DAS Melia’s interview with Koha Ditore, 6 February 2015

Koha Ditore: Mr. Melia, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor leads the U.S. efforts to promote the democracy, protect the human rights and international religious freedom and to advance labor rights globally. From your point of view, what is the current state of affairs regarding the democracy, human rights and labor in Kosovo?

DAS Melia: First of all, I’m glad to be here in Kosovo and to get to know the place a little bit better. In Washington we pay a lot of attention to Kosovo and it is very important for us. We see it as a critical building block to stability and prosperity in the Balkans, so the U.S. will continue to be very engaged. And currently there have been some very good developments in the last year. I think all observers agree that the election last year were very good in terms of procedures, in terms of the way that monitors had access and what they say, and especially that the election took place in the entire country of Kosovo and that was an important step forward for inclusion and involvement. So, the political process has continued to improve. There remain other challenges, and I think Kosovo is focused on these – the political leaders here; the questions of inclusive citizenship, ensuring that all communities in Kosovo participate equally and fairly. Certainly it continues to need help, it needs work and there are people working on that. There is an enduring challenge in dealing with corruption: financial, political and other kinds of corruption that hinder the working of state agencies, and then ultimately restrict the economy. So, efforts to address corruption, efforts to include more citizens in public processes… these will continue Kosovo’s advancement.

Koha Ditore: Based on your observations, but also meetings today with Kosovo politicians, could you describe few of the challenges considering the issues related to democracy and human rights?

DAS Melia: Well, as I said the challenge of including all citizens; ensuring that their rights are respected; that they are treated fairly by the police and other institutions is very important. Religious and ethnic minorities, other minorities, like the LGBT community to be treated fairly, these are challenges and they will be important for Kosovo’s integration into Europe and into the democratic world that progress continuous to be made in these areas. And important moves forward need to be made in battling the corruption.

Koha Ditore: Various reports from international organizations have shown not a very bright picture of Kosovo in terms of democracy and human rights. The divisions along the ethnic lines are still very much present here, and despite the massive international presence since 1999, Kosovo is still struggling. What should the government and its international partners do to improve these democratic practices and protection of human rights?

DAS Melia: Well, the international community, which has been involved in a big way here in Kosovo for more than a decade, is beginning to wind down, as people here are aware because it’s important for Kosovo to stand on its own two feet as a sovereign, stable country. So, while the international community and the United States will remain very supportive, I think that some of the international presence and financing is going to continue to shrink. So, this creates an opportunity for Kosovo and its leaders to step up and assume more and more responsibility over time. So, I think we’ll continue to be involved. I should say, about the international reputation of Kosovo, I think it’s improving. I think more and more people in the international community in more and more places see Kosovo as a viable state. It is standing on its own two feet. Just last week, the international organization, Freedom House, published its annual assessment of political rights and civil liberties and they showed distinct improvements this year over previous years in terms of political rights in Kosovo. So, I think those kinds of independent assessments are very important reference points and in many ways they’re showing a continued institutionalization of independent and democratic Kosovo.

Koha Ditore: But, in some of those reports, as well as the perception of Kosovo’s society, corruption remains one of the main concerns. In which way corruption undermines democracy and how Kosovo should fight against it?

DAS Melia: Well, corruption exists in many forms and it will continue to hobble the economy. I mean, the most conspicuous way the corruption is bad for the country is that it perverts the market place, it makes difficult for people to see how they can get a fair chance at jobs, get a fair day in courts, have contracts and jobs that are stable. So, corruption can be very damaging economically and it can also be very damaging politically. If people in a country don’t have faith in their institutions; if they don’t think that courts really function fairly, if they think that there’s political influence on judicial processes, the work of police, the work of agencies that put out contracts –if businesses are competing for contracts from government agencies – if they don’t think that it’s a fair process, then they’re going to be disillusioned. So, corruption can cause people to get disappointed and frustrated and that contributes to people leaving the country; contributes to people being disaffected, alienated from the government. So I think it’s vital for Kosovo’s future that this is really addressed in a serious way.

Koha Ditore: We have seen signs of people moving abroad, as well as some violent protests here in Prishtina. Should Kosovo political leaders now take more responsibility and how should they do that?

DAS Melia: Yes. As I’ve said at the outset, Kosovo’s institutions, Kosovo’s leaders and ordinary citizens, everybody here needs to take greater and greater responsibility. The international community helped create the environment for Kosovo’s independence and now Kosovo has to live up to that potential. And so, institutions, political leaders, independent institutions, like the media, need to play ever a larger role in owning this country and its processes. So, proper functioning of institutions, putting qualified people on the right jobs, abiding by the laws that have been enacting… you know, the Constitution and many of the laws here read just fine on paper and now the challenge is really how to implement them so that the institutions really have integrity and that people believe that.

Koha Ditore: Have you mentioned these issues in meetings with Kosovo’s authorities?

DAS Melia: Absolutely. We talked about this. Yesterday and today I’ve met different people from public institutions. My visit is – as it often is in many countries – I meet with government officials, I meet with political party leaders, opposition, legislators, civic leaders, NGOs from different communities and journalists.

Koha Ditore: How can the U.S. support Kosovo’s institutions to address these issues and what concrete steps will be taken to improve the current situation?

DAS Melia: The U.S. is here present in a major way. The USAID, our development assistance agency, has invested I think more than 700 million dollars in the last decade here, which is quite a lot of money for a country this size, and it reflects the American commitment here. Many European institutions are present here with some excellent people from the European Union, from the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and these are all vital institutions that provide reinforcement, and information and advice. So, I think the challenge for Kosovo is to utilize these experts and this international presence while they’re here and really take seriously these efforts because the international community really wants Kosovo to succeed.

Koha Ditore: The last question would be: why the progress in democracy, human rights and labor is important for Kosovo itself?

DAS Melia: Well, Kosovo cannot achieve its many other goals unless it becomes a more institutionally secure democratic state respecting human rights. It is important for economy, it’s important for stability, it’s important for Kosovo to be a security partner in the international community. Respect for the rule of law, public confidence in the institutions, it all contributes to everything else that Kosovo wants to achieve.

Koha Ditore: Thank you very much.

DAS Melia: Thank you.