Last week CLARD undertook a grand project of assessing the people's access to justice within Kosovo. CLARD partnered with PrishtinaREA and Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) and together they led three round tables. The round tables assessed two groups of people, (1) people who had used legal aid in the past and (2) people that have never used legal aid. Simple categories on their face, but through the week I learned how nebulous those two categories can be.
Round Table #1 Mitrovica
As you can see from the above picture these round tables were serious business. Translation was provided so I was actually able to follow the entire two hour dialogue on issues ranging from access to justice to the problem of civic education within Kosovo. The Mitrovica round table focused mainly on the rights of women, human rights violations, and lack of information about the justice system as a whole. I learned after the round table had concluded that mediators were beyond pleased with the results that the dialogue had produced. According to an OSCE representative there was a huge fear that people would be too scared to talk or unwilling to air their private access to justice problems in public. The day was enlightening on how hard it is to spread information in a top down approach justice system. Because Kosovo was formed by the United Nations and is currently sponsored by the EULEX mission which focuses on rule of law, the reality of the country is that the "black letter" law is perfect. As it should be! A wide variety of democratic minded people coming from different countries that have been experimenting with their own justice systems for decades got together and cobbled together every law that worked and subtracted all the ambiguous and ugly parts that could bog a new country's justice system down. But these perfect laws beget their own problems- and the on the ground reality is the majority of the population of Kosovo do not realize their rights nor do they know how to access their own justice system. When you place law on to a country instead of letting the people form their own it seems that a disconnection forms between the citizens and the system.
Round Table #2 Prishtina
Seen above are the brave leaders of the round tables. (Anton is in the middle) The Prishtina round table was entirely different ball game than the one in Mitrovica. I think the difference came from the location. Prishtina is the international hub for all foreign and rule of law discussion. The people in Prishtina have better access to information and are constantly bombarded with well meaning NGOs who distribute information about human rights of a daily basis. So instead of discussion centering around access to justice as a whole the Prishtina round table quickly turned into a lobbying campaign for the different minority groups represented. At one point a group leader demanded that the panel mediators help him secure a private meeting with the mayor of a near by town. It was pretty chaotic, and the translation suffered because of it which means that I may have missed a significant chunk of the discussion. But overall it seemed that Prishtina is aware of their rights and have a basic understanding of the justice system and how to access it. The problems come from more narrowly tailored issues like the fact that information is being decimated only in Albanian which ignores the minority groups and their plights.
Round Table #3 Peya
The Peya round table was the best, and it was not just because of the beautiful scenery! Peya is on other other side of Kosovo, which means its a hour and half away, so our round table group left Prishtina at 8:15am. As we traveled across Kosovo Anton told me that the region we were in had been devastated by the war. Everything that I was going to see structure wise was to be "brand new" (i.e. built 15 years ago after the war). Anton also told me that any old buildings that I did see would be riddled with bullet holes. As we drove through the green scenery I tried to imagine what it would be like to have to build your entire life from the ground up. Family houses that had stood for centuries, gone. Fields and soil contaminated by bomb fragments. And let's not forget the added carnage of the atrocities that come from both sides in a war. Completely unimaginable, and as I traveled through the region I was reminded of how blessed we are as Americans.
Anton also told me that there are 2,000 disappeared people from the region. 2,000 people that are missing with families waiting for the Serbian government to admit to their war crimes and tell them where their loved ones are buried. Take a moment with that and send a warm thought to those suffering families.
The round table in Peya was amazing. A domestic violence victim advocated for herself and women like her in the local shelter. She told the round table exactly what it was like to be a woman in Kosovo fighting for her rights but being held down by local custom and tradition. In the rural areas of Kosovo women are forced to sign over any of their property inheritance rights due to patriarchal custom still within society. Her story was heartbreaking, and her children are suffering because they remain unregistered due to a loophole within the law. The children are unregistered because birth certificates are not being handed out at hospitals. Instead children are "registered" when they reach school age. But this only takes place if both the mother and the father sign the registration form. And in this case, because of the domestic violence and consequent separation the father refuses to sign the registration form. Leaving both the mother and the children without support. The mother because he refuses to pay alimony and the children because as unregistered minors they cannot access government aid. Peya was also amazing because a concrete discussion took place on how the lack of civic education is the crux of the access to justice problems within the country. Unfortunately no one had a ready suggestion on how to implement civic education, but the entire room agreed that it was a necessary step in developing access to justice for all.
Part of the reason that I was allowed to attend the round tables was to practice my note taking skills for future client interviews or firm wide meetings. In Peya, Anton called upon me to take the "official" notes for the entire dialogue. It was a slightly problematic task because at this round table there was no official translation. But we got around the problem. An OSCE employee sat next to me at the round table and translated into my ear as I furiously typed away for two and a half hours as conversation flowed around me in Albanian. I even worked up the nerve to ask a question! Long story short, I turned in my notes the next day for review and Hussei told me that they were "excellent". So I have officially contributed to the work of CLARD, and it feels amazing! After turning the notes in I turned to my extradition memo which was scheduled to be finished on June 4th. The extradition memo has been a wild ride, but oh so informative. I have researched for hours concerning the European law, the European Union, the European Court of Human Rights, bi lateral treaty agreements, and the unique situation that Kosovo finds itself in due to Resolution 1244. While researching for parallel cases I came across an extradition example that centered around a former Kosovo crime boss hiding in Ireland. Hussei jokingly told me to stay away from researching the crime boss, he has a habit of ordering people to be killed on the streets. But she then tried to analogize the crime boss to a "burning ember"- the funny part was that no one in the office knew the English word "ember". So for the next twenty minutes we played the English word game - the thing to take away from this (other than it being hilarious and that I laughed for five minutes straight) was that Hussei described the crime boss as looking like he was safe, but when you actually interacted him you realized that he was "hot to the touch" or in other words, this crime boss is a "burning ember". I turned in the extradition memo today, and Anton told the new Bulgarian intern that it was "very well written". Shout out to my amazing writing professor that took my legal writing from so-so to "very well written".
Also, side note, Hussei left the company the Monday after we all played the English word game. She obtained a four month contract with OSCE and is doing work that she loves. So to commemorate her and her contribution to making me feel comfortable in CLARD, the following picture is of her and the ironic coffee that we bought on the way to Peya (notice that the tiny coffee cups are in a chamomile tea box).
The last part of this blog is going to be dedicated to the "Two for the Money". Because I am currently in Kosovo I should always expect to be a part of some random event, and this last week that turned out to be attending a Serbian TV show. Igor, a friend of Ida, is a Serbian national that just obtained a translation job within Prishtina. Because Kosovo is a multi ethnic country there are different TV stations dedicated to the minorities. Igor is friends with the TV station managers and we therefore found ourselves sitting in a TV studio being serenaded by a three member band in Serbian. A hour and a half later we had heard a good chuck of Serbian folk music and were subject to a bunch of Serbian jokes that we could not understand in the slightest. But if you ever watch RTK2 and see a table of 3 slightly confused individuals drinking wine, that would be our Hollywood TV debut!
Okay, last part. I visited Montenegro over the weekend. It was beautiful and the coast was idyllic.
Seriously last part... the following picture is of Albanian countryside. Beautiful, right?