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Ambassador calls for sustained progress on corruption in Kosovo

Ruairí O’Connell speaks at the round table against corruption and the report, ´Fight, persecution or amnesty in the name of the fight against corruption. Vetting the solution?´

Ruairí O’Connell speaks at the roundtable

[Original speech delivered in Albanian language]

Esteemed Mr. Tahiri, Esteemed Mrs. Haxhiu, Esteemed Mr. Isufaj, Esteemed Mr. Idrizi, Esteemed Mr. Musliu,

Esteemed President of the Courts, Chief Prosecutors, judges, prosecutors, representatives of public institutions, media and civil society, and all of you who are present here today.

We meet again around this table to talk about the challenges that put Kosovo’s future in danger. Kosovo has no greater challenge than fighting corruption - especially high-level corruption. There’s no need for me to explain how bad corruption is for Kosovo. You all know that this phenomenon erodes democracy, prevents any economic development and undermines the state for which many people gave sacrifices. And we care very much, not just because I love this place, but also because I know Britain needs a strong and developed Kosovo.

Corruption is not a phenomenon that occurs only in Kosovo. As a nation, Kosovans are no more corrupt than others. That is clear. As a matter of fact, I remember a British soldier who told me how impressed he was when in a busy market in Pristina, a citizen approached him to hand back the 5 Euros he had dropped. Kosovans are honest and fair people. The fight against corruption is a global issue. With the age of globalization, corruption cannot be viewed as an internal domestic phenomenon.

When criminals act with impunity, a culture of acceptance of corruption is established in the country. When one sees the many proven cases of corruption in which certain individuals have been convicted with very mild sentences, this creates an impression that there is no will to fight corruption. If the state allows corruption to capture the justice system, it will have the effect of turning this country into a shelter for organized crime. This organized crime hurt us just like it hurts you. None of our great societies can tolerate this. Therefore, we need Kosovo to be a genuine partner.

As your friends and partners, we have the right to ask: Where are the concrete results? Regretfully, I have to say it again, the results are missing! No high-profile person has been convicted for corruption with an effective prison sentence. There is a lot of noise at the beginning, but in the end all are released or they receive soft sentences. This year, two out of the three high-profile indictments failed. Where is the accountability? This is constantly reducing citizens’ confidence in the judiciary. This is both damaging and dangerous for the state of Kosovo. We are aware that there are brave, courageous, committed prosecutors and judges who work honestly and fight corruption, but it is obvious they are not enough.

Throughout this year, together with other international partners, we expressed our concerns about the recruitment of judges and appointments of Court Presidents. The Kosovo Judicial Council made several procedural changes, which is welcome, but our most important concerns regarding the transparency of the appointment of Court Presidents were ignored by the Kosovo Judicial Council. Similar problems were encountered in the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council, criticized for making appointments not based on merit. In such situations, it is difficult to argue that Kosovo is committed to the rule of law and the fight against corruption.

However, we do not want to give up. And that is why many British ministers and senior officials have recently visited Kosovo. The letter of British Prime Minister Theresa May to your Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, was clear. Since we are interested, Kosovo can rely on the commitment and engagement of the British state to supporting and strengthening the rule of law in Kosovo, but at the same time, it is a direct request for Kosovo to start strengthening its structures and mechanisms engaged in combating these negative phenomena.

Kosovo needs clean, meritorious, professional, independent and honest judges and prosecutors. You are aware of our project with the Government and Assembly of Kosovo, through which we aim to combat nepotism, corruption and clientelism. We are ready to do this with the Judicial and Prosecutorial Council in the recruitment process of prosecutors and judges; but also of Court Presidents and Chief Prosecutors. I am convinced that all the honest judges, prosecutors and police officers are ready for Kosovo to begin the process of detailed verification of their past, that is the vetting process, as soon as possible. I am curious to hear your views in this regard today.

On the other hand, we are supporting the Ministry of Justice with four local experts who are working on the package of judiciary laws, the functional review of the justice system, the civil code, and further functionalization of the Department for International Legal Cooperation and the State Advocacy. We are happy to cooperate with the Ministry, as we hope it has the political will to make real reforms. I shouldn’t forget to mention the readiness of the Government to increase the budget of the judiciary. This is a step to be praised, but I hope that the increased number of staff for both councils will serve to increase the efficiency of the work of judges and prosecutors.

I wish and hope that at our next meeting we will discuss the concrete efforts and results in the fight against corruption. I will repeat this at each meeting: fighting corruption and the rule of law are the number one priorities of the British Embassy in Kosovo.

Thank you.

Published 22 December 2017