Ambassador Delawie’s Remarks at the Annual Judicial Conference

Ambassador Delawie’s Remarks at the Annual Judicial Conference on “Improvements and Challenges in the Kosovo Judiciary, and Proposals for Solutions”,December 2, 2017

Mr. President, Justice Minister Tahiri, Justice Rama, Supreme Court President Peci, Chief State Prosecutor Lumezi, Kosovo Judicial Council Chairperson and conference host, Mr. Idrizi, Prosecutorial Council Chair Isufaj, Court Presidents, Ombudsperson, Civil Society members, Diplomatic Colleagues, and Honored Guests, and most importantly, judges.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.  I welcome this annual conference, especially on the eve of Anti-Corruption week, as an important moment for us to discuss together the challenges Kosovo’s judiciary faces, and to seek solutions together for improvements.  This year’s event is especially important, because for the first time, we have judges, prosecutors, and staff integrated from all of Kosovo’s communities participating in the conference.

As you know, strengthening rule of law is my top priority.  And by that I mean, helping to strengthen Kosovo’s rule of law institutions and helping the country to fight corruption.  The United States is a strong supporter of rule of law in Kosovo, and our focus is on enhancing accountability, transparency, and efficiency in the justice system.

This event gathers a unique blend of judicial practitioners – from the newest graduates of law school through those with years of experience – with citizen advocates from across civil society.  Together, you have a chance today to acknowledge recent progress in strengthening Kosovo’s rule of law institutions.  You should also use this opportunity to address candidly deficits in the system that result in a continued high rate of public distrust in the judiciary.

There have been several notable achievements this year.  First among them, I would like again to commend the successful implementation in October of the Dialogue justice agreement, with the integration of judges, prosecutors, and staff into the Kosovo system.  This is a significant achievement and critical to expanding access to justice for all Kosovo’s citizens.  Because equal justice before the law and equal access to the law are fundamental democratic rights.

I know it took time and tireless effort to make this happen.  Work remains to be done to ensure laws are translated and harmonized in Serbian and Albanian; live interpretation is available in the courts; cases are appropriately transferred; newly integrated staff receive proper training; and decisions are ultimately integrated into Kosovo’s legal structure, as called for by the Justice Agreement.

Much of the political work is accomplished; now the real work of making courts in the north fully operational begins.  We commend Court President Kabasic’s leadership and the KJC’s strong coordination to ensure citizens in the north begin to see justice delivered.

There are other bright spots from the past year.

We welcome the Supreme Court’s work to nearly finalize and soon implement sentencing guidelines within the judiciary.  This will give judges greater ability to ensure consistent sentencing appropriate to a crime, and reassure citizens of fair treatment before the law.  We strongly support this initiative, and also support revisions to the Law on Courts that will give the Supreme Court stronger legal authority to institute the sentencing guidelines.

Kosovo spent the past year preparing a law to improve discipline and accountability within the judicial sector.  Passing the Law on Disciplinary Conduct and companion reforms is a critical step toward ensuring checks, balances, and accountability within Kosovo’s justice system.  Instilling discipline and accountability for judiciary personnel is an important step to ensuring citizens can trust their judiciary.  As such, I call on parliamentarians to look for this draft law when it reaches the assembly, prioritize it, and pass it as soon as possible.

On court performance, the Public Pulse perception survey conducted by UNDP this year showed a significant reduction in the citizen perception of large-scale corruption in the courts.  Similarly, when actual court users were polled, they reported a high degree of satisfaction with court outcomes.  Still, we all know trust and efficiency gaps remain, and Kosovo’s judicial institutions must continue to improve their performance to gain and sustain a more positive public perception.

Kosovo’s judiciary still faces numerous challenges, and since you will have an opportunity to brainstorm solutions, I would like to draw your attention to a few.

I call on all of you here to take a look at the two recent National Audit Office reports:  one on the KJC, and one on court efficiency in civil case management.  While we know there have been major steps this year to reduce backlog, the time it takes to resolve civil cases must be shortened significantly.  The reports also address overspending of travel budgets and per diem.  These are concrete problems the judiciary can address, which would make a difference in the lives of citizens and increase the trust they put in you to deliver justice.  We urge the KJC to establish monitoring mechanisms and continue to increase performance accountability measures for all the courts.

At the same time I call on the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council to better cooperate with the Office of the Auditor General and carefully go through its findings on possible misuse of budget.  War veterans’ pensions must be addressed, and corruption within the lists must be eliminated.  This continues to be one of the most controversial elements of Kosovo’s annual budget.

And in the end, there is still a need for closing loopholes in Kosovo’s legislation in countering corruption, promoting merit-based appointments, and developing  a functioning system to ensure career integrity among all judicial actors.  Kosovo’s Justice Sector Functional Review – launched last year, needs to be reinvigorated with new energy.  It should be the vehicle to consolidate policy recommendations and reforms.

We look forward to continuing our work with all Kosovo’s judicial institutions, including the Ministry of Justice, so that citizens’ confidence in their judicial system continues to grow.  Again, my Embassy and I stand ready to help you in these efforts.

Many of us will have a chance to interact even further this week through Anti-Corruption Week.  My team will be heavily engaged in discussions with you, and this is a wonderful moment to mark achievements and plan the way forward.

I encourage you to use today productively, to be frank and open with each other, and to come up with concrete suggestions that can make a difference for Kosovo’s people in the delivery of rule of law.

The President of Kosovo is important, as in any country.  The PM is important; the Assembly is important; I certainly hope they will all make significant decisions to improve the lives of Kosovo’s citizens during their terms.  But for Kosovo, it is progress in the Rule of Law system that will determine the country’s – your country’s – success as a state.  As you make decisions in the course of your work, remember that fairness, adherence to the law and constitution, and equal application of the law are not just abstract concepts; they are fundamental to Kosovo’s success.  It is you that will determine what kind of country you and your children will live in.

I am counting on you.  More importantly, nearly 2 million citizens of your country are too.

Thank you.