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Kosovo

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances, abductions, or kidnappings.

As of November the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) listed as missing 1,660 persons who disappeared during the 1998-99 conflict and the political violence that followed. Although the ICRC did not distinguish missing persons by ethnic background due to confidentiality restrictions, observers suggested that approximately 70 percent were ethnic Albanians and 30 percent were Serbs, Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians, Bosniaks, and Montenegrins.

Efforts to recover remains continued with limited results. According to the ICRC, 14 missing persons’ cases were closed during the year, including seven new identifications, two persons located alive, and five cases closed based on a revision of their files. According to the ICRC, six new missing persons’ cases were opened during the year. The government’s Commission on Missing Persons reported that, as of October, EULEX and the government’s Institute of Forensic Medicine conducted 11 field operations and exhumations. Authorities recovered remains from known gravesites that could lead to the identification of additional missing persons. Seven field operations at new sites did not yield any remains, including two in majority-Serb northern municipalities. Based on a prosecutor’s order, an excavation was undertaken at the University of Pristina campus in July, but no human remains were recovered. The government invited forensic experts from Serbia to observe the excavation, which they did. Likewise, the country’s forensic experts observed an excavation in Kizevak at the invitation of the Serbian government; however, works at this site were not yet concluded.

The ICRC-chaired working group on persons unaccounted for in relation to the events in Kosovo in the 1998-2000 period continued to meet, exchanging information and records to help elucidate the fate of the missing. The government’s delegation continued to request a change in the working group’s terms of reference to remove UNMIK from its delegation, to reflect the country’s independence.

As of October the International Commission on Missing Persons received 45 samples from the Institute of Forensic Medicine, resulting in seven new DNA matches. Remains were identified in 38 cases and were re-associated with remains from previously resolved cases.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices, but there were some reports that government officials employed them.

The Police Inspectorate of Kosovo (PIK), an independent body within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, was responsible for reviewing complaints about police behavior. As of November PIK reviewed 1,246 citizen complaints regarding police conduct. PIK characterized 748 of these as disciplinary violations and forwarded them to the Kosovo Police Professional Standards Unit; PIK judged another 493 complaints to be criminal cases. As of November, 179 police personnel were under investigation, while another 12 cases from 2015 remained under investigation. Allegations of excessive use of force by police in dispersing a demonstration in January 2015 did not result in criminal charges, although prosecutors continued to review information provided by PIK.

On August 8, the Basic Court in Mitrovica convicted a former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander, Xhemshit Krasniqi, for the arrest, illegal detention, violation of bodily integrity and health, and torture of several witnesses and unknown civilians, carried out in 1999 at KLA camps in Kukes and Cahan in Albania as well as in Prizren in Kosovo.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards, but significant problems persisted for prisoners in penitentiaries, specifically, the lack of rehabilitative programs, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, corruption, and substandard medical care.

On November 17, authorities indicted numerous correctional officers for enabling the escape of prisoners and not executing court orders. Notably, several senior corrections officials, including Emrush Thaci, former Director of the Pristina Detention Center, were indicted for aiding Sami Lushtaku, a convicted war criminal, who had avoided jail time with the help of corrections officials.

During the year the Kosovo Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims (KRCT) received complaints from prisoners regarding inappropriate behavior, verbal harassment, and, in one instance, physical mistreatment by correctional officers, mainly at the Dubrava KRCT and the High Security Prison. Prosecutors opened an investigation in January, and in September the KRCT requested the prosecutor’s office in Istog/Istok expedite this case.

The KRCT noted the internal complaint mechanism mandated by law did not function in prisons as inmates were not able to report human rights violations and other concerns confidentially. Prisoners in some wards at the Dubrava Prison and the High Security Prison lacked complaint forms, and prison management failed to address reported concerns. The KRCT also noted that authorities did not provide written decisions justifying solitary confinement or confirming transfer to another facility. The KRCT further stated that amendments to the 2014 Law on the Execution of Penal Sanctions were not implemented, nor were instructions for implementing the law completed, resulting in a lack of standardized procedures for leave and parole requests.

Physical Conditions: According to the KRCT, physical and living conditions remained substandard in some parts of the Dubrava Prison, which held 750 prisoners. Deficiencies at Dubrava included poor lighting and ventilation in some cells, dilapidated kitchens and toilets, lack of hot water, and inadequate or no bedding, as well as poor-quality renovations and significant delays in repairs.

According to the KRCT, prisoners with special needs or elderly prisoners were not housed separately within correctional institutions, and drug addicts were held with the general prison population. Two prisoners died of natural causes while in custody.

As of October the KRCT received seven complaints from prisoners that correctional staff verbally, and in some cases physically, abused them in the Dubrava Prison and the High Security Prison.

In August the KRCT reported to authorities allegations of physical abuse by prison staff of more than a dozen convicted juveniles in Lipjan/Lipljane Prison. The KRCT interviewed more than 20 juveniles at that facility who all alleged the prison staff routinely slapped detained youth. Following the complaint, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Coalition for Protection of Juveniles visited juveniles at the Lipjan/Lipljane facility and documented numerous allegations of ill treatment. According to the KRCT, one juvenile received head injuries which were not reported to correctional authorities by medical staff.

As of October the KRCT received seven complaints from prisoners that correctional staff verbally, and in some cases physically, abused them in the Dubrava Prison and the High Security Prison.

Due to corruption and political interference, authorities did not always exercise control over the facilities or their inmates. According to the KRCT, inmates complained that officials at the Dubrava and the Smrekovnica prisons unlawfully granted furloughs and additional yard time due to nepotism or bribery. The KRCT reported that mobile phones and illicit drugs were regularly smuggled into correctional facilities, with more than 30 percent of convicts estimated to be addicted to drugs; none were enrolled in drug treatment programs.

The KRCT documented delays and errors in the delivery of medical care to prisoners as well as a lack of specialized treatment. In many instances these conditions forced prisoners to procure needed medications through private sources. The KRCT observed gaps in the prison health-care system at the Dubrava facility and reported an insufficient number of mental health professionals.

Similarly, facilities and treatment for inmates with disabilities remained substandard. The Kosovo Correctional Service held convicted prisoners with disabilities separately from the general prison population. The Kosovo Forensics Psychiatric Institute provided limited treatment and shelter for detained persons with mental disabilities. Advocates for persons with disabilities faulted the government for regularly housing pretrial detainees with diagnosed mental disabilities together with other pretrial detainees, although the Kosovo Correctional Service held pretrial detainees separately from the general prison population.

During the year the Kosovo Correctional Service established a multiprofessional team to address self-injuries and suicide attempts at correctional facilities, although advocates were not aware of improvements. The KRCT noted psychosocial services at the Dubrava Prison and High Security Prison were insufficient and unsuitable for the inmates’ needs despite some improvements at the High Security Prison. There were no legal provisions or administrative instructions for the treatment of prisoners with disabilities. As of November 7, the KCRT reported 10 attempted suicides. Advocates cited frequent transfers and harsh treatment as contributing factors.

On November 5, a Vetevendosje party activist Astrit Dehari committed suicide in the Prizren Detention Center (PDC). Dehari had been detained since August 30 on terrorism charges related to an August 5 rocket-propelled grenade attack on the parliament building. On November 18, the Institute for Forensic Medicine released the final findings of an autopsy, observed by independent experts, maintaining that the cause of death was mechanical asphyxiation. Prizren District Prosecutor Syle Hoxha told media on November 6 that Dehari had scratch marks on his throat and hands. As of November 17, the complete findings of the medical examiner, including a determination of the cause of death, were not published. On November 22, the Ministry of Justice announced disciplinary measures against the acting director, two correctional supervisors, and a corrections officer at the Prizren Detention Center for improperly following procedures in the case. On November 23, authorities suspended a nurse from the detention center in Prizren in connection with the case.

Administration: As of August the prison population consisted of 1,515 convicts, including 52 minors and 38 women, and 334 detainees. A total of 105 foreign citizens were held: 58 convicts and 47 detainees. Officials kept records on prisoners, but correctional service administrators claimed that bureaucratic divisions of responsibility for detainees and convicts created problems. For example, prison authorities could not intervene when pretrial detainees used Ministry of Justice connections to obtain transfers to more comfortable facilities, such as the University Clinical Center in Pristina, even when the prison could provide adequate medical services. During an August 12 visit to the Clinical Center, Minister of Justice Dhurata Hoxha condemned this practice and ordered these prisoners returned to prison.

Both inmates and social workers characterized the Conditional Release Panel as failing to address requests for early release in a timely fashion and for a lack of clarity in the justification of its denials. Prisoners with good behavior records criticized the panel’s lack of consideration of their individual circumstances. The Kosovo Correctional Service received 19 complaints, primarily about transfers and benefits.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers, but the Ombudsperson Institution (OI) was the only institution that had continuous and unfettered access to correctional facilities. The KRCT and the Center for Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms (CDHRF) were required to provide 24-hour advance notice of planned monitoring activities. The OI, KRCT, and CDHRF acted as the National Preventive Mechanism, a coordinating body established to jointly monitor arrest procedures and to investigate credible allegations of inhuman prison conditions.

Improvements: According to the KRCT, the Kosovo Correctional Service renovated cells in some correctional institutions, including three wards of the Dubrava Prison and the kitchen at the Lipjan/Lipljane Detention Center. Authorities started assigning prisoners to the High Security Prison, which opened in 2014 in Gerdoc/Gerdovac near Podujeve/Podujevo. As of August there were 143 prisoners in the facility (130 prisoners and 13 pretrial detainees).

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government, EULEX, and Kosovo Force (KFOR), a NATO-led international peacekeeping force, generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Local security forces included the Kosovo Police and the Kosovo Security Force (KSF). The law provides that police operate under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Police maintained internal security, backstopped by EULEX as a second responder for incidents of unrest and KFOR as a third responder. The border police, within the Kosovo Police, were responsible for law enforcement issues related to border management.

The KSF is a lightly armed civil response force that provides disaster response and humanitarian relief, demining, search and rescue, and hazardous material containment. The Ministry for the Kosovo Security forced managed KSF.

EULEX s mandate is to monitor, mentor, and advise local judicial and law enforcement institutions. It also has some operational responsibilities, serving, with the police force as second responder, including during raids and actions requiring crowd and riot control, although it did not carry out this function during the year. EULEX’s mandate for policing operations is limited to cases of organized crime, high-level corruption, war crimes, money laundering, terrorist financing, and international police cooperation. It also engaged in witness protection operations and training for police in witness protection. EULEX’s executive role gradually decreased as envisaged in the exchange of letters between the government and the EU in 2014 and as extended during the year.

KFOR was tasked with providing a safe and secure environment and ensuring freedom of movement in the country. In addition to patrolling the border with Serbia, it protected the Austerlitz Bridge in Mitrovica/Mitrovice and the Serbian Orthodox Church’s Visoki Decani monastery. As of October the mission comprised 4,559 troops from 31 countries.

EULEX and KFOR personnel generally operated with impunity with regard to the country’s legal system but remained subject to their missions’ and their countries’ disciplinary measures. There were no reports of abuse by EULEX or KFOR.

The government investigated abuse and corruption, although mechanisms for doing so were not equally effective throughout the country. Local security forces in northern Kosovo transitioned to government control as part of the EU-mediated Brussels Dialogue between the country and Serbia.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law, except when a crime is in progress, police may apprehend suspects only with warrants based on evidence and issued by a judge or prosecutor. Within six hours, according to law, prosecutors must issue the arrested person a written statement describing the suspected offense and the legal basis for the charges or release the individual. Authorities must bring arrested individuals before a judge within 48 hours or release them and must provide detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice or one provided by the state. There is a bail system. Suspects have the right to refuse to answer questions at all stages of an investigation, except those concerning their identity. Suspects have the right to obtain the free assistance of an interpreter, and to receive medical and psychiatric treatment. Police may not hold suspects incommunicado.

Following an initial ruling, a court may hold individuals in pretrial detention for 30 days from the date of their arrest but may extend their detention for up to one year with no indictment. After an indictment and until the conclusion of trial proceedings, only a trial judge or a trial panel can order or terminate detention. The law allows a judge to order house arrest, confiscation of travel documents, and the expanded use of bail as alternatives to pretrial detention.

Although in some instances police were masked or under cover, they generally carried out arrests using warrants. There were no confirmed reports that police abused the 48-hour rule, and prosecutors generally either provided arrested persons with documents describing the reasons for their detention or released them. Officials generally respected the requirement for prompt disposition of cases, but the KRCT reported that detainees occasionally faced delays when attorneys were not available until the morning after a person’s detention. The courts seldom used bail but often released detainees without bail pending trial.

NGOs reported that authorities did not always allow detained persons to contact attorneys when initially arrested and in some cases permitted consultation with an attorney only when police investigators began formal questioning. In several instances detainees were allowed access to an attorney only after their formal questioning. Some detained persons complained that despite requests for lawyers, their first contact with an attorney took place at their initial court appearance.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy detention, both before and during judicial proceedings, remained a problem. The law allows judges to detain a defendant pending trial if there is a well-grounded suspicion that the defendant is likely to destroy, hide, or forge evidence; influence witnesses; flee; repeat the offense; engage in another criminal offense; or fail to appear at subsequent court proceedings. Judges routinely granted pretrial detention without requiring evidentiary justification. Lengthy detention was also partly due to judicial inefficiency and corruption.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, with corruption remaining a serious problem. A lack of effective judicial oversight and general weakness in the rule of law contributed to the problem.

Corruption: The Kosovo Anticorruption Agency (ACA) and the Office of the Auditor General shared responsibility for combating government corruption. As of August the ACA received more than 89 reports alleging corruption, 81 of which concerned conflict of interest. ACA referred 24 of the cases it reviewed for prosecution and forwarded two involving 15 persons to police.

Convictions on corruption charges continued to represent a small proportion of those investigated and charged.

One of the largest anti-corruption raids in the country’s history occurred on April 27, when the KP and EULEX searched 42 houses in connection with illegal real estate transactions. On October 25, special prosecutors filed two indictments in cases in which courts had previously made decisions to restitute property fraudulently confiscated by the former Yugoslav state. One case involved 22 persons charged with 46 counts of organized crime, money laundering, and other offenses. The other indictment was against 17 persons for participating in an organized criminal group suspected of money laundering and theft from a communally owned enterprise. Prosecutors alleged that the group has been active since 2006 and was led by former member of parliament Azem Syla, former president of the Pristina municipal court Nuhi Uka, as well as municipal court and privatization agency officials, attorneys, and several Kosovo Serbs from the Gracanica/Gracanice municipality. As of December 14, Syla was still in detention.

On July 18, Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning Ferid Agani resigned following his indictment related to a health-sector corruption case. On June 15, Minister Agani was indicted together with 63 others (including 44 doctors) in the so-called “stent case.” Agani, formerly the minister of health, was charged with abuse of office concerning alleged violations of the public procurement law and ministry bylaws, specifically of improperly entering into agreements with private cardiology hospitals, paid by the government when public hospitals referred patients to them.

Financial Disclosure: The law obliges all senior public officials and their family members to declare their property and the origins of their property annually. Senior officials must also report changes in their property holdings when assuming or terminating their public service. The ACA administers this data, verifies disclosures, and publishes disclosures on its website. Based on a random sampling during the year, the agency reported that approximately 98 percent of officials declared their property and finances. Authorities may fine officials charged with minor breaches of the requirement or prohibit them from exercising public functions for up to one year. The ACA referred all charges against those who had not filed to prosecutors.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, but authorities did not effectively implement the law. Civil society organizations, which filed the majority of information requests, reported that government institutions rarely provided requested information or acknowledged the existence of particular documents requested.

Courts rarely accepted lawsuits against institutions that ignored document requests, and civil society organizations regarded this lack of consequences as an impediment to the law’s effectiveness. On occasion officials reportedly denied document requests on grounds that the documents contained classified or secret information but would not reveal the name of the institution that classified the documents or the case number.

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