The Specialist Chamber of the Constitutional Court in The Hague has approved the request of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell Fontelles, and the Head of the EULEX Mission, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, to extend the time limit for filing written submissions on the admissibility or merits of Kosovo President Hashim Thaci’s proposed constitutional amendments of the mandate of the Specialist Chambers.
In practice, this could mean that the EU could be expected to file its opinion on Hashim Thaci’s attempt to limit the work of the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office in the coming period. Thaci’s proposed amendments were met with harsh criticism from international representatives.
Paragraph 3 of Article 162 practically establishes a special Constitutional Court – the Specialist Chamber of the Constitutional Court – which exclusively decides on any constitutional referrals related to the Specialist Chamber and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, and which consisted of international judges.
The decision, signed by Judge Vidar Stensland on Tuesday, reads that the previous time limit – October 19th – given to the authorities of the referral to file a written submission on the case has been extended to November 2nd. The decision further states that the written submission should not exceed 10 pages.
After Kosovo President Hashim Thaci proposed an amendment to Article 162 of the Kosovo Constitution governing the establishment of Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office of Kosovo in late August, the Chairman of the Kosovo Assembly, Vjosa Osmani forwarded the proposal to the Specialist Chambers of the Constitutional Court for assessment as to whether the proposed amendment violates the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.
What amendments did Thaci propose?
In the current version of the Kosovo Constitution, paragraphs 13 and 14 of Article 162 relating to the mandate of this Court state:
13. The mandate of the Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office shall be for a period of five (5) years, unless notification of completion of the mandate in accordance with Law No. 04/L-274 occurs earlier.
14. In the absence of notification of completion of the mandate under paragraph 12, the mandate of the Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office shall continue until notification of completion is made in accordance with Law No. 04/L-274 and in consultation with the Government.
The removal of paragraph 14 of Article 162 is the only proposed amendment to the Constitution that came from Hashim Thaci’s cabinet. In addition to this, the second article of the proposed amendment refers only to the entry into force of the proposed amendments.
During the past several months, the Kosovo media have been publishing headlines and statements of politicians saying that the court’s term allegedly lasts only five years and that it has expired, while some have alleged that for the court’s work to be extended, an invitation from the Kosovo Assembly is required.
In last year’s interview for KoSSev, the spokesperson of this court, Angela Grip, however, confirmed that the mandate of the court will last until the end of all processes and that renewal is not necessary via the invitation of the Kosovo Assembly.
The Specialist Prosecutor’s Office has previously responded to the invitation of the Judicial Council to the authorities of the referral to submit an opinion on the case.
They once again accused Thaci of „trying to terminate this prosecution body in any way.“
„The Proposed Amendments purport to restate or reframe that mandate. At the time of making these submissions no official drafting history is available.
Nonetheless, the fact that the amendments are proposed by a President who is the subject of an indictment submitted by the SPO relating to war crimes and crimes against humanity warrants assessing them with particular scrutiny. Mr. Thaci is not a disinterested party, and there is good reason to believe that the Proposed Amendments are part of a larger strategy to undercut the court.
Indeed, essential context to understanding and interpreting the Proposed Amendments is provided by Mr Thaci’s own public statements,“ reads the opinion of the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office.
On the other hand, Thaci stated that he asked for an amendment to Article 162 in order to „clarify the ambiguities about the length of the mandate“.
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