovo’s appetite for dealing with its past, and international confidence in and respect for Kosovo’s democratic institutions.
*The views expressed in this piece are the author’s personal views.