Pristina authorities revise amnesty law

10/07/2013

Opposition and civil society groups object to a law that some say is integral to the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 10/07/13

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Kosovo's parliament is scheduled to vote Thursday (July 11th) on the latest version of an amnesty law that is critical for the normalisation of relations with Serbia. [AFP]

Kosovo's parliament is scheduled to vote Thursday (July 11th) on a draft law providing amnesty for certain penal code violations. The law is seen as a crucial part of the ongoing effort to normalise relations between Pristina and Belgrade.

After a previous version of the law failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority (80 votes) in the parliament, the government made revisions last week.

Hajredin Kuci, the deputy prime minister and minister of justice, confirmed that the law's controversial Article 3, which included amnesty for some violent offenses, has been replaced by an article stating there will be no amnesty for penal acts resulting in bodily harm or murder.

He added that members of opposition parties the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) have agreed to the revisions.

The amnesty law will bring Serbian-populated areas of northern Kosovo under the same set of laws as the rest of the country. The law provides amnesty for about 70 types of penal acts committed between 1999 and June 20th 2013 in the territory that is now part of Kosovo.

The law is also expected to help Kosovo's beleaguered court system. Betim Musliu, executive director of the Kosovo Law Institute, told SETimes earlier this year that the courts have more than 200,000 unresolved cases.

The previous version of the amnesty law received 70 votes on July 4th. The opposition Vetevendosje party and other MPs cast 21 votes against it and there were two abstentions.

A group of 34 civil society NGOs opposed the draft law, saying that it would "undermine the entire rule of law efforts in Kosovo."

"In principle, amnesty is necessary to reintegrate the northern part of Kosovo in our legal framework. However, amnesty for the northern part of Kosovo cannot be an overall amnesty for … criminal offences in the other parts of Kosovo," the NGOs said in a joint letter sent to international representatives.

The revised law still provides amnesty for espionage, tax evasion and damage and destruction of property, crimes for which the NGOs said there should be no reprieve.

Kosovo's Ministry of Justice, which drafted the law, said the law plays a part in building a broad political consensus in the country.

"This law has not been drafted to serve any individual, any part of the territory or any ethnic group. This law will serve everyone, in an equal way ... This law will help the integration of a part of Kosovo in its institutions," Astrit Kolaj, spokesperson for the ministry of justice, told SETimes.

Merita Mustafa of the Kosovo Democratic Institute and Transparency International Kosovo said the government and the Justice Ministry are trying to use the law to provide amnesty for people who are part of political and institutional structures who committed crimes or are under investigation.

Mustafa added that the law allows amnesty for people who committed nonviolent crimes, including tax evasion, smuggling and unlawful exercise of medical activity. "Amnesty for penal acts that are related to economic crimes, these are very harmful and dangerous messages for our society," Mustafa told SETimes.

Avni Zogiani of Cohu (Stand Up) Movement said that amnesty for some of the acts foreseen in the law might intend "impunity for corruption and crime mixed with politics."

"[Amnesty] should not become a law, but it might be needed with other practices to reach a balance between the stability in the north and the rule of law. It does not make sense to forgive penal acts only because they were committed at a time of the lack of law in this part. This is a simplifying solution that will only increase conflicts," Zogiani told SETimes.

But Mentor Vrajjolli of the Kosovo Centre for Security Studies said the amnesty law intends to offer a chance to the Serb community in northern Mitrovica to integrate in the legal framework of Kosovo.

"A big part of this community has been, in one way or another, part of the Serb parallel institutional infrastructure that automatically makes them fall contrary to the legality and the constitutional order of Kosovo," Vrajolli said.

Predrag Stamenic, 23, a student from northern Mitrovica, said that once the amnesty law is enacted, it will make Serbs in the north more comfortable and reduce tensions.

"Pristina is calling people to check in with the police and other institutions, but no one is crazy enough to do that, knowing that that same police might have records that could get them arrested. I do hope this law would change that," Stamenic told SETimes.

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Belgrade officials say that regardless of the law's ongoing process, Kosovo's parliament eventually will have to pass it as it is part of the Brussels agreement for normalising relations that was signed in April.

"We are not demanding amnesty for odious offences, but we do demand amnesty for all those Serbs who could suffer the consequences of having respected the law and order of their country, Serbia, not recognising the self-proclaimed Kosovo institutions," Milovan Drecun, president of Committee for Kosovo in the Serbian parliament, told SETimes.

Correspondent Bojana Milovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.

For what crimes should amnesty not be an option? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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