Bernard Rabatel, the deputy head of justice of EULEX, the newly deployed EU rule of law mission in Kosovo, says his mission will move fast in going through Kosovo’s war crimes cases because ‘justice delayed is justice denied’.
The UN mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, has handed over to EULEX all the files on investigations on war crimes committed during the 1998-99 conflict between Serb forces and guerillas backed by Kosovo’s Albanian majority.
In an interview for BIRN’s “Jeta ne Kosove” (“Life in Kosovo”) TV show, Rabatel said the mission’s judges and prosecutors were now handling these files and new indictments would soon follow.
“Some 550 civil files were handed over to EULEX, 250 of them criminal files, of which some 50 concern war crimes,” Rabatel said. He did not wish to comment further on the state of the transferred files, or on their content.
“Between January and March, more than 50 hearings have already been scheduled,” he added, “of which around 16 will be criminal trials”.
Since Kosovo declared independence on February 17, 2008, the UN mission in the country, UNMIK, has started reconfiguring its presence. Police and justice departments in UNMIK are shrinking and eventually will cease to exist, while EULEX police, judges and prosecutors have been gradually taking over since they deployed on December 9, 2008.
Rabatel explained that the involvement of the EULEX mission in the field of justice comprised two elements: exclusive jurisdiction and sub-judiciary competences.
“We have an exclusive jurisdiction, for example, for war crimes, money-laundering and organised crime and then we have what we call sub-judiciary competence over a number of serious crimes like corruption, kidnappings and murders.”
War crimes are a priority for EULEX, Rabatel continued, although establishing the precise priority of cases would be an independent decision of prosecutors and judges.
“EULEX is strongly committed to investigating war crimes, prosecuting them and to trying them in the best way,” he said.
Rabatel said that with the assistance of EULEX, Kosovo had established an Office of Special Prosecutors composed of 10 local prosecutors and five international ones. This body would deal with such serious crimes as extortion, war crimes, money laundering and organised crime.
The mission would allow no political influence or interference into the field of justice, especially regarding cases of war crimes.
“Let me confirm one thing: a strong rule of law is necessary,” he said. “And rule of law means fair justice; that every person in the country, in the region, everywhere, is treated in the same way.”
“EULEX will insist on a fair justice, which is not delayed, because as you know, as we say, justice delayed is justice denied.”
Asked to comment on whether one-third of all judges and prosecutors in Kosovo were being investigated by the disciplinary commission of the judiciary, Rabatel merely said EULEX aimed to improve the situation “by mentoring and monitoring”, which is one reason why EULEX judges and prosecutors would work alongside local ones.