[JURIST] A weak response from the justice system in Kosovo to the 2004 Albanian attacks on Serbs has created an "impression of impunity" for such ethnically motivated crimes, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) [official website] said Friday. Nineteen people died and over 4,000 were forced to flee their homes during mob violence that erupted in March 2004 [BBC backgrounder]. An estimated 51,000 people took part in the violence, but only 200 people have convicted with another 100 cases pending. According to the OSCE report [PDF text; press release],
From the 316 cases completed thus far, it can be concluded that the investigative and judicial authorities did not pursue these cases as diligently as required. Difficulties in gathering evidence due to the displacement of the injured parties and the recurrent problem of witness intimidation are part of the explanation for the delays in the proceedings as well as the low number of convictions.The OSCE also found failures in criminal investigations of the riots, including intimidation of witnesses, the loss of material evidence, and the unwillingness of witnesses to testify in courts. The UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo [official website], which has been running the Serbian province since 1999, is preparing to hand over control over the judiciary to Kosovar authorities and the UN Security Council last month said that it will organize status talks [JURIST report] on whether Kosovo should be independent or remain part of Serbia. Reuters has more.
Finally, by imposing lenient sentences in the majority of the riot-related cases, courts failed to send out a clear message of condemnation for such violent behaviour and appear not to have deemed the criminal cases arising from the March 2004 riots as very serious. This relatively weak response of the courts to the crimes committed during the March 2004 riots not only contributes to the impression of impunity among the population for such kinds of ethnically motivated crimes but may also be considered inadequate to prevent similar acts of public disorder in the future.