Amnesty for whom? Debate rages in Kosovo over proposed law

This article originally appeared on Kosovo 2.0. Available here in English, Albanian, and Serbian (with Majlinda Hoxha’s great photography to enjoy!).

It caught us all a bit by surprise: Kosovo’s latest political drama involves a draft law that would create conditions for individuals convicted of certain crimes before June 20, 2013 (the date that the EU-brokered agreement between Kosovo and Serbia was ratified), to be granted amnesty. The agreement calls for the creation of a self-governing Association of Serb Municipalities, as well as for the end of parallel Serbian institutions in Kosovo. But Kosovo’s lawmakers have never fully explained what kind of changes to the laws and constitution will follow as a result.

The Assembly’s Commission on Legislation has pushed this draft law through quickly. According to the official line, this will allow Serbs living in the north – who until now have participated in parallel institutions and other illegal-under-Kosovo-law activities, will feel more comfortable about integrating with the rest of the country. But the draft law seems to go much farther, creating the possibility that people who committed very serious crimes could conceivably be granted a “free pass.”

Crimes eligible for amnesty would include: murder committed in a state of mental distress; provoked homicide; and manslaughter. When one actually reads the draft law, one finds a list of potentially pardonable crimes that could be the CV of certain lawmakers – past and present. Perusing the draft, one discovers that amnesty could be granted for things such as illegal economic activity; tax evasion; intimidation of civil officials; obstruction of justice; and “unlawful exercise of medical or pharmaceutical activity.” Familiar things, to say the least.

The Commission on Legislation passed the draft law on to a first hearing at the Assembly despite not having spent the required two weeks reviewing it. In order to clarify the draft law’s contents, a small group of activists and professionals in the NGO sphere called for a public discussion yesterday on Prishtina’s Mother Teresa Boulevard. A crowd of about 60 people gathered to find out more about the implications of the draft law: what might it allow? What might it provoke?

“We walked around Mother Teresa Square yesterday and asked people if they knew about this draft law, and the majority knew nothing about it,” said Shpend Kursani, senior research at KIPRED, a policy research think-tank. “That law was not discussed with the people, and it shouldn’t have passed (through the Commission on Legislation) in only two days,” added Rron Gjinovci, of the Centre for Research, Documentation and Publication.

Certain rules and exceptions are stated in the law, but their wording is vague and problematic: amnesty, for example, does not apply in cases of crimes committed against international security personnel. It does not apply in cases that concern wanted persons, or crimes against humanity. Kosovo’s courts, in cooperation with EULEX, are supposed to make decisions concerning amnesty on a case-by-case basis, but the draft law does not specify what the preconditions are to apply for amnesty. In its current form, the draft law places illegal hunting and fishing on the same ground as murder, as far as governmental pardons are concerned.

The gathering ended with a vote on whether to protest today in front of Kosovo’s Assembly, before the scheduled debate on the issue.

While the law in its draft form appears ripe for abuse, it remains to be seen how it will be transformed over the next few weeks. In the meantime, several questions remain unclear: Is it true that EULEX participated in the drafting of this law? Is there a legal precedent for such a law in other post-conflict countries? If the law is intended for Serbs in the north, why isn’t that made clear in the language of the draft law? What other legal “surprises” lie in store for us as we continue the implementation of our agreement with Serbia?

Read the draft law in its entirety by clicking here.

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