Kosovo holds credible and relatively well-administered elections. Many public institutions are undermined by entrenched corruption, though there are signs that a new generation of politicians are moving to confront corrupt practices through judicial and administrative reforms. Journalists continue to face intimidation, particularly on social media. The rule of law is inhibited by interference and dysfunction in the judiciary.
- In February, the initiative formerly led by President Vjosa Osmani and which is in coalition with Vetëvendosje (Self-Determination Movement, or LVV), was registered as a political party called Guxo (Albanian for “Dare”).
- Rounds of talks took place between Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, and Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić, despite significant and long-standing mutual distrust. Progress was made on agreements for vehicle license plates and travel identification for citizens of both countries. However, the situation remained tense in the north of Kosovo, where criminal attempts to undermine the state have been tacitly supported by Belgrade.
- The government pursued vetting-procedure reforms for the judicial system and legislation on the confiscation of illegal assets.
- In March, a draft civil code with provisions for the registration of same-sex civil unions was rejected by parliament, triggering protests.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
Kosovo is a parliamentary republic, with the prime minister indirectly elected for a four-year term by a simple majority (61 votes) of the 120-member Assembly.
Following snap elections in February 2021, the Vetëvendosje party won a landslide victory with just over 50 percent of the vote. That March, the Assembly elected Vetëvendosje’s Albin Kurti as prime minister. Kurti had previously served as prime minister between February and June 2020. He won the premiership despite having not run in elections himself; he was barred from doing so by a January 2021 Supreme Court ruling that declared him ineligible to run for parliament because he had been convicted of a crime less than three years previously.
The president is elected by the Assembly for a five-year term by a two-thirds majority, or simple majority if after two rounds no candidate has received a two-thirds majority. In April 2021, the Assembly elected Vjosa Osmani with a majority of 71 votes in the third round.
|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 ethnic Serbs and another 10 are reserved for members of other ethnic communities.
In the 2021 parliamentary elections, Vetëvendosje won 58 seats, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) won 15 seats, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) won 19 seats, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) took 8 seats. The Serb List won 10 seats; other minority parties filled the remaining 10 seats. The election was considered competitive by local and international observers. However, a European Union (EU) election monitoring mission noted a general lack of competition in the Kosovo Serb areas, including, in the race for seats reserved for nonmajority communities, apparently credible allegations that the dominant Kosovo Serb party orchestrated the electoral victories of two recently registered ethnic minority parties. The two new parties each lost a seat following an appeal of the results to the Election Complaints and Appeals Panel, which invalidated a number of votes. More broadly in Kosovo, the mission noted that long-standing problems with vote-counting and large numbers of recounts persisted.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
The Central Election Commission (CEC), which administers elections, is generally transparent and fair, and it won praise from EU and other observers for its oversight of the 2021 local and national elections. However, Kosovo has faced long-standing criticism for failing to address inconsistencies and unclear provisions in the electoral code, including those for scheduling snap elections and challenging election results, as well as for declarations of campaign spending.
|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|
While parties can operate freely for the most part, intimidation and harassment of party representatives continues to be reported. The Serb List, the dominant Kosovo Serb party, has been accused of harassing rival parties and creating an environment where voters fear repercussions for supporting alternative groups.
In February 2022, the initiative previously led by President Vjosa Osmani and that is in a coalition with Vetëvendosje was registered as a new political party called Guxo (Albanian for “Dare”).
|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. In the 2021 snap elections, Vetëvendosje won more than 50 percent of parliamentary seats and was able to form a government without relying on the support of the country’s old political guard. The current opposition parties—the LDK and PDK—have recently changed their leadership and brought in new members.
Candidates competing in Serb areas from parties other than the Serb List encounter intimidation and interference during election campaigns. All 10 parliamentary seats reserved for ethnic Serbs are filled by Serb List representatives.
|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?||3.003 4.004|
Corruption and clientelism continue to impact voters’ choices during elections, as does pressure from powerful business interests. Serbian authorities continue to exert influence on the platform of the Serb List, as well as the political choices of Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs generally.
Major political figures in Kosovo have links to organized crime and high-level corruption, which play powerful roles in politics and have influenced the installation of key leaders. However, the 2021 election ushered in a major shift in Kosovo’s political landscape, relegating to opposition a number of key figures who were implicated in illicit activities.
In December 2022, local elections were due to take place in the north of Kosovo, following the withdrawal of Serbian political and police personnel. However, they were postponed to April 2023 due to a fragile security situation.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because clientelist patronage networks are less politically influential under the Vetëvendosje government.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
Members of ethnic, racial, and other groups are generally able to participate meaningfully in politics, though LGBT+ people remain notably marginalized. Twenty parliamentary seats are guaranteed for ethnic Serbs and other minority groups, and the current government includes ethnic Serb and other minority representatives. Six of 18 cabinet members are women.
Gender quotas are enshrined in the Constitution and more than 40 women were elected to the Assembly in the 2021 parliamentary elections, many of whom were elected without the quota. However, women have historically been underrepresented in politics. Though parties are legally required to achieve gender parity in their candidate lists, they often fail to do so.
In June 2022, the sixth Pride parade was held in Pristina without incident, and a few politicians from various parties were seen joining the crowd.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 due to increased representation of ethnic Serbs, women, and LGBT+ individuals in political life.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
Kosovo’s political system has historically been characterized by dysfunction and instability. However, despite some struggles, Prime Minister Kurti and his government have worked to implement a reform-oriented platform.
Serbian authorities still maintain influence in northern Kosovo. In December 2022, criminal groups placed barricades on key roads to the Serbian border. Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić and his government at times indicated support for the roadblocks, and for other actions that aim to undermine the rule of law in Kosovo.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 due to improvements in the functioning of the executive and legislative branches under the Vetëvendosje government.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
The impact of long-term corruption is still evident in public institutions, despite the government’s efforts to tackle it. The mandates of Kosovo’s main anticorruption bodies overlap, and they have difficulty coordinating their efforts. Since independence authorities have shown little commitment to prosecuting high-level corruption, and when top officials are prosecuted, convictions are rare.
In 2022, the Kurti government pursued new reforms aimed at combatting corruption and organized crime. Among other efforts, the administration produced a draft law on confiscation of assets gained through corruption, and advanced reforms to judicial vetting processes.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
The Kurti government made a number of key decisions throughout the year—including some related to the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue process—with limited transparency and without consulting the Assembly, prompting criticism from the opposition and civil society groups.
Government institutions frequently deny legal requests for public information with little or no justification. Courts have been very slow to respond to complaints from those denied information due to persistent backlogs in the judicial system.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution guarantees press freedom, and a variety of media outlets operate in Kosovo. However, there are cases of undue influence on editorial lines, including at Radio Television Kosovo (RTK), the public broadcaster. Journalists report harassment and intimidation, particularly on social media.
|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?||3.003 4.004|
Kosovo’s higher education system is subject to political interference. However, there is relative freedom in academic circles to freely express opinions and be critical of the government. In November 2022, the University of Pristina elected a new rector who is widely considered to be professionally nonpartisan and capable.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 due to decreased political influence in university leadership appointments.
|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, discussion of politically sensitive topics such as ethnic relations and LGBT+ matters has become more common.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is generally respected, though demonstrations are occasionally restricted for security reasons. In June 2022, police used pepper spray to deter hundreds of war veterans attempting to enter the Kosovo Assembly in protest of a government plan to pass wage legislation that did not include veterans as a separate category.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
Under the law on freedom of association, nongovernmental organizations (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, though many continue to criticize the authorities and have largely been able to engage in advocacy work without interference. There is a relatively large and diverse donor community in Kosovo, which is able to support and collaborate with local NGOs without undue influence or interference from the government.
|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 fail to respect collective bargaining rights. Employers are known to employ severe intimidation efforts to prevent private-sector workers from organizing, and few private sector unions exist in Kosovo.
For most of 2022, relations between public-sector unions and the government were tense over worker demands for salary increases. The teachers’ union launched a general strike at the end of August, which postponed the commencement of the academic year for one month. The government accused the unions of colluding with the opposition, while the opposition criticized the government for the failure to reach a deal. The unions ultimately decided to step back and reopen schools, pledging to continue the fight in 2023.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
Political interference in the judiciary remains a problem, and widespread judicial corruption negatively impacts the branch’s independence. Resource constraints and a lack of qualified judges also hinder the performance of the judiciary. In 2021, the Kurti government established a working group to create a judicial vetting mechanism. During 2022, the Ministry of Justice prepared documentation to initiate vetting in the judiciary, including soliciting recommendations from the Venice Commission. At year’s end, the Assembly was set to consider initiating constitutional amendments to allow vetting procedures to take place.
|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.
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 to be detained without cause. Lengthy pretrial detentions are common due to judicial inefficiency and resource constraints.
|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 the north of Kosovo, there have been reports that the force is still operating illegally. The Ministry of Internal Affairs conducted several raids in 2022, however, that resulted in the arrests of members of criminal groups. Prison conditions have improved in recent years, but violence and poor medical care remain problems. The police sometimes abuse detainees in custody.
|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 continue to face discrimination in education, employment, and access to social services.
LGBT+ people face social pressure to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity and transgender individuals face obstacles in making legal changes to their identification cards. The Civil Code of Kosovo excludes same-sex partnerships from explicit legal recognition.
Women experience discrimination in employment, particularly in regard to hiring for high-level positions in government and the private sector. The Law on Gender Equality seeks to ensure that the governing boards of private companies have gender parity, but this has not been widely implemented.
|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 restricted in Kosovo, especially for those living in ethnic Serb areas. In August 2022 the governments of Kosovo and Serbia reached an agreement on travel identification that made cross-border movement easier. Tensions rose over Kosovo authorities’ plan to issue fines for those with Serb-issued license plates, but a deal that deescalated the situation was reached in November.
|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. A number of policies incentivize co-ownership, where couples who wish to register their properties jointly have their municipal taxes and fees waived. However, this has not significantly increased the percentage of properties owned by women. Property reclamation by displaced persons is hindered by threats of violence and local resistance to accepting returnees.
|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. 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.
Same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Kosovo, though LGBT+ activists say that provisions in the constitution implicitly permit same-sex marriages. In March 2022, a draft civil code with provisions for the registration of same-sex civil unions was rejected by parliament, triggering protests.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Kosovo is a source, transit point, and destination for human trafficking. Children are at particular risk of exploitation by traffickers, who can force them to beg or engage in sex work. Labor laws intended to protect employees’ rights exist, but are frequently violated in practice.
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