Kosovo holds credible and relatively well-administered elections, but its institutions remain weak, and rampant corruption has given rise to deep public distrust in the government. Journalists face serious pressure, and risk being attacked in connection with their reporting. The rule of law is inhibited by executive interference in the judiciary.
- Kosovo held a snap election in October, after Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj resigned to answer a war crimes tribunal summons in July and the parliament dissolved itself in August. Nationalist party Vetëvendosje (Self-Determination) and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) emerged as the two largest parties, and were holding talks on forming a government at year’s end.
- In August, the border police allowed visitors from Serbia to travel into Kosovo using identity cards, in line with a European Union (EU)-backed agreement that was originally finalized in 2011. Travelers were previously required to present passports.
- In April, the parliament amended a law governing nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), allowing foreigners to found NGOs in Kosovo and shortening the registration process for new organizations.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
Kosovo’s prime minister, who serves as head of government, is indirectly elected for a four-year term by at least a two-thirds majority of the unicameral Assembly. Prime Minister Haradinaj, a former guerrilla fighter and leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), resigned in July 2019 to answer a summons from the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC), a tribunal investigating war crimes committed during Kosovo’s 1998–99 war for independence. The parliament dissolved itself in August, and a snap election was held in October. The Central Election Commission (CEC) verified the results, which showed no party winning a majority, in November; talks to form a new government between the top two parties, Vetëvendosje and the LDK, were underway at year’s end.
The president, who serves as head of state, is elected to a five-year term by a two-thirds majority of the Assembly. President Hashim Thaçi was elected in 2016.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The unicameral Assembly contains 120 seats and members are elected to four-year terms; 100 are directly elected by proportional representation, while 10 seats are reserved for Serbs and another 10 are reserved for members of other ethnic communities.
The October 2019 election was marked by a relatively high turnout of 44.6 percent. Vetëvendosje won 31 seats, the LDK won 30, and the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) won 25 seats. The AAK and the Social Democratic Party (PSD) won 14 seats in an electoral alliance. The Serb List won 10. Other parties won the remaining 10 seats. While the election was considered credible by local and EU observers, vote-counting issues were noted, along with incidents of voter intimidation in Serb areas.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
The CEC, which administers elections, is generally transparent and fair. The CEC was largely successful in organizing the October 2019 snap election, and was able to provide real-time electoral updates on its website. However, the CEC was unable to fully update voter rolls, which contained some deceased voters.
Some postal ballots from voters residing in Serbia did not arrive by mail, as required, but were delivered by Serbian officials instead; the CEC declared over 3,700 ballots invalid for this reason. In addition, 26 CEC officials had allergic reactions after opening ballot envelopes from Serbia; staff wore protective clothing to count the remaining votes.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
A proliferation of parties competes in Kosovo. However, political parties sometimes face intimidation and harassment that can negatively impact their ability to operate. The Serb List has been accused of harassing rival parties and creating an environment where voters fear supporting alternatives.
In 2018, Oliver Ivanović, a moderate Serb politician in northern Kosovo and leader of the Freedom, Democracy, Justice Party, was assassinated in North Mitrovica. Milan Radoičić, the vice president of the Serb List, was named as a suspect and fled to Serbia to escape prosecution that year. In December 2019, prosecutors indicted six individuals in Ivanović’s murder, who were identified only by their initials; three were already in custody.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Opposition parties have a reasonable chance of gaining power through elections. Vetëvendosje and the LDK appeared to defeat the governing PANA coalition, which included the AAK, PDK, and Social Democratic Initiative (NISMA), in the October 2019 snap election. However, they did not form a government by year’s end.
Candidates competing in Serb areas from parties other than the Serb List encountered intimidation during the 2019 election campaign. Three ethnic Serb parties and alliances that competed against the Serb List did not win enough votes to enter the parliament.
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because two opposition parties won a majority of seats in the October 2019 snap election, demonstrating a lack of political or administrative obstacles for opposition movements.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2.002 4.004|
Serbia continues to exert influence on the platform of the Serb List, as well as the political choices of ethnic Serbs generally. EU election monitors noted that the Serbian government and Serb List officials explicitly directed ethnic Serbs in Kosovo to vote for the party during the 2019 election campaign.
Major political figures in Kosovo, including President Thaçi and former premier Haradinaj, have links to organized crime, which plays a powerful role in politics and influences the positions of key leaders.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
While several political parties compete for the votes of ethnic Serbs, the population is not fully integrated into the electoral process or Kosovo’s institutions. Seven minority groups are officially recognized and politically represented through parliamentary quotas.
Kosovo has the largest participation of women in its parliament among western Balkan countries, thanks to gender quotas enshrined in the constitution. One of Kosovo’s largest parties, the LDK, nominated a woman, Vjosa Osmani, as its prime ministerial candidate in 2019. However, women have historically been underrepresented in politics. Many women in rural areas have been disenfranchised through the practice of family voting, in which the male head of a household casts ballots for the entire family. Kosovar political parties are also legally required to abide by a 50 percent gender quota for their candidate lists, but no party met the requirement in 2019.
The LGBT+ community is politically marginalized, and its interests are not represented in Kosovar politics.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
The lengthy deadlock before the formation of a coalition government in 2017 highlighted the dysfunction and instability that troubles the political system, and Haradinaj lacked influence over cabinet ministers from coalition parties once it was formed. Kosovo was again without a new government at the end of 2019, as the two largest parties were negotiating to form a coalition after the October election.
Serbia still maintains influence in northern Kosovo, where Kosovar institutions do not have a strong presence. In recent years, the government has advanced the decentralization process, granting self-rule to Serb enclaves in the southern part of Kosovo; this weakened parallel structures run by the Serbian government in those areas. A 2015 agreement between Kosovo and Serbia laid the groundwork for the Community of Serb Municipalities, a body intended to promote the interests of Serbs, which includes a proposed legislature for the Serb community. The establishment of the community remains at an impasse, however; parties including Vetëvendosje consider it a threat to Kosovo’s sovereignty.
Turkey has also exerted influence in Kosovo; it reportedly pressured the government to arrest and extradite six Turkish nationals who taught at local schools linked to the Gulenist movement in 2018.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
Corruption remains a serious problem, and the institutional framework to combat it is weak. The mandates of Kosovo’s four main anticorruption bodies overlap, and they have difficulty coordinating their efforts. Authorities have shown little commitment to prosecuting high-level corruption, and when top officials are prosecuted, convictions are rare. While political parties publicly committed themselves to fighting corruption during the 2019 election campaign, many politicians who were previously implicated in corrupt behavior remained on the ballot.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
Despite the adoption of the Law on Access to Public Documents in 2010, which was intended to make government documents available upon request, government institutions frequently deny those requests with little or no justification. Courts are slow to respond to complaints from those denied government information due to persistent backlogs in the judicial system.
The government has made a number of key decisions with limited transparency and without consulting the Assembly in recent years. The Kosovo Civil Society Consortiums for Sustainable Development (KOSID), a consortium of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged that it illegally withheld an environmental consent document for a new coal plant in a March 2019 lawsuit. That suit was still pending at year’s end.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution guarantees press freedom and a variety of media outlets operate in Kosovo, including the publicly operated Radio Television Kosovo (RTK). However, the government and business interests exert undue influence on editorial lines, including at RTK. Journalists report frequent harassment and intimidation. However, no attacks on journalists were reported in 2019.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution guarantees religious freedom. However, the Law on Freedom of Religion prevents some religious communities from registering as legal entities, a designation that would allow them to more easily buy and rent property, access burial sites, establish bank accounts, and carry out other administrative activities. Tensions between Muslims and Orthodox Christians occasionally flare up, though interreligious relations are generally peaceful.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||2.002 4.004|
Kosovo’s higher education system is subject to political influence. In July 2019, three universities that were established between 2009 and 2015 lost their accreditation due to the poor quality of their curriculums and administrative failures. PDK officials were involved in establishing these schools, and members of parties in the outgoing ruling coalition were installed in some leadership positions.
In 2017, the education minister dismissed the board and acting director of the Kosovo Accreditation Agency (KAA), which accredits the country’s universities. The European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) ruled that the dismissals were improper and potentially compromised the independence of the KAA in 2018; the ENQA revoked the KAA’s membership altogether in September 2019.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
Individuals are largely free to express their political views without fear of retribution. In recent years, space has opened for discussion on sensitive topics such as ethnic relations, Roma communities, and LGBT+ matters, though some people are still uncomfortable discussing these issues.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is generally respected, though demonstrations are occasionally restricted for security reasons. A number of demonstrations were held without incident in 2019.
However, witnesses claimed that police in a southern village used tear gas against protesters, including children, during an October demonstration against a hydroelectric power plant. Witnesses claimed that police deployed tear gas after children ducked under police tape; three people were arrested, but were later released.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
NGOs function freely, though the courts can ban groups that infringe on the constitutional order or encourage ethnic hatred. NGOs occasionally experience pressure to curtail criticism of the government. Despite this pressure, many NGOs continue to criticize the authorities, and NGOs have largely been able to engage in advocacy work without interference. Funding for NGOs remained an issue in 2019, as international sources of support have declined in recent years.
In April 2019, the parliament amended the Law on Freedom of Association in NGOs, allowing foreigners to serve as founders of Kosovar NGOs and shortening the time period for the registration of new organizations.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution protects the right to establish and join trade unions, but employers frequently do not respect collective bargaining rights. It is difficult to form a private-sector union because employers often intimidate workers to prevent them from organizing. As a result, few private-sector unions exist in Kosovo.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
Political interference in the judiciary, particularly from the executive branch, remains a problem. Widespread judicial corruption also negatively impacts the branch’s independence. Resource constraints and a lack of qualified judges hinder the performance of the judiciary.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Prosecutors and courts remain susceptible to political interference and corruption by powerful political and business elites, undermining due process. In 2018, state prosecutor Elez Blakaj resigned his post after receiving numerous threats while pursuing a case related to fraud in the pension system for veterans. Lawmaker Shkumbin Demaliaj, who was indicted in the pension case, was charged with threatening Blakaj in 2018; he was placed under house arrest and released later that year. Demaliaj remained in the parliament at the end of 2019.
Although the law states that defendants should not be detained before trial unless they are likely to flee or tamper with evidence, judges often order suspects detained without cause. Lengthy pretrial detentions are common due to judicial inefficiency and resource constraints.
In April 2019, Kosovo repatriated 110 people who previously lived in territory controlled by the Islamic State (IS) militant group. While they are provided with public services and legal counsel, individuals within this group have also been subject to detention or house arrest upon their return.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Although the EU brokered an agreement in 2015 between Kosovo and Serbia to disband the Serb Civilna Zastita (Civil Protection) security force in northern Kosovo, there have been reports that the force is still operating illegally. Prison conditions have improved in recent years, but violence and poor medical care remain problems. The police sometimes abuse detainees in custody.
In October 2019, prosecutors reopened an investigation into the death of Vetëvendosje activist Astrit Dehari, who was accused of attacking the Assembly building in 2016. Dehari died in detention that year, and his death was ruled a suicide; prosecutors launched their probe, which was ongoing at the end of 2019, after his family commissioned a report from a Swiss forensic institute that concluded Dehari did not die by suicide.
A number of former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) members—including former prime minister Haradinaj—have been accused of war crimes, yet hold or have recently held high-level government positions. The government previously attempted to stop the work of a war crimes court based in the Hague through efforts to repeal or renegotiate the 2015 law establishing its existence. Some former KLA members have been convicted by other courts.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
Kosovo’s Roma, Ashkali, and Gorani populations face discrimination in education, employment, and access to social services. Attacks on Serbs were once common in Albanian areas, and perpetrators were rarely prosecuted, but these incidents have become less prevalent in recent years.
LGBT+ people face social pressure to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity and face obstacles in making legal changes on the latter. In October 2019, Priština hosted its third pride parade; unlike in past years, President Thaçi did not attend, nor did major party leaders.
Women experience discrimination in employment, particularly in regard to hiring for high-level positions in government and the private sector.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of movement and residence is somewhat impaired in Kosovo, especially for those living in Serb areas. The government refuses to accept travel documents issued by the Serbian government that show towns in Kosovo as the place of residence, hindering travel for many Serbs. Meanwhile, Serbs living in Kosovo do not benefit from Serbia’s visa waiver agreement with the EU, making travel with a Serbian passport relatively difficult for those living in the enclaves. Kosovars have also been hindered from traveling to Bosnia and Herzegovina by the need for visas in recent years.
In August 2019, border police allowed travelers from Serbia to enter Kosovo using identity cards, abiding by a EU-backed bilateral agreement originally agreed in 2011; passports were previously required. The ability to change residence has also become easier within Kosovo, due to the introduction of a new document management system.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 due to Kosovo authorities’ loosening of administrative requirements for travelers from Serbia, as well as new administrative systems that ease the burden on Kosovars changing their residency information.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||1.001 4.004|
The legal framework on property rights is poorly outlined, and those rights are inadequately enforced in practice. While the law states that inheritance must be split equally between male and female heirs, strong patriarchal attitudes lead to pressure on women to relinquish their rights to male family members. Property reclamation by displaced persons is hindered by threats of violence and resistance to accepting returnees from local communities.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Domestic violence remains a problem despite the government’s five-year strategy that was launched in 2017 to address the issue. Domestic violence is considered a civil matter unless the victim is physically harmed. When criminal cases are referred, prosecutions and convictions are rare. Rape is illegal, but spousal rape is not addressed by the law. Courts often give convicted rapists sentences that are lighter than the prescribed minimum.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Equal opportunity is inhibited by persistently high levels of unemployment. Kosovo is a source, transit point, and destination for human trafficking, and corruption within the government enables perpetrators. Children are at particular risk of exploitation by traffickers, who can force them to beg or engage in sex work.
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Global Freedom Score60 100 partly free