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02 Aug 11

Kosovo and Bosnia: ‘Like Comparing Apples and Pears’

Selvije Bajrami, Pristina

The European law and order missions in Bosnia and Kosovo have totally different mandates, staffing and funding – but they are both in place to help these two former Yugoslav states join the European Union

The days are passing and July is coming to an end – the stress is building as I reach the final research days for my Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence project.

As I finish up my interviews with officials in Pristina and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) – at a distance as my previous blog readers will know my Kosovan passport prevents me from visiting Sarajevo - I recall something a senior diplomat in Brussels said to me.

“Comparing the EU Police Mission in Bosnia with the European Mission for Rule of Law EULEX in Kosovo, it’s the same as comparing apples and pears, they are completely different missions,” he said.

I have been looking into how much EULEX has achieved in its fight against corruption and organised crime in Kosovo compared to the accomplishments of the European mission work in Bosnia, known as the European Union Police Mission (EUPM).

Both are European missions, and both operate in Balkan states that were once part of the former Yugoslavia. However, they differ from each other in terms of size, staffing and mandate.

In the immediate aftermath of the 1990s conflict in Bosnia; international organisations took responsibility for the rule of law. This has gradually been handed over to Bosnians, and in October 2003, BiH’s state-level prosecutor’s office was formally established.

I stress state-level prosecutor’s office because following the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement which ended the country’s three-and-a-half year war; BiH was split into two largely autonomous entities: the Serb-majority Republika Srpska and the Bosniak and Croat-dominated Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Today, the BiH state prosecution service consists of three departments: war crimes, organised and financial crimes and, finally, all other crimes that are under state-level, rather than entity-level, jurisdiction.

The EUPM was established in 2003, among a number of EU and other civilian and rule of law organisations, to advise and mentor on investigations, fostering cooperation between local, regional and international law enforcement agencies and promoting transparency and accountability.

EUPM has very little executive power when in comes to prosecuting organised crime and corruption suspects, something its spokeswoman, Monja Koluder, is keen to stress.

“The EU Police Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina is part of a broader effort undertaken by the EU and other actors to address a range of rule of law aspects,” she says.

“Among other achievements, the EUPM has succeeded in transforming the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), which is equivalent to a BiH FBI, into an operational police agency with enhanced executive powers to fight organised crime and corruption.”

The EUPM came into existence following the gradual handover of responsibility for justice and law and order in Bosnia. Over time, international prosecutors and investigators have been replaced by Bosnian ones.

Immediately after the 1999 conflict, justice and the rule of law in Kosovo was also managed largely by outside, foreign organisations in an attempt to ensure impartiality in the courtroom following widespread inter-ethnic tensions.

To this end, the United Nation’s Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) initially took charge of security and the rule of law, until EULEX was established in 2007.

Now, UNMIK is a much smaller organisation and its prosecution role is limited only to liaison over cases it has handed over to EULEX. The EU mission is now responsible for the independent prosecution of sensitive crimes, including organised crime, corruption, inter-ethnic crime, financial offences and war crimes.

It is also mandated to train, monitor, mentor and advise on all areas related to the rule of law, and is gearing up to hand over the reins to Kosovan nationals when the time is deemed right. To that end, EULEX employs a number of Kosovan nationals among its prosecutors and other staff.

The big question is when can Kosovo take full responsibility for its own justice system?

Nationalists and some non-nationalist alike argue that Pristina should be in charge now, amid concerns that EULEX is seeking to extend its executive, prosecutorial powers.

Others, however, say that Kosovo is not yet ready or able to take on politically sensitive cases and ensure they are prosecuted in an independent fashion.

Meanwhile, the debate over Kosovo’s status as a country rages on, as mediated and direct talks between Pristina and Belgrade have borne little fruit to date.

I hope to establish whether EULEX might achieve a greater number of successful corruption and organised crime convictions if it could now begin to - as is currently the case in BiH – hand over responsibility for the rule of law to Kosovan institutions and limit its role to advising and monitoring.

Comparing the two missions might be like comparing apples and pears, but they are both in place to assist Bosnia and Kosovo, who have emerged recently from war, establish the rule of law to international standards and join the European Union.

I’m interested to see how far we are from that goal.

Selvije Bajrami is a Pristina-based journalist who is participating in the 2011 Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence.

She will be writing regular updates on her investigation into EULEX and international rule of law missions in the region.

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