Kosovo Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

In Kosovo, abbreviated as RKS by Abbreviationfinder, free elections are held in orderly conditions, but the institutions are weak in the young state. Galloping corruption contributes to low confidence in state power and journalists are exposed to pressure and threats. The justice system seeks to deal with war crimes accusations committed in the context of the Kosovo War of 1998–1999.

Following strong pressure from the EU, in 2014 Parliament decided to set up a special court and a special prosecutor (Kosovo Specialist Chambers, KSC, and Special Prosecutor’s Office, SPO) with the task of investigating possible war crimes committed by the then guerrilla UÇK during and immediately after the war. In July 2019, then-Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj announced his resignation, after being called for questioning by the SPO. In June 2020, news came out that the SPO had indicted President Hashim Thaçi for war crimes. The court will now decide whether there will be a trial against Thaçi and nine co-accused persons (see further below).

  • Countryaah: Offers a comprehensive list of airports in Kosovo, including international airports with city located, size and abbreviation, as well as the biggest airlines.

There is a diversity of political parties in Kosovo and the opposition can act reasonably freely. But there are pressures and threats against voters. Organized crime is considered to affect and have close links with leading politicians, including President Hashim Thaçi. The largest Serbian party, the Serbian List (SL), is accused of not tolerating rival Serbian parties or independent candidates. The Serbian list also has backing from Belgrade, which means foreign involvement in politics.

Problems have also been identified with voting lengths that include deceased persons and with voters who are referred to polling stations far from home.

On Transparency International’s index of corruption in 180 countries, Kosovo is ranked 101, which is comparable to most neighboring countries in the Balkans (the full list is here).

Only a few people have been convicted of war crimes during the 1998–1999 Kosovo war, but accusations still exist (see below).

Freedom of expression and media

Freedom of the press is guaranteed in the constitution, but in fact, the country’s journalists find it difficult to conduct independent and scrutinizing journalism. The advertising market is weak and the media is therefore dependent on government grants or support from business interests. Ownership is collected in few hands.

Political pressures are commonplace and journalists who criticize the government or government are regularly accused of being “traitors” or “Serb sympathizers”. Especially serious is the situation of Serbian journalists who are exposed – even by other media – to verbal attacks, cyberattacks and dirt-throwing campaigns. Self-censorship is common.

The country’s journalists’ association reports harassment, threats and in some cases physical violence against journalists. However, these do not come only from the regime. Among other things, the state radio broadcaster RTK and its head in 2016 were subjected to a hand grenade attack by an activist group for having supported the government’s plans for a controversial border agreement with Montenegro (see Calendar). At Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index (RUG), Kosovo will be ranked 70 out of 180 countries in 2020, a clear improvement from 90th place four years earlier. Kosovo now ranks better in the RUG index than all neighboring countries: Serbia, Northern Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro (the full list is here).

The EU Commission notes in a report in spring 2019 that the Kosovo judiciary has become better at acting when journalists are exposed to threats and harassment, and that the number of such incidents has decreased.

There is a law that gives journalists access to public sources but is often not applied in practice. In 2014, a law on source protection was also adopted.

Judicial system and legal security

The independence of the judiciary is guaranteed in the constitution, but in reality the government exerts pressure.

The court order regarding crimes committed in connection with the war was first handled by the United Nations Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, whose activities continued until 2017. A handful of people were prosecuted for crimes in connection with the Kosovo war but few were convicted. Ramush Haradinaj was twice prosecuted for war crimes by ICTY but was released both times due to difficulties in getting witnesses to appear. Serbia, which continues to accuse Haradinaj of war crimes, has tried to get him extradited from Slovenia and France (see Calendar). However, in the summer of 2019, Haradinaj was interrogated by ICTY’s successor SPO (see above). As a result, new elections were announced in Kosovo. Also, a year later, President Hashim Thaçi was indicted for war crimes (see Current Policy).

The hearing took place in The Hague in the Netherlands, where the court was placed for security reasons. The opposition to the court is great, not least among Kosovo Albanians. Many influential people in Kosovo were members of the UÇK guerrilla. KSC and SPO, which are part of Kosovo’s legal system, were established in 2016–2017 and began operations in early 2019.

The outside world has supported Kosovo in the area of ​​justice through, among other things, the UN effort Unmik. In connection with independence in 2008, the EU also established a police, customs and legal action, Eulex. The mission of the EU body was partly to strengthen Kosovo’s own capacity in the field of justice and partly to bring charges of organized crime, corruption and war crimes. In June 2018, Eulex transitioned to a purely advisory role and the court order was handed over to the Kosovar authorities. The problems of corruption and organized crime are still widespread.