Serbia and Kosovo’s prosecutions have decided to officially cooperate for the first time since Kosovo declared independence ten years ago, working on the investigation into the murder of Kosovo Serb political party leader Oliver Ivanovic, who was shot dead last week in Mitrovica, sources reported.
According to the source, the EU must use the momentum generated by the joint probe into Kosovo Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic’s recent assassination to insist that Serbia and Kosovo’s prosecutors continue to work together to tackle serious crimes.
Although unprecedented, the move is not surprising, bearing in mind the importance for both sides of finding those responsible for the killing, which caused shock and fear among Serbs and Albanians.
According to the source, Pristina needs to show that it is upholding the rule of law, after questions raised in recent months by the political uproars over the demarcation of Kosovo’s border with Montenegro and the attempts by ruling coalition MPs to wreck the new, Hague-based Specialist Chambers.
Furthermore, the source said that it must also demonstrate that it can enforce the law in Serb-majority northern Kosovo, where Ivanovic was shot, but where strong links to Serbia mean that Pristina finds it hard to impose its legal will.
Serbia, on the other hand, wants to dispel rumors and allegations that the Ivanovic murder was political and that the trail of evidence leads to Belgrade, as well as show that it is still responsible for law and order in northern Kosovo.
The lack of cooperation between Pristina and Belgrade has meant that serious lawbreakers have managed to evade justice.
In 2015, sources reported that convicted criminals from Kosovo or Serbia only have to cross the other’s border in order to escape serving jail sentences for the crimes that they committed, due to the non-existing cooperation between the police and the judiciaries in the two countries.
One of the bluntest examples was the case of Lemja Xhema, who was sentenced in Kosovo to three years for corruption, then escaped to Serbia to wait for the statute of limitation to expire. She then returned to her hometown in Kosovo a free woman.
It also means that much tougher subjects such as organized crime and war crimes must be part of the EU-mediated dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, because as the tragic death of Oliver Ivanovic shows, these problems will not simply vanish if they are ignored, and will sooner or later return to haunt you.
The situation is a major problem since in 90 per cent of cases for both the Kosovo and Serbian prosecutions, the victims are in one country and the perpetrators in the other.
The Serbian war crimes prosecution has not issued a single indictment for Kosovo war crimes in the last three years, while the Kosovo prosecution has only managed to launch cases against former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters as they are the only suspects that it can put on trial.
Serbia insists that it has universal jurisdiction to investigate all crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia - but Kosovo insists that as it is an independent state, Belgrade prosecutors don’t have the authority to investigate within its borders. The Pristina authorities also say that Belgrade rejects their offers of legal assistance requests as they come from a state that Serbia doesn’t recognize.
Meanwhile, the EU has largely turned a blind eye to this issue as it is complex and politically sensitive.