Justice takes a holiday in Kosovo

March 10, 2000

(Rtr) - Last year's international intervention in Kosovo overturned many years of injustice suffered by ethnic Albanians at the hands of Serbs. Now there's no justice for anyone.

"The criminal justice system in Kosovo is in a state of collapse," said Larry Guyton, a sheriff from the United States and one of about 2,400 policemen recruited for Kosovo from around the world by the United Nations.

"We don't have anywhere to put the criminals. Murder and rape are about the only crimes that land you in jail here now.

"In September we were arresting anyone with any sort of gun. Soon we quit arresting people with handguns and just confiscated their weapons. Then it got to where we weren't even arresting people with long-barreled weapons like AK-47s."

"Now we only make a (weapons) arrest if someone is found in possession of explosives. And they're unlikely to spend more than one or two nights in jail."

Even when violent criminals are apprehended and jailed Kosovo's prison and court systems are unreliable.

A 15-year-old ethnic Albanian youth taken into custody for the shooting death of a Russian peacekeeper earlier this week escaped from a French military brig in the city of Mitrovica by crawling through a bathroom window.

A number of other prisoners accused of serious crimes have escaped from internationally-maintained detention centres here.


Independent observers say those hauled before courts staffed by local judges and prosecutors often are released - seemingly despite the evidence presented against them - if they are members of Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanian community.

By comparison, Serbs apprehended on similar or lesser charges are almost always held in detention.

"Unacceptable pressure, in the form of threats, intimidation and even violent attacks, is being exerted on some members of the judiciary by extremist elements of ethnic Albanian society," Amnesty International reported in February.

"This pressure may be affecting the ability of some judges to take decisions impartially and independently based on legal, rather than political, considerations."

In an attempt to insulate the justice system from outside influence the United Nations has begun appointing international judges and prosecutors to hear high-profile cases.

Christer Karphammer, a Swedish judge, arrived at his unheated office on the north side of Mitrovica this week wearing a bulletproof vest beneath his snappy red bowtie.

As he stepped from his armoured car three heavily armed military bodyguards crowded round and escorted him up the steps of the courthouse.

"Now I'm dealing with the killing of the Russian soldier, but there are many other murders to consider," the judge said.

"I have approximately 60 serious cases. I believe that 26 of those detained in Mitrovica are accused of war crimes.

"I have been in some rough areas. For instance, I was an adviser to the attorney general of Albania on assassinations and organised crime. But this is the worst place I have experienced."


Crime rates have dropped dramatically since June when NATO forces first occupied Kosovo, but that statistical improvement occurred directly in proportion to the flight of Serbs.

Analysts say that if Kosovo is to have the multi-ethnic future that was the premise of international intervention here, some semblance of law and order for all must be restored.

Instead, chaos and incongruity reign. Traffic chokes the main streets of Pristina because U.N. police haven't the manpower to staff key intersections.

About 60 percent of all cars in Kosovo still lack number plates. Many are stolen. Even after plates are required later this year police will have no way of documenting ownership.

Drugs, arms and prostitutes are smuggled to and through Kosovo by Balkan crime rings. U.N. police are powerless to track them because they have no connection with Interpol computers.

Local graduates of Kosovo's new police academy get a monthly salary of only 300 Deutsche Marks ($150). The average judge makes 600 marks. Those low rates of compensation are an invitation to bribery and corruption, diplomats worry.

But even honest cops must chafe riding in patrol cars next to young local translators who are paid 1,200 marks a month by the United Nations for their often minimal language skills.

Original article