Evading the rule of law

The failure to extradite Agim Ceku, the former prime minister of Kosovo, represents a further blow to international law and good neighbourly relations in the Western Balkans.

By Ian Bancroft

The refusal of the Bulgarian authorities to extradite Kosovo‘s former prime minister, Agim Çeku, to Serbia, against the recommendations of Amnesty International and despite both countries being signatories to the European Convention on Extradition, has dealt another damaging blow to international law and good neighbourly relations in the Western Balkans.

As the former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), Ceku was indicted by the Serbian authorities for alleged war crimes committed against Serbian and Roma civilian populations in Kosovo during the 1999 conflict. Ceku was detained on an Interpol warrant after entering into Bulgaria from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYRoM) early last week.

In response, Amnesty International immediately called on the Bulgarian authorities to ‘extradite Agim Ceku promptly to Serbia where his case should be prosecuted in line with international fair trial standards’. As both Serbia and Bulgaria are parties to the European Convention on Extradition, Amnesty International argued that ‘there appear to be no legitimate grounds under the Convention or Bulgarian law in this case which would justify refusal to extradite a person charged with war crimes’. Amnesty International called on the United Nations Interim Administrative Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to ‘not take any steps to obstruct justice by intervening in the Bulgarian extradition proceedings to prevent his extradition’.

Under intense diplomatic pressure, however, the Bulgarian authorities refused Serbia‘s official extradition request and released Ceku from custody. The decision prompted Serbia‘s president, Boris Tadić, to demand an immediate explanation and insist that this does little to contribute to ‘good neighborly relations’; whilst Vuk Jeremić, Serbia‘s foreign minister, stressed that the move represented a ‘serious blow for international justice’. Serbia‘s justice minister, Snežana Malović, went even further, arguing that ‘politics won over justice, even when it comes to acts of war crimes and genocide, that do not fall under the statute of limitation’.

This is not the first time that Ceku has been arrested on the same warrant, following his apprehension in Slovenia in October 2003 and Hungary in March 2004. On both occasions, however, the intervention of the former Special Representative of the Secretary General, the head of UNMIK, ensured his release. Earlier this year, the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, intervened to secure Ceku’s deportation from Colombia to France in order to avoid detention by the Colombian authorities on the same Interpol warrant.

Amnesty International has long deplored impunity for war crimes committed in Kosovo, raising a number of accusations of political interference in the court of justice in a report published earlier this year, entitled ‘Burying the Past; Ten Years of Impunity for Enforced Disappearances and Abductions in Kosovo’; whilst a 2008 report, entitled ‘Kosovo (Serbia): The Challenge to Fix a Failed UN Justice Mission’, highlighted the failings of international panels in Kosovo.

Evading the rule of law in the case of Ceku will have a number of damaging and long-lasting repercussions for both international law and good neighborly relations in the Western Balkans. As Amnesty International re-iterate with respect to war crimes cases and other serious crimes, there exist an obligation on states ‘to investigate and prosecute any allegations relating to war crimes’. Allowing international politics to once again trump international justice only serves to further undermine efforts to secure human rights and stability throughout the region.

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