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EULEX mission in Kosovo

Bahri Cani / nhMarch 24, 2014

The EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, EULEX, is more active than ever: in recent months, several war criminals have been arrested and imprisoned. But EULEX has also been met with criticism.

Sign reading EULEX Kosovo (Photo: Evropanorama)
Image: DW

The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, EULEX, has full authorization to investigate, prosecute and arrest persons believed to have committed war crimes, corruption, and organized crime in Kosovo.

EULEX monitors, supports and advises Kosovo's legal institutions, such as the judiciary, police and customs authorities. It achieved full operational functionality in April 2009 and has an annual budget of 111 million euros ($153 million), making it the EU's largest and most expensive mission. For a long time, little happened. Many say too little happened. EULEX was often criticized for its alleged lack of effectiveness and waste of money.

Since February 2013, Bernd Borchardt, a German national, has been at the helm of the mission that has more than 2,000 foreign and Kosovar employees. Demonstrating a mix of caution and resolve, he told DW at the beginning of his mandate that he "intended to undertake serious steps in the fight against corruption and war criminals." A few months later, in May 2013, five high-ranking Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commanders and close aides to Prime Minister Hashim Thaci were arrested. They stand accused of committing war crimes against Serbs and Albanians in 1998 and 1999.

'We're not deterred by politics'

And there were further arrests and court cases. Two trials created a big stir. At the beginning of this year, Uke Rugova, the son of former Kosovar president Ibrahim Rugova, was arrested on charges of corruption and fraud, at the detriment of – amongst others – the Italian embassy. Shortly after, on January 27, Oliver Ivanovic, one of the most prominent Serbian-Kosovo leaders, was put behind bars. Ivanovic is suspected of committing murder and war crimes against Albanians during and after the Kosovo war in 1999. His arrest came just before the elections in the city of North Mitrovica, where the majority of the population are Serbs, and where Ivanovic had stood a high chance of being elected as mayor.

"We're not deterred by politics," Borchardt recently told DW. "It was pure chance that over the last few weeks we reached a stage with many big cases where state prosecutors had enough material to issue arrest warrants." Several other ‘big fish' from both sides, Albanians and Serbs, have been arrested – among them former minister Fatmir Limaj, and former Serbian head of police in Northern Kosovo, Dragolyub Delibasic.

Bernd Borchardt, head of EULEX mission in Kosovo (Photo: Bahri Cani / DW)
Bernd Borchardt currently heads the EULEX mission in KosovoImage: DW/B. Cani

Critics are now accusing EULEX of mounting a campaign because the government in Pristina intends to change or end the mission on June 14. "I'm very active here, and that has nothing to do with the question of the mandate. I don't want to speculate about the work others do," said Borchardt.

'Kosovo needs EULEX'

Since the beginning of the EU mission, more than 500 suspects have had to appear before international judges. More than 350 were convicted in different cases – for war crimes, corruption and organized crime. But many court cases haven't even started yet, and a number of important investigations are still ongoing, concerning, for example, allegations of possible organ trade during the Kosovo war.

"I have great respect for the job of EULEX and of Borchardt, its current chief," Johanna Deimel from the Munich-based Southeast Europe Association told DW. "Under no circumstances will EULEX withdraw from Kosovo entirely any time soon. The mission might undergo some slight changes regarding its size and certain departments. But it's still a necessary mission as far as legal proceedings regarding war crimes, organized crime, corruption and witness protection programs are concerned. That's why EULEX will have to stay in Kosovo for a few more years."

Kosovo's government, however, is convinced that 15 years after the end of the war and more than six years after the country declared its independence, it can take over full responsibility for the judiciary and policing. But Franz-Lothar Altmann, a professor with the UNESCO department for international and intercultural relations at Bucharest University, is skeptical whether the government in Pristina is capable of taking over those tasks from EULEX, adding: "I am not sure the government could have arrested Serbian Kosovo leader Ivanovic. I actually don't think so, because it would have triggered uproar and conflicts within the Serbian population and heavy protests from the government in Belgrade."

Posters against EULEX mision in Kosovo.(Photo: Bekim Shehu, DW correspondent from Kosovo)
Poster criticizing the EULEX missionImage: DW/B. Shehu

A tribunal for Kosovo?

Investigations are also ongoing in Kosovo following a report by Dick Marty, a member of the European Parliament, regarding possible organ trade during the Kosovo war. Witness protection has been problematic – another reason why some are contemplating setting up an ad hoc tribunal for war crimes in Kosovo. The government in Pristina wants to hold tribunal hearings in Kosovo itself. But that option is not likely to be accepted because of allegations high-ranking members of the government could be involved in those crimes, too. The tribunal was supposed to be established by the end of the current EULEX mandate. The EULEX mission in Kosovo can only end if there's agreement between Brussels and Pristina. But negotiations in Brussels are still going on. Many observers are convinced the mission won't be phased out yet.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008. It has been recognized as a sovereign state by 106 countries worldwide, but not by Serbia, Russia, and China. Five EU member states also do not recognize Kosovo's independence: Spain, Romania, Cyprus, Slovakia, and Greece.