Kosovo’s Strategy for Transitional Justice: A Shaky Start  

Kosovo has drafted a national strategy for transitional justice for the first time in more than two decades after the war, in an effort to address the still unresolved heritage of the conflict that took place by the end of the ‘90s.

Whereas the strategy shall be ready for a public debate by September, it is still largely questionable whether the majority of the mechanisms this document incorporates will manage to be efficient. 

Prime Minister Albin Kurti considers this as a last-moment initiative to appropriately deal with the burden of the past. “It is the twenty-third hour to address what has happened, for the sake of the truth for victims and the survivors.”

Research and documentation lie at the heart of this strategy, thus establishing the foundations of the right “to know” as one of the fundamental pillars of transitional justice. “We want to collect all information pertaining to the war, render it into official state information, and create a war narrative,” says Baki Svirca, Head of Transitional Justice Division at the Ministry of Justice who has led the working group to draft this strategy.

At first sight, the strategy is comprehensive as far as the areas it incorporates are concerned – it is a document that determines strategic objectives. Whereas the action plan that incorporates institutional and legal measures to address the basic elements of transitional justice seems quite ambitious. 

Emphasizing the right to justice, the strategy highlights that it is the duty of the state of Kosovo to investigate into and punish the perpetrators of crimes, including crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. Yet, no steps have been mentioned with regards to the commitment to sue Serbia for genocide.

“In the narrow sense of impact, this strategy offers at least some hope for better inter-institutional consolidation and coordination with regards to dealing with the past,” says Gëzim Visoka, associate professor for Peace and Conflict Studies at Dublin City University in Ireland.

He says the result of this strategy shall depend on the “accomplishment of requests from the affected groups and the implementing mechanisms of the action plan.”

Earlier initiatives on transitional justice, like the Institute for War Crimes that was repealed by former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, one of the figures of the guerrilla war in Kosovo, or the initiative for the Truth and Reconciliation Committee of former President Hashim Thaçi, were quite flawed. 

Now, the strategy includes the re-establishment of the Institute for the Research of War Crimes and the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, which plays a crucial role in restoration of what the victims suffered.

“Acknowledging the suffering and supporting the victims of any time or ethnicity is essential to prove whether this process shall be efficient,” says Marigona Shabiu, Director of Youth Initiative for Human Rights.

Following into the steps of a fragmented heritage tinted by political personalization, a strategy that is expected to be implemented in the third decade after the war will hardly achieve its goals at a time when the generation of the survivors is disappearing. 

“For there to be results, intense institutional mobilisation is required,” says Visoka.

Another aspect of this strategy is the lustration of public officials. 

“The matter of lustration has not been well-defined and it may become cause for political division, and to be misused for party interests,” says Visoka. 

The strategy has incorporated on paper some essential matters for a transitional justice process; yet, some of those may be unfounded constructs due to the irreparable damages caused by the time that has passed.

Kosovo has no official war archives, no documents, and no items belonging to the victims. Most of those are kept by civil society organizations and individuals.

In a politically polarized atmosphere concerning the past, and with a narrative that dominates the discourse of “heroes and absentees”, signals for a sufficient political consensus that eschews an almost mono-ethnic initiatives appear to be weak.

Kosovo Serbs are likely to reject the mechanisms of this strategy or will not agree on the time period, the victims, or its historical aspects, many of them know they have to agree with the dimensions of atrocities committed “in their name”.

“This strategy should not become a battlefield for aggravating the ethnic relations,” says Visoka.

In Kosovo, where the Albanian majority and Serb minority have entirely opposing narratives about what happened during the war, and where tensions are never far from the surface, interethnic reconciliation is still far away.

From a criminal aspect, war crime cases were tried by the UNO court in The Hague, by the UNO and EU missions in Kosovo, and by the local courts. Yet, they failed to support reconciliation much. 

The likelihood of the Specialized Chamber for Kosovo – the hybrid court in The Hague – to achieve more in this respect seems feeble.

The hardest task for this strategy will be to ensure that its mechanisms do not clash with the mission of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia and of the Specialized Court established in The Hague. 

Its efficiency shall depend on how much it will reflect on a reconciliation mechanism that supplements the work of the courts, and contributes to rebuilding trust – without which, sustainable peace is almost impossible.