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'Keep supporting Kosovo'

Interview: Bahri Cani / sgbJune 15, 2014

The European Union has extended its rule of law and justice mission in Kosovo to June 2016. EULEX chief Bernd Borchardt told DW what that means for the youngest state in Europe.

Bernd Borchardt
Image: DW/B. Cani

Deutsche Welle: What will change with the new EULEX mandate after June 14?

Bernd Borchardt: The focus of our executive mandate will change: The current cases that our prosecutors have opened will continue, but we will not open any new cases ourselves. It may, of course, happen that the Kosovars ask us to accept a case, and we can also speak to them, if we want to work on a case. But the qualitative difference is that the decision lies with the competent Kosovo authorities.

Secondly, important institutions in the law, in future, will all be led by Kosovars, no longer by EULEX staff; for example, the public prosecutor for serious crimes and the institute for forensic medicine. The third important change: In the past, EULEX judges were usually in the majority in Kosovo courts. That will change. While there have also been judges' benches where we were in the minority, in future this will be the rule.

Who will lead the planned special tribunal in Kosovo, which is meant to shed light on alleged war crimes from the time of the Kosovo war - and what is the role of EULEX?

We organize the court, but all the judges will work completely independently - just like the Special Prosecutor's Office, which investigated the allegations of the so-called Marty report for the court. Dick Marty of the European Parliament had prepared a report on abuses and atrocities from the time of the Kosovo war. (Among other things, Marty accuses some commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) of being involved in the trade in the organs of Serb prisoners in the 2010 report - eds.)

The special court is supposed to work in accordance with Kosovar law to the extent this is applicable. You can not convict someone on the basis of laws that have been adopted after the fact. And this court will not only have a seat in Kosovo, but also outside the country; in particular, to make witness statements easier.

Do you have problems with witness protection?

Witness protection is a big issue here. The classic witness protection program in large countries works by giving witnesses a new identity, if necessary, and then moving them to another part of the country. In a small country like Kosovo that would mean they would be resettled somewhere else to go with a new identity - and there are, in our experience, very few people who are willing to do this. That means you have to protect witnesses differently, and when it comes to really brutal threats, this is difficult. The willingness of people to go abroad to begin a new life completely separated from their families is very low.

Do you have a plan on how to solve this problem in the case of witnesses who will be interviewed because of Dick Marty's report?

The majority of the witnesses in this area should not come from Kosovo, but from other countries.

When are the first indictments in this special court for war crimes expected? Are there any indications?

To bring charges, you first need a court and this court must be established. To do this, legal proceedings are necessary here in Kosovo, and an agreement with the host state, which will partially host this court, is necessary. Therefore, it is very difficult to say when the court will be operational.

In your experience, are the institutions in Kosovo ready to tackle the big issues facing the country; for example, rampant corruption?

If EU members assumed that Kosovo could solve all the tasks itself, the EULEX mission would go home. But EU countries are firmly convinced that it makes sense to offer more support to Kosovo through their mission.

German diplomat Bernd Borchardt has led the EU rule of law mission EULEX in Kosovo - with more than 2,000 international and Kosovar staff - since February 2013. The mission has monitored, supported and advised the legal institutions of independent Kosovo since 2008, including the judiciary, police and customs authorities.