Barbano: Trust is the cornerstone for sustainable peace, Kosovo still faces challenges


Reconciliation is a crucial component of post-conflict reconstruction, and it is still at a very early stage in Kosovo, EULEX chief Giovanni Pietro Barbano said at the UNMIK trust-building forum held in Thessaloniki, Greece. He emphasized that the main component in building trust is respect for human rights, the rule of law, accountability, especially among those in positions of power, as well as the independence of judiciary.

Barbano, however, also highlighted a number of ongoing challenges. He revealed his concern about the fact that mild sentences are imposed for corruption, over the expropriation procedures in the north of Kosovo, but also because of the longstanding failure of Pristina to implement its own decision, that is, the verdict of the Kosovo Constitutional Court on the land of the Visoki Devani monastery. He added that EULEX assessed that certain arrests carried out in the north of Kosovo were not fully in line with the law, and that „this practice was thereupon modified“.

In his speech at the UNMIK forum in front of numerous institutional, political, civil representatives and journalists yesterday, Barbano said that, in the aftermath of conflicts, societies often face the „daunting task“ of rebuilding trust among their populace and communities.

“Kosovo is still often struggling with the challenges posed by this crucial component of post-conflict reconstruction. During the process of rebuilding, fostering trust becomes not only a necessity but a cornerstone for sustainable peace and development,” EULEX chief said.

He underlined that central to the establishment of trust in any society is the protection of human rights.

“The respect for human dignity, freedom, equality, and justice, forms the bedrock upon which a society’s trust in its institutions is built.”

In Kosovo’s case, Barbano stated that the historical context amplifies the significance of upholding human rights, by addressing past grievances and ensuring accountability for human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law.

“These are the crucial steps towards reconciliation and trust-building that are still underway.”

In his words, EULEX has played a “pivotal role in Kosovo’s journey towards a rule of law-based society,” as well as that its continued presence signifies the international community’s commitment to assisting Kosovo in establishing robust legal frameworks, reinforcing trust in its key institutions.

Trust is the glue that binds a society together

He added that it is necessary to ensure that all individuals and institutions are accountable to a legal system, and that an independent and transparent judiciary is critical for restoring faith in the legal system.

On the other hand, he stressed that trust falters in an environment of insecurity, citing as an example the north of Kosovo.
“The Mission’s Formed Police Unit (FPU) vastly increased its monitoring and patrolling presence in the wake of the violent events in northern Kosovo to provide reassurance to the local population.”

Barbano said that operational capability and rapid intervention capacities were enlarged to de-escalate and allow communities to feel safer and more protected.

Many individuals accused of corruption are acquitted or receive mild sentences

He also pointed out the importance of the rule of law and a strong legal framework, stating that without them, trust in institutions is lost.

“At the heart of a trustworthy legal system lies transparency and accountability. Citizens must be able to understand and trust the processes through which laws are made, enforced, and judgments adjudicated.”

In this regard, it is important that there is accountability for actions, especially among those in positions of power, as corruption erodes public trust in a legal system faster than almost anything else, he added.

“EULEX contributed substantially to the drafting of the Kosovo Strategy on Anti-Corruption but notes with some concern the continued downgrading of the former Anti-Corruption Task Force which faces decreasing capacity to conduct investigations. Equally concerning is that despite an increase in the number of productive hearings in high-profile corruption cases, quite some defendants continue to be acquitted or receive mild sentences,” the head of EULEX said.

He specified that an independent judiciary is an essential cornerstone of any society, while judges must be free from undue political influence and other kind of pressures.
“Only when citizens trust that the legal system is not swayed by political or economic interests are they likely to have confidence in the fairness of the sentences,” he emphasized.

Likewise, he pointed out the need to adhere to the concept of equality before the law, as another important factor to establish trust. Discrimination based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or any other factor, whether direct or indirect, undermines the very essence of trust, he added.

Pointing out the importance of respecting human rights, Barbano said that EULEX continues its close monitoring of selected cases and trials in the justice system, with an increased focus on cases affecting inter-community relations both north and south of the Ibar river.

Longstanding failure of Pristina to implement their own decision on Visoki Decani land

According to Barbano, in post-conflict scenarios, where communities have faced violence and displacement, prioritizing, and restoring their rights becomes a key element of the reconciliation process.

“A commitment to return, restitution of land, protection of cultural heritage, prevention of discrimination, upholding freedom of speech and a degree of self-governance helps rebuild the social fabric and instils a sense of trust in the legal system.”

In this regard, he highlighted one case when these rights were not respected, namely, the decision of the Kosovo Constitutional Court on Visoki Decani land.

“Such trust is supported by -for example- a strict adherence to Cultural Heritage protection and Language laws, which needs to remain in focus in Kosovo. It is undermined, however, by for example the longstanding failure of Kosovo authorities to implement their own 2016 Constitutional Court decision assigning ownership of land to the Serbian Orthodox Monastery of Visoki Dečani.”

Likewise, he says, the often-heated debate in Kosovo about the establishment of the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities could be served by an increased focus on community rights in the light of trust-building and reconciliation.

“Post-conflict societies often witness the erosion of trust in centralized institutions and empowering communities through clearly delineated local governance structures can build trust in the rule of law by ensuring that communities feel active participants in shaping their own destinies,” he said.

Barbano noted that the exact formats of such structures are to be balanced, reminding those ongoing negotiations regarding this issue.

Concerned about the expropriation in the north

Citizens must be able to rely on the legal system to behave predictably, knowing that similar cases will be treated similarly, Barbano says.

“An unpredictable legal system introduces elements of uncertainty that erode trust and feed resentment instead of reconciliation.”

In this regard, EULEX remains concerned about the ongoing expropriation procedures in northern Kosovo.

Next to consistent justice, timely justice is of the essence, he warned, adding: “Justice delayed is Justice denied.”

“For years now, EULEX has expressed concerns in this regard about the excessive lengths of pre-trial detention and legal processes in general in Kosovo, with the system too often resorting to retrials that further delay justice.”

Mission assessed that some arrests in the north were not fully in line with the law

He specified that the trust in the rule of law is closely tied to the effectiveness and accountability of law enforcement agencies, that is, that these agencies are wielding their power “with strict adherence to ethical standards and respect for human rights.”

“To build trust, these agencies must be well-trained, accountable, and act within the bounds of the law themselves.”

In this regard, the head of EULEX reminded of the “initially unsubstantiated claims” about people being “wrongly arrested or otherwise mistreated” by the KP in northern Kosovo.

“EULEX conducted intensive monitoring of all arrests, in most cases from the first detention hearing onwards through all steps of the proceedings. Following the Mission’s assessment of some arrests not having been conducted fully in line with the Kosovo Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) this practice was thereupon modified by the institutions.”

He added that EULEX experts regularly conduct visits to detained persons, meet with their lawyers and families, and closely monitor investigations by the Police Inspectorate of Kosovo (PIK) on possible police misconduct.

We monitored arrests after Banjska and search operations around the Banjska monastery

Barbano claims that the Mission also followed up on all arrests following the Banjska events on September 24 and monitored the KP search operations in and around the Banjska Monastery and in several private properties to ascertain strict adherence to procedure and respect for human rights.

“Sadly, though, the sustained series of security crises in northern Kosovo have forced both EULEX and law enforcement into continual crisis management at the expense of more community-oriented policing. Following the retreat of all police officers that represented the majority community in the North, community policing has become even more challenging but remains essential for trust-building.”

He noted that it “remains imperative” that the Kosovo Serb community in northern Kosovo re-engages with the Kosovo institutions and contribute to law enforcement that “clearly prioritizes the protection of communities over exerting control through force.”

At the end of his address at the UN forum, he remarked that reconciliation in Kosovo is still at a very early stage.

“Trust cannot be built without addressing the wounds of the past and here again the rule of law plays a crucial role in providing a foundation for reconciliation by ensuring that the rights of all individuals and communities are respected.”

He reminded that EULEX provides support to the Kosovo Institute of Forensic Medicine (IFM) in searching, exhuming, and identifying remains of missing persons.

“These efforts are essential in bringing closure to families and society alike. They hopefully contribute to rebuilding some trust among communities with a history of conflict, although challenges remain numerous and more community-based reconciliation programs are much needed still,” Barbano concluded.

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