Respecting Court Decisions Is Vital to Kosovo’s Democratic Future
By Ambassador Philip S. Kosnett, January 26, 2021
When I returned to Kosovo as Ambassador two years ago, 15 years after my first assignment in Pristina, I was impressed by Kosovo’s achievements – self-government, new infrastructure, and a new generation of talented, educated, and energetic citizens working together to create a better future for Kosovo.
One of the goals toward which the people of Kosovo must work, together with the people of the United States, is the full application of the rule of law. My country is far from perfect in this regard, and we still struggle to build “the more perfect union” of which our Constitution speaks, with equal rights and equal justice for all. But we must never stop working to achieve this dream.
And as the criminal actions at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 demonstrated, democracy is fragile. But our institutions held. When the police had expelled the mob and secured the building, Congress resumed its deliberations and certified the election of a new President. Two weeks later that new President took office in accordance with our Constitution. I am confident America will emerge stronger than ever from this critical period, but there is a lot of work and a lot of heartache ahead.
Just as in the United States, there is more work to do for Kosovo to fulfill its promise. A key tenet of this effort must be for political leaders to respect judicial institutions and judicial decisions even when they may not care for the outcome. We continue to witness cases in which Kosovo institutions have failed to act within the law and enforce decisions of the judiciary.
One such example is the Decan Monastery/Visoki Dečani Monastery property case. In 2016, after many years of judicial proceedings, the Kosovo Constitutional Court confirmed the Serbian Orthodox Church’s ownership of several hectares of land. However, with the tacit support of senior officials and party leaders – throughout several governments led by different political parties, for nearly five years – local and central-level cadastral officials have failed to implement the decision by legally registering the church’s land.
Some reading this may shrug their shoulders, turn the page, scroll to the next story. Why should Kosovo citizens worry about the Serbian Orthodox Church?
Actually, I would argue that if Kosovo citizens are serious about their constitutional commitment to a multi-ethnic, diverse society with religious liberty for all, they should welcome the presence of minorities. And minority communities should welcome the opportunity to integrate fully into the political and economic life of the country. But that’s a discussion for another day. The Decan Monastery/Visoki Dečani Monastery case is not about ethnicity, politics, or religion; it is about property rights and respect for the law.
With the support of the international community, the church has repeatedly petitioned the government to uphold the law and register its land. The church’s recent efforts have been met with “administrative silence” – a refusal of the government to substantively respond to the church and act according to the law. It is long past time to register the church’s land in accordance with the law.
This failure to adhere to the rule of law, extended over years by several different Kosovo governments, calls into question Kosovo’s commitment to equal justice.
When court decisions are fully enforced it means the country has functional, unbiased, and democratic institutions, serving all its people. Can we say that today? Can any citizen – or any potential foreign investor – rely on Kosovo courts when Kosovo’s leaders can choose to ignore the courts whenever they like?
Kosovo has come a long way on its democratic path in a few short years. In this moment where democratic values are under assault around the world, I take inspiration from the people of Kosovo – their resiliency, their resolve to face challenges, and their dedication to building a democracy buttressed by respect for the rule of law. The United States will continue to stand with Kosovo and its people as it works to build that democratic future for all its citizens. There is no time to lose.