Professional Practice Course, Kosovo 2011

My familiarity with Kosovo over the years has mainly been confined to history books, legal texts and newspapers.  As most would agree, ‘conflict’ and ‘struggle’ are words that spring to mind.  More recently the number of Irish lawyers working throughout Kosovo, and of course our own volunteers, speak of a country finding its feet.

This past week saw Irish Rule of Law International (IRLI) run its second Professional Practice Course for lawyers in Kosovo, in partnership with the Kosovo Chamber of Advocates (KCA).  This, nonetheless, was my first trip to Kosovo.

Prishtina has earned a reputation as a vibrant, youthful city and it certainly is that.  Inside the congestion, traffic and deteriorating infrastructure is a centre awash with bustling cafes, bars and restaurants.  There is a happy collide of european and eastern cafe culture where internationals and locals alike spend hours chatting over macchiatos and cigarettes.

Since 2008, Kosovo has embraced the idea of ‘NEWBORN’ with a monument rooted between modern UN offices, a shopping centre housing trendy European clothes shops and a curious crumbling concrete edifice.  As a passing outsider this, for me, is a fairly apt representation of where things stand.  Over the past number of years Kosovo’s economy has shown some progress in transitioning to a market-based system and maintaining macroeconomic stability, but it is highly dependent on the international community and the diaspora for financial and technical assistance.  Observing the progressive local community that has converged on Prishtina, it is easy forget that Kosovo’s citizens are the poorest in Europe with an average annual per capita income of only €2,000.  Unemployment is reported at between 40%-47%, with youth unemployment estimated to be as high as 76%.

Newborn Monument, Pristina

Unfortunately there was no time to visit rural Kosovo to see what lies beyond Prishtina as, of course, I was there to work.  IRLI sent ten volunteers to work with KCA lawyers and law students in four areas: Human Rights, Professional Ethics, Business Law and Advocacy.  Our major focus over the weeklong training course was on the practical.  Workshops and roleplay backed up each module with participants ‘presenting’ cases before the European Court of Human Rights or improvising client consultations.  There is a thirst for advocacy training and skills in Kosovo with our team of barristers leading a dynamic two day session replicating the training received by students in King’s Inn.

Participant's role play

Our stay happened to coincide with several notable events in Kosovo.

The week previous saw a controversial ruling by Kosovo’s Constitutional Court that members of cabinet do not enjoy immunity from prosecution for actions and decisions taken outside the scope of their responsibilities and may be arrested even while the Kosovo Assembly is in session.  We held a lively seminar with Irish lawyer and Senior Legal Advisor to the Constitutional Court, Michael Bourke.  There was much debate with some participants extoling this judgment as an assurance that immunity will not be misused to escape justice for the crimes committed by Assembly members.  Others raised concerns over the independence of the Assembly and felt the decision may allow for the abuse of executive power at the expense of the legislature.

We also watched as tensions escalated in northern Kosovo.  Relations have been strained in the period surrounding an agreement reached on the subject of trade between Serbia and Kosovo allowing for the free flow of exports in both directions through border checkpoints. This agreement was the first of its kind since Kosovo declared independence in 2008; previously, Serbia had banned all exports entering the country from Kosovo.  Under the agreement, the Kosovo authorities would have overall authority over the crossings but would be under the supervision of EULEX.

While agreed by the two authorities, local Serbs on the ground in northern Kosovo have broadly opposed both the customs agreement and, still more, the deployment of Kosovo customs officials to border crossings  with Serbia.  Violent clashes erupted over the week as negotiators from Serbia and Kosovo were to meet in Brussels under EU auspices to try to mend daily ties such as flow of people and goods, property rights and personal documents.

Ibrahim Dobruna and Michael Irvine

Finally, our own Michael Irvine concluded the week by being named the first Honorary Member of the KCA. Michael was awarded a certificate of membership along with a plaque and Judge’s robe at a ceremony hosted by the Executive Council of the KCA.

This Course was originally to be extended into a five week Professional Practice Course, ultimately to be made compulsory for all lawyers.  As funding streams aimed at the Balkans are drying up, it is unlikely that the project will proceed as originally planned.  Our team of volunteers however have been toying with alternative possibilities so we hope this will not be the end of our partnership with the KCA and with Kosovo.

A big thanks to all the volunteers, the KCA and of course the participants.  A special mention to Albulena Ukimeraj and Yll Zekaj for all their hard work.

By Rachel Power, Irish Rule of Law International.  This is an Irish Aid funded project.