Justice failed in Kosovo

30 January 2008

War crimes and crimes against humanity from the Kosovo conflict in the late 1990s risk being left unpunished as a result of a failed UN justice mission.

Amnesty International's report describes the failure of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) International Judges and Prosecutors Programme (Programme) to comply with international law and standards concerning the right to fair trial. The report also reveals the failure to leave a legacy of experienced and well trained prosecutors, judges and defence lawyers able to try such crimes, as the European Union prepares to make a decision over its responsibilities with regard to Kosovo.

"Hundreds of cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity (including rapes and enforced disappearances), as well as other inter-ethnic crimes remain unresolved seven years after the UN began its efforts to rebuild the Kosovo judicial system. Hundreds of cases have been closed, for want of evidence that was neither promptly nor effectively gathered. Relatives of missing people report that they have been interviewed too many times by international police and prosecutors new to their case, yet no progress is ever made," said Sian Jones, Amnesty International's researcher on Kosovo.

The Programme was created in 2000, after the collapse of the judicial system in Kosovo. Although the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had jurisdiction over Kosovo, it was clear that it would only be able to try a very limited number of cases.

It was, therefore, necessary for there to be another solution to conduct the majority of trials for crimes committed in Kosovo, and so the UN established the Programme to incorporate a limited number of foreign judges and prosecutors into the local criminal justice system.

These international staff were expected to ensure that trials would be conducted in an independent and impartial manner consistent with international law and standards and to help build the capacity of local lawyers and judges to try such cases.

However, as Kosovo (Serbia): The challenge to fix a failed UN justice mission demonstrates, the Programme has failed to meet expectations. Local prosecutors and judges are little better prepared to conduct proceedings in cases involving crimes under international law. Legal reforms essential for conducting such proceedings still have not been enacted into law.  

No date has been set for completing the rebuilding of the justice system so that it can operate without a continuing international component.  This effort has largely failed for a variety of reasons, including flaws in its conception and execution, limited resources and the low priority that international justice has been given in comparison to other UNMIK goals.

The report find that the structure and operation of the Programme have been so flawed that the example in Kosovo cannot serve as a model for internationalizing national judicial systems without major changes such as those recommended in this report.

Kosovo (Serbia): The challenge to fix a failed UN justice system

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Index Number: EUR 70/001/2008
Date Published: 29 January 2008
Categories: Serbia

This report describes the failure of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) International Judges and Prosecutors Programme (Programme) to end impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity, to comply with international law and standards concerning the right to fair trial and to leave a legacy of experienced and well trained prosecutors, judges and defence lawyers able to try such crimes. The Programme was created in 2000, after the collapse of the judicial system in Kosovo.


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