William and Mary Law School

Gruaga e Forte- Mirupafshim - Strong Woman- Good bye

With this last blog I will end my legal internship journey in Kosovo. It has been an amazing experience, and I know that nothing will ever come close to this unique opporunity's impact on my life. 

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The last week at CLARD was a whirlwind! There was a point in my life that I was told if you keep being given more work and responsibilities than you are doing something right. Where I don't know if that holds true for everything, I hope it does apply to CLARD. In the last week I was assigned a legal memo on ex officio appointment of defense counsel, a report on that training session that CLARD partnered with ASB for, an article for Fair Trials, and an overall report on my activities within CLARD. It should have been easily accomplished, but I unfortunately came down with what I though was strep throat over the weekend. When I came into the office Monday morning Anton took one look at me and told me to drink some tea and then go home. It was a smart managerial decision because the next day I felt incredibly better and went in to the office to start the legal memo on ex officio appointments. 

I started and finished the report on the training session on Tuesday. I turned it into the executive director, Nezad and was rewarded with "how old are you?" Which was a tad bit scary at first, I thought he was going to tell me that I had messed up along the way somewhere. But it turned out that he only wanted to compliment me on my "great capacity". According to Nezad I am far above any foreign interns they have ever had- and rewarded me a ten out of ten for my work. Nothing like leaving an internship on a high note!

The last legal memo was definitely a topic that I had no idea what it meant- researching this one was learning a completely different system from the ground up. I'm always constantly amused when I come up for air during research and find that I have ten plus websites open on my Google search. And this research broke the record- I think at one point I had fourteen web sites open trying to track down exactly how an ex officio appointment works within Kosovo. So with that background firmly in place I will now attempt to sum up exactly what I learned. Lawyers or advokats as they are known in Kosovo are required by law to take on ex officio appointments. You have to have a really big conflict of interest to escape the duty. In short ex officio appointments of defense counsel are for people that cannot affored legal aid and are acing eight to ten years of imprisonment. There are also "non mandatory" cases that can be assigned legal counsel as well but that takes a little more work- a declaration of all your financial assets and a separate hearing to confirm that you are truly destitute and in need of counsel. In the United States as part of the Miranda Rights, defendants or suspects are immediately given the right to counsel. If you are facing any type of liberty deprivation the trend within the United States has been to assign legal counsel on public expense. They're a little more precise within Kosovo- but as with everything else the system is not exactly implemented according to the rules. Anton wanted me to focus on a couple of topics within the ex officio sphere- namely that there was no government budget to pay these advokats, that the advokats were breaking the rules of client respect, and that advokats were stranding beneficiaries high and dry during court times which effectively was violating the rights of the defendant. It was an interesting assignment- and as per usual Anton was right. Finances are pretty loose within the administration right now, a lot of international money and backing is leaving the country. Therefore, advokats assigned to cases are taking issue with the fact that they are doing work but not being paid. With the client respect issue there has been a lot of reports that advokats are being pulled out of a court hallway, thrown at a beneficiary, and told that the court hearing starts in five minutes. Which leaves inadequate time to prepare a defense for the client- and ultimately leads to a lot of missed opportunities for the defendant. Then there are cases that have been reported where the advokat shows up once and then refuses to come back for subsequent hearings or trials and suddenly the defendant is left without counsel, swamped in a court system that average citizens cannot comprehend and faced with hostile court authorities that are in a rush to close the docket as quickly as possible. There is a huge backlog in Kosovo, and citizens are becoming more aware, and displeased, the longer the court takes in the cases. Researching and writing the first draft of the legal memo took me all the way to Friday morning.  

I took Friday afternoon to outline the Fair Trials article for Anton. Our last article on extradition issues and Kosovo sovereignty was rejected for being too extreme. But what can you do? Anton really wanted to make an impact with that one, and I believe that we accomplished that goal. For this article we were to focus on the Letter of Rights conundrum with the Kosovo Police and people that they detain/arrest. So I outlined within the parameters set by Fair Trials, 500 words only, only allowed two cites, and had to focus purely on defendant rights. Shout out to Shibani at PILPG for setting me on the right track with all the rules of FTI writing. If anyone is curious Shibani was just published on Fair Trials website with an article looking at legal aid access in Kosovo. It is a great piece and since we are limited to 500 words, a short read. Go check it out for another perspective on Kosovo access to justice! 

After finishing the outline I moved on to writing the report of my activities with CLARD. It was a little bittersweet racking up all of my assignments over the two and a half months that I had been there. But in total it was probably a great way to end my time at CLARD, staring straight at what I accomplished over a short block of time with an amazing organization. 

Because CLARD is fantastic and because I work with amazing people, I was presented with a certificate of participation on Thursday. It was printed on glittery gold paper and signed by both Anton and Nezad. It was a great show of support from my CLARD co-workers and I definitely choked up a little. This organization has been nothing but spectacular in the time that I have spent with them, and a this token of appreciation puts them hands and feet above any organization I have worked for. We then of course had to take pictures with the certificate. Which turned out some pretty stunning memories in themselves. 

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I also had to say good bye to my friends and co workers in the special litigation group with PILPG. PILPG has been beyond generous letting me sit in on all the meetings. The experience with them has definitely taught me outside the box thinking, and how to tackle very emotional issues in pragmatic ways. I learned more about domestic violence and the loop holes/pitfalls within the Kosovo system in regards to restraining orders and cultural attitudes with PILPG than I have ever in a school seminar or educational article. At the end of the meeting I was awarded a Access to Justice pin- they are apparently in high demand because everyone kept losing theirs for awhile. I will forever treasure it. Because I feel that PILPG and CLARD are fighting an epic battle with protecting Kosovo citizens and just generally slugging it out against a system that resists change, I am adding a picture of the great Skanderbeg. Albanian hero and favorite symbol of resistance he seems to be a good choice for a group of people locked in an eternal struggle against bureaucratic apathy. 

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Abby and I made it our mission to have a bucket list weekend for the last days in Kosovo. One of the items was to go up the Cathedral Tower and take in the city landscape. There was weird timing issues though, so we ended up sprinting from our apartment to the Cathedral with 15 minutes to spare before they shut down the tower. We made it, and took some amazing pictures. While we were up there I had a moment of clarity in regards to Prishtina land use and organization. Which I have to tell everyone is a pretty amazing feat because the city itself is one long struggle against zoning laws. 

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Since this is somewhat of a farewell letter to Kosovo and all the amazing people within the city I will now take the time for a shout out to the fabulous people that truly made my experience in the city a fantastic one. I will not name drop, but without the support of the international community within Prishtina this summer would not have been so entertaining. Shout out to our last trivia night, and the amazing team that we assembled full of intelligent, motivated people. 

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In the last week of Prishtina life I was told that I was a "strong woman" at least three times. In America that may come off as a type of insult at times, but in Prishtina it seems to carry the connotation of something that is amazing and a great personality trait. This last year of law school has definitely taken over my life, but to know that I am still capable of being a leader or a strong woman gives me hope that as I go down the twisty path of becoming a lawyer that my essence of an advocate, a person obsessed with justice, and overall a pretty stubborn woman when it comes to things that I am passionate about will remain with me. 

And now to the the almost final section of this blog- reflections and what I have learned. 

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Simply put I have learned an extravagant amount of information about a variety of subjects. Some of the more interesting tid bits have to deal with assumptions that we all make when studying Kosovo. First, there may be something to this struggle between Albania and Serbia over the country of Kosovo. I know that some people are probably saying that's a throw away statement, but when I first arrived in Kosovo I thought that this country had risen out of the ashes of war on the backs of motivated people looking for independence. Now after ten weeks I don't know how I feel about it anymore. When you ask people where they are from or how the identify they almost always answer Albania/Albanian. I had very few runs in with people that identified as Kosovar. But as Abby pointed out national identity takes awhile to foster, and fifteen years just is not enough time. Maybe the longer that we go down this path of an independent country the more that we will see people rise up as self identified Kosovars invested in their country's future. Second thing I learned, the international community is obsessed with making Kosovo the land of the multi ethnic. A place where everyone gets a long and all ethnicities have their say within the system. It's a beautiful dream- but war has a way of turning those democratic ideas on top of their head. I worked with Nerad for the entire summer, and he made it his mission to educate me on what it was like to be a Serb in Kosovo. We had a lot of conversations but the one that really sticks with me concerns property and people leaving the country. After the war the internationals really tried to sustain people's claims to their land. So adverse possession or neighbors just edging their way onto Serb land is largely considered a huge no-no. Unfortunately with the back log of cases and the average time of seven years to get a decision about anything from the courts means that some Serb families have taken it upon themselves to sell their land and leave. According to Nerad there's only a handful of Serb identifying people still within the city of Prishtina. That statistic might be slightly exaggerated for my benefit but the general idea is apparent. Third, when in Kosovo be prepared for the random. And when the random does hit, take the proposed idea and run with it. This easy acceptance that Abby and I employed while in Kosovo led to amazing opportunities like going to the RTK tv station, following around people during elections into press conferences, seeing war crime trials in Mitrovica, and privatization hearings in the city. Fourth, and last, visa liberalization for Kosovo is really the end all, be all for the Kosovar citizens. Being American with a wide range of opportunities to travel meant came into stark relief when talking to my Kosovar friends about traveling. These people literally cannot leave the country except to travel to Macedonia, Albania, or Turkey. Everything else requires a long visa process with little hope that it will actually be granted. I have never seen such isolation techniques in my life, and people should not have corralled into a country with the hope that if you trap them there for long enough that they'll go along with anything that the international community tells them to do. 

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Last part of the blog- "you'll be back". Everyone I talked to in the last week told me not to be sad because I would be back. I don't know if they are hiding crystal balls somewhere or if Kosovo just works into your blood stream but either way everyone is convinced that this summer is not the last time that they will see me. I know it like water, right? So in memory of a fantastic summer, and with a nod to everyone's wish that I will be back, I present a whimsical picture of feathers and wind found on the streets of Prishtina. Let the wind take me where it will, but I know that Kosovo will never leave my mind or my heart.