As the European Union rule of law mission in Kosovo ends on its 10th year, EULEX’s failures to fight corruption, organized crime and prosecute war crimes linger.
Hopes and expectations were higher than the temperatures in December 2008, when the European Union, after months of delays, sent a rule of law mission to Kosovo.
Kosovo had just been declared independent and did not have adequate capacities, especially in its judiciary and security, which was guaranteed by NATO’s presence in the country.
Furthermore, the EU feared that the new country was at risk of being seized by irresponsible political and business elites, which were in one way or another linked to criminal circles in Kosovo.
To avoid this, the EU decided to dispatch its largest mission until then, EULEX, to Kosovo in order to set up a rule of law system.
Almost 2,500 officials, including judges, prosecutors, police officers, and customs officers inherited the dull performance of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, which had administered the country between June 1999 and February 2008.
Present in every key issue of the country, even including Kosovo’s borders, the blue flag of the EU was raised with the blessing of Belgrade, which, with the help of Russia’s political power, did not allow the establishment of the mission without it having some kind of a UN affiliation.
EULEX was seen as an important test for the EU because UNMIK failed at everything it took over, starting with the administration of the territory, the investigation and prosecution of war crimes, the fight against corruption and the loosening of interethnic tensions in a part of the world that had just gone through war.
Most importantly, the UN’s mission, which had facilitated the process for Kosovo’s final status, was criticized for supporting “peace at all costs,” enabling powerful people to act freely in exchange for superficial stability.
The European mission inherited thorny issues, including war crime investigations, politically-motivated killings, shedding light on the fate of the disappeared, the fight against high-profile corruption and crime, and issues with human trafficking and trade of narcotics.
EULEX inherited many unfinished cases from UNMIK, and now some of these are being transferred to locals, and others are being sent to a new court in the Hague that will investigate and prosecute alleged crimes committed by the former KLA, Kosovo Liberation Army, leaders during the war in Kosovo and a few months after.
A decade after EULEX’s arrival, the unfinished cases have only increased in number and will be left to local judicial institutions.
The tale of a judicial system in Kosovo that needs reform at its core is almost identical to the one from two decades ago, when the system built by the UN was confused by the utilization of two sets of legal procedures, those of former Yugoslavia and new regulations.
Numerically, EULEX solved very few high-profile cases of organized crime, corruption, and war crimes, and they did not affect Kosovo’s decade-long journey. Crime and corruption remain endemic in the country and a culture of impunity is still pervasive.
With all the power of its executive competences, the mission was distinguished by its incompetence and the lack of volition of its hundreds of local and international prosecutors and judges. Avoiding confrontation with tough tasks, local prosecutors and judges found convenience in sending difficult cases to their international colleagues.
The mission’s image was further hurt by its structural problems and accusations of internal corruption.
In 2014, Maria Bamieh, a British prosecutor who denounced misconduct within EULEX, said that the European Union External Action Service suggested turning a blind eye against claims of collaboration between officials of the mission and suspected criminals in Kosovo. She claimed that an Italian judge, Francesco Flori, had accepted 300,000 euros in exchange of acquitting a person accused of murder.
After the mission was shaken to its core, the EU sent a team of investigators to look into these allegations, but they found the claims baseless.
Similar accusations reappeared three years later when a British judge, Malcolm Simmons, accused the mission of corruption, but they did not live long as the EU found that he himself was under investigation. Later, it was discovered that Simmons never worked as a judge in his home country, which breeds suspicion about the quality of the staff chosen to serve in the mission.
While the EU vociferously asks for tangible results in the war against high-profile corruption, the mission’s track record does not include any punitive measures against the “big fish.”
In many cases, arrested or investigated suspects were found innocent by international judges, while the mission gained the image of a ‘laundromat’ that cleansed figures who were seen as smeared in public opinion.
The death, intimidation and withdrawal of witnesses in many trials, especially those related to war crimes, also became a symbol of the mission’s incompetence building trust with the people in order to work together with justice institutions.
“The biggest problem was to get evidence and witness testimonies and not having a proper criminal code… EULEX was not about arresting people, we came here to help build rule of law. Arrests were secondary,” said EULEX chief Alexandra Papadopoulou for Reuters.
A decade late, the hopes of Kosovars are tinged with the bitter taste of disappointment and waiting for the dream of establishing rule of law in the country seems almost surreal.
A former EU employee in Kosovo, Andrea Capussela, called for the end of the mission for a long time.
“The mission is now damaging Kosovo and indirectly the interests of the European Union, so it should be withdrawn,” he said two years ago.
Speaking at a conference in Sarajevo in 2013, the head of the Executive Division of EULEX Mats Mattsson said something that was unheard of from other officials of the mission: “A specific problem in Kosovo are the clans, or those that other people call ‘large families.’ This is, so to say, all the relatives, cousins, the cousins of cousins, and so on. Their control over the people is more powerful than that of the administration in Kosovo. These ‘large families’ have a large impact on serious problems of rule of law in Kosovo, and these are corruption, organized crime, and war crimes, all of them interconnected.”
Since then, these ‘large families’ might have become even larger in their battle to occupy.
During its 10 years of being in Kosovo, EULEX was not able to connect any of these dots.
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