Council of Europe membership is years away for Kosovo

19/03/2012

With CoE membership, citizens would to be able to seek redress for human rights abuse at the European Court for Human Rights, but officials caution the road to membership is long.

By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 19/03/12

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Kosovo's CoE membership would advance human rights protection, analysts say. [CoE]

Kosovo will seek membership in the Council of Europe (CoE), but becoming a member may take up to four years once the country submits a formal application.

"It is not an easy process," Deputy Foreign Minister Petrit Selimi told SETimes. "There are both a lengthy administrative procedure and a political evaluation to confirm a country's adherence to the CoE principles."

The CoE Committee of Ministers has the authority to invite European states to become members. The admission process begins when the CoE Committee of Ministers receives an official application for membership, consults the Parliamentary Assembly, and the Assembly adopts an opinion, which is then published.

Many countries take less than four years to become members. Montenegro's process took ten months when it became a member in 2007, while Serbia's application took three years before it was accepted in 2003.

Turkey has been a member of CoE since 1949. Albania and Macedonia became CoE members in 1995, Croatia in 1996, and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2002.

Kosovo's membership would be beneficial to Albanians, Serbs and other communities as well because it will advance human rights protection, analysts agree.

"The government would adhere to binding obligations by signing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which it now implements unilaterally without CoE oversight," Kreshnik Miftari, of the Centre for Strategic Studies in Pristina, told SETimes. "Also, citizens would benefit from the different civic education and democratisation programmes which the CoE offers."

While Kosovo contemplates beginning a formal application, it has decided to strengthen its relationship with the CoE.

"We will at least upgrade our bilateral presence and communication with Strasbourg," Selimi said. Kosovo needs two-thirds of the CoE member countries' votes; it is recognised by 37 of them.

"Unanimity at the EU is needed for membership, but that is not the case with the CoE," Pristina-based GAP Institute for Advanced Studies Executive Director Agron Demi told SETimes.

The easiest way to obtain membership is to be invited by a CoE member country that has recognised Kosovo, Demi said, adding that current chair Great Britain may invite Kosovo to join.

Kosovo citizens are in favour of CoE membership because it will enable them to petition the ECHR over various violations within Kosovo.

Only citizens of CoE member states -- all are ECHR signatories -- can submit a case to the court.

Also, all domestic legal remedies must be exhausted before the court will take on a case, and the issue must be a violation of an ECHR guarantee. The court's ruling obliges states to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future and can award "just satisfaction" to victims, including compensation.

Demi argued the overburdened judiciary can delay Kosovo's membership.

"The countries which joined after the breakup of the USSR, mainly Russia, had such a problem. It became a principle for [potential] new members to reduce the number of cases in the national courts so as to avoid that [majority of] those cases become complaints to the court," Demi said.

"If Kosovo citizens submit cases to the court as citizens of Serbia or any other country, Kosovo cannot implement the decisions," Pristina lawyer Bahtir Jashairi told SETimes.

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Consequently, Jashari said, the Kosovo government should seek an alternative way to enable citizens to access the courts. "This is an important instrument to make government and other institutions respect laws," he said.

Serbia's Foreign Minister VuK Jeremic played down Kosovo's CoE membership chances during the visit of CoE Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland to Belgrade on March 12th.

"There is no chance of any kind for Kosovo membership in the CoE, because the CoE's members are countries and therefore Kosovo has no place in it," Jeremic was reported saying by B92.

Jagland said the EU-facilitated process between Belgrade and Pristina should be given a chance to progress, and that raising the CoE membership issue might interfere.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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