Kosovo | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Kosovo

Kosovo

Partly Free
54/100
Overview: 

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. 

Key Developments: 

Key Developments in 2018:

  • In January, Oliver Ivanović, a moderate Serb politician in northern Kosovo and leader of the Freedom, Democracy, Justice Party, was assassinated in North Mitrovica. Three suspects, including two police officers, were arrested in connection with the murder in November. Milan Radoičić, the vice president of the Serb List, was named as a suspect, but he fled to Serbia, where he remained at year’s end.
  • In March, the Assembly approved the border demarcation deal with Montenegro, which was one of the conditions for Kosovo citizens to enjoy visa-free travel in Europe’s Schengen zone
  • In August, state prosecutor Elez Blakaj resigned his post after receiving numerous threats while pursuing a case related to fraud in the pension system for veterans. Assembly deputy Shkumbin Demaliaj, who had been indicted in the pension case, was charged in September with publicly threatening Blakaj.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

POLITICAL RIGHTS: 24 / 40

A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 9 / 12

A1.      Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair ? 3 / 4

Kosovo’s prime minister, who serves as head of government, is indirectly elected for a five-year term by at least a two-thirds majority of the unicameral Assembly. Snap general elections were held in June 2017 following a vote of no confidence in the government. The elections were considered credible by international observers, although there were inaccuracies in the voter lists and intimidation in Serb enclaves against both voters and candidates. After no party won sufficient seats to form a government, the political deadlock ended after three months, when Ramush Haradinaj, a former guerilla fighter and leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), was elected prime minister by the Assembly.

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.

A2.      Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4

Members of the 120-seat Assembly are directly elected by proportional representation to four-year terms. International observers assessed the snap elections held in June 2017 as credible, but noted that voter lists contained a number of inaccuracies, including deceased voters and voters being assigned polling stations relatively far from their homes.

A3.      Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3 / 4

The Central Election Commission (CEC), which administers elections, generally acts transparently and fairly. However, because elections must take place between 30 and 45 days after the dissolution of the parliament, the CEC struggled to meet important deadlines, send materials to voters living abroad, and adjudicate preelection complaints in a timely manner during the 2017 election period.

B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 10 / 16

B1.      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 / 4

A proliferation of parties compete 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 any alternatives. In January 2018, Oliver Ivanović, a moderate Serb politician in northern Kosovo and leader of the Freedom, Democracy, Justice Party, was assassinated in North Mitrovica. Three suspects, including two police officers, were arrested in connection with the murder in November. Milan Radoičić, the vice president of the Serb List, was named as a suspect, but he fled to Serbia to escape prosecution, where he remained at year’s end.

B2.      Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 3 / 4

Opposition parties have a reasonable chance of gaining power through elections. The ruling PANA coalition, which includes the three largest parties—the AAK, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), and the Social Democratic Initiative (NISMA)—lost 15 seats in the 2017 parliamentary elections. Vetëvendosje, a nationalist party, gained 16 seats. In March 2018, as a result of a rift within Vetëvendosje, 12 of its Assembly members left the party and ultimately joined the Social Democratic Party.

During the 2017 campaign in Serb areas, independent candidates and political parties other than Serb List experienced intimidation and violence.

B3.      Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 2 / 4

Serbia continues to exert influence on the platform of the Serb List, as well as the political choices of ethnic Serbs generally. Serbs in Kosovo who work for institutions funded by Serbia, including in education, social services, and health care, were reportedly pressured to attend a rally for Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić during his visit to the country in September 2018.

Several top political figures in Kosovo, including President Thaçi, have links to organized crime, which plays a powerful role in politics and influences the positions of key leaders.

B4.      Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2 / 4

While several political parties represent the Serb minority, the population is not fully integrated into the electoral process or Kosovo’s institutions. Serb List members have halted their participation in government over political disputes. Three Serb List ministers, including the deputy prime minister, resigned in March 2018, reducing Serb representation in the government.

Seven minority groups are officially recognized and politically represented. Serbs are allocated 10 parliamentary seats, and 10 more are reserved for representatives from smaller minority groups.

Kosovo has the largest participation of women in its parliament among western Balkan countries, thanks to gender quotas enshrined in the constitution. However, women’s interests are not consistently represented by the government. Many women in rural areas are disenfranchised through the practice of family voting, in which the male head of a household casts ballots for the entire family.

C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 5 / 12

C1.      Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2 / 4

The lengthy deadlock before the formation of a coalition government in 2017 highlighted the dysfunction and instability that troubles the political system.

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, which 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; opposition parties, including Vetëvendosje, believe it threatens Kosovo’s sovereignty.

Turkey reportedly pressured the Kosovo government to arrest and extradite six Turkish nationals who taught at local schools linked to the Gulenist movement in March 2018.

C2.      Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1 / 4

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. At the end of 2018, four government ministers who had been charged with corruption or conflict of interest remained in office, despite the charges against them.

C3.      Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2 / 4

Despite the passage of the Law on Access to Public Documents in 2010, which was intended to make government documents available upon request, in practice government institutions frequently deny requests for information 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.

CIVIL LIBERTIES: 30 / 60 (+2)

D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 9 / 16

D1.      Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4

The constitution guarantees press freedom and a variety of media outlets operate in Kosovo. However, the government and business interests exert undue influence on editorial lines, and journalists report frequent harassment and intimidation. The Association of Journalists of Kosovo reported that there were 16 attacks on journalists in 2018, two of which involved physical assaults. Such occurrences of intimidation and violence lead many journalists to practice self-censorship.

D2.      Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 2 / 4

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. In May 2018, protesters blocked the road to a Serbian Orthodox church in Petrič, where 50 Serbs were visiting for a ceremony. One man was assaulted during the incident.

The government has reacted strongly to the threat of attacks by Islamic extremists and the radicalization of some Kosovar citizens. Bulk arrests and heavy-handed tactics by authorities have led some members of Kosovo’s majority Muslim community to raise concerns about religious persecution. However, a leading imam was acquitted in March on charges of inciting terrorism, which were based on claims that his sermons had radicalized some individuals. In May, the Justice Ministry signed an agreement with an association that represents Kosovo’s Muslim clerics, which was aimed at engaging imams in order to deradicalize extremists imprisoned on terrorism charges.

D3.      Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 2 / 4

Academic freedom has improved in recent years. However, the university system is subject to political influence, as evidenced by 2017 revelations of a spate of suspicious promotions at the University of Priština. In late 2017, the minister of education, science, and technology dismissed the board and acting director of the Kosovo Accreditation Agency (KAA), which accredits the country’s universities. In February 2018, the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education ruled that the dismissals were improper and potentially compromised the independence of the KAA.

D4.      Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4

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 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) matters, though some people are still uncomfortable discussing these issues.

E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 8 / 12 (+2)

E1.      Is there freedom of assembly? 3 / 4 (+1)

Freedom of assembly is generally respected, though demonstrations are occasionally restricted for security reasons. A number of demonstrations occurred in 2018 without incident, and there have been few instances of violence at protests in recent years.

Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because demonstrations have been common and relatively free from violence in recent years.

E2.      Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 3 / 4 (+1)

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. 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 2018, as international sources of support have declined in recent years, and the financial support provided by the government is limited.

Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because NGOs have been more free to operate and advocate for policy and other changes in recent years.

E3.      Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2 / 4

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.

F. RULE OF LAW: 6 / 16

F1.       Is there an independent judiciary? 1 / 4

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.

F2.       Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1 / 4

Prosecutors and courts remain susceptible to political interference and corruption by powerful political and business elites, undermining due process. In August 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. Assembly deputy Shkumbin Demaliaj, who had been indicted in the pension case, was charged in September with publicly threatening Blakaj.

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.

F3.       Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2 / 4

Although the European Union (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.

A number of former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) members—including Prime Minister Haradinaj—have been accused of war crimes, yet hold high-level positions in the government. The government has 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.

F4.       Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2 / 4

Kosovo’s Roma, Ashkali, and Gorani populations face discrimination in employment, education, and access to social services. Attacks on Serbs are common in Albanian areas, and perpetrators are rarely prosecuted. 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 2018, Priština hosted its second pride parade, which had the support of both the president and prime minister.

Women experience discrimination in employment, particularly in regard to hiring for high-level positions in government and the private sector.

G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 7 / 16

G1.      Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 2 / 4

Security concerns, particularly in Serb enclaves, can make travel difficult. The government refuses to accept travel documents issued by the Serbian government that show towns in Kosovo as the place of residence, which hinders travel for many Serbs.

In March 2018, the Assembly approved the border demarcation deal with Montenegro, which was one of the conditions for Kosovo citizens to enjoy visa-free travel in Europe’s Schengen zone.

G2.      Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 1 / 4

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.

G3.      Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2 / 4

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.

G4.      Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4

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.