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UNMIK Media Observer, Morning Edition, December 7, 2021

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• Stano: Pristina and Belgrade have no readiness for dialogue (RFE)
• Kosovo delegation travels to Brussels for Stabilisation and Association Council (media)
• Kurti on Gllogjan case: Best investigators working on it (media)
• Bislimi: Parallel structures in the north stronger than ever (media)
• Kosovo leaders pay tribute to late US senator Bob Dole (euronews.al)
• Kosovo war veterans’ leader ‘trapped’ by leaked documents (BIRN)
• COVID-19: Four new cases, no deaths (media)
• Kosovo death rate soars as result of COVID, data reveal (Prishtina Insight)
• Head of private sector union warns Kurti of big protests next week (Express)
• Kosovo judges’ ‘sexist’ language in rape trial draws outrage (BIRN)
• Youth from Kosovo will receive direct help from Youth Guarantee scheme (EWB)

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  • Stano: Pristina and Belgrade have no readiness for dialogue (RFE)
  • Kosovo delegation travels to Brussels for Stabilisation and Association Council (media)
  • Kurti on Gllogjan case: Best investigators working on it (media)
  • Bislimi: Parallel structures in the north stronger than ever (media)
  • Kosovo leaders pay tribute to late US senator Bob Dole (euronews.al)
  • Kosovo war veterans’ leader ‘trapped’ by leaked documents (BIRN)
  • COVID-19: Four new cases, no deaths (media)
  • Kosovo death rate soars as result of COVID, data reveal (Prishtina Insight)
  • Head of private sector union warns Kurti of big protests next week (Express)
  • Kosovo judges’ ‘sexist’ language in rape trial draws outrage (BIRN)
  • Youth from Kosovo will receive direct help from Youth Guarantee scheme (EWB)

Stano: Pristina and Belgrade have no readiness for dialogue (RFE)

It is not very likely that there will be a new meeting soon in the framework of the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia at the highest political level, Radio Free Europe reports, adding that European Union officials said that neither party is ready at the moment to engage constructively in dialogue.

Peter Stano, spokesperson for the EU foreign policy, said that the precondition for the next meeting should be the readiness of the parties to agree on concrete results, in the interest of their citizens. “The latest contacts of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security and the diplomacy of the EU Representative for dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, showed that there is no readiness at present,” Stano said.

Kosovo delegation travels to Brussels for Stabilisation and Association Council (media)

Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti, accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Besnik Bislimi, Foreign Minister Donika Gervalla, Finance Minister Hekuran Murati, Minister of Interior Xhelal Svecla, Minister of Environment Liburn Aliu, and Deputy Minister of Justice Nita Shala, travelled to Brussels for the EU-Kosovo Stabilisation and Association Council.

According to the Office of Kosovo Prime Minister, the delegation will meet representatives of the European Union, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi. The topics of discussion will include Kosovo-European Union relations in the context of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement as part of the Kosovo’s EU integration process, the PM’s Office said.

Kurti on Gllogjan case: Best investigators working on it (media)

Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti spoke yesterday about the killing of three people by yet an unidentified gunman in the village of Gllogjan.

He said the best investigators are working on the case. “The amount of information about the triple murder in Gllogjan of Decan is growing as our best investigators are involved there,” Kurti said, adding that the public will be timely informed as soon as there is some concrete development in the investigation process.

Bislimi: Parallel structures in the north stronger than ever (media)

Kosovo’s Principal Deputy Prime Minister, Besnik Bislimi, said in an interview with Kallxo Pernime on Monday that parallel structures in the north of Kosovo are now stronger than when a decision was made to dissolve them. He added that these structures are dangerous in the area of security.

According to Bislimi, the dissolution of Serb illegal structures in the north has failed and they are now stronger. “Dissolving Serb parallel structures is way more important than the Association [of Serb-majority municipalities]. This is the position we hold in Brussels. Parallel structures are stronger than before,” he said. “In my opinion, the parallel structures were never removed, they have grown stronger and they will be used to reach objectives when the formation of the Association comes into play”.

“I think that the parallel structures that can be dangerous are mainly those in the area of security.”

Kosovo leaders pay tribute to late US senator Bob Dole (euronews.al)

Kosovo’s most senior officials placed flowers at the monument of late US senator Bob Dole, who passed away on Sunday. Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani emphasized his contribution to the people of Kosovo. “Overwhelmed but also proud of the friendship we built throughout the decades and for all the support that he gave to the people of Kosovo in their cause for liberty and independence. Senator Bob Dole stood with us not only in the 90s but also during the challenges we saw in the pre and post-independence period. He never stopped being on Kosovo’s side,” Osmani said.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti also honored the life and contribution of the late US Senator. “Senator Bob Dole contributed immensely to peace in Europe. As he lays in peace, we bow before his life and work. We will always remember and praise his contribution,” Kurti said.

Assembly Speaker Glauk Konjufca said that Kosovo lost “one of its best friends it ever had”. “He made a big contribution to Kosovo’s freedom and independence”, he said.

Standing with Kosovo’s state officials was also the Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy Pristina Nicholas J. Giacobbe.

Kosovo war veterans’ leader ‘trapped’ by leaked documents (BIRN)

The leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army’s War Veterans Organization, Hysni Gucati, on trial for war crimes before the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in the Hague, told the court he had been “set a trap” by leaked documents.

“My biggest personal wish is for the prosecutors … to discover who set me in a trap with the documents,” Gucati told the court, adding that he “would have resigned if those documents had leaked from my office”.

Gucati told his lawyer, Jonathan Rees, in court on Monday that the first to see the package with documents from the court was the secretary of the KLA War Veterans’ Organization, Taibe Miftari.

“The package had written on a paper with a pencil that another 7,000 files would be brought,” Gucati said, adding that a masked person had claimed they would bring other documents.

Asked why he had organised a press conference about the documents, Gucati responded: “It was a surprise that this package was brought without our wish and without warning; for this reason, we held a press conference, so those documents would not be shared by extortionists.”

Gucati and the deputy leader of the KLA War Veterans Organization, Nasim Haradinaj, are on trial at the Hague-based Specialist Chambers for obstruction of justice and intimidation of witnesses, after they came into possession of two tranches of confidential case files from the Specialist Chambers in September 2020. They are accused of urging the media to publish the material.

They have both pleaded not guilty.

On Friday last week, Rees said Gucati and Haradinaj were on trial because it was obvious that the Court was collaborating with Serbs who were responsible for massacres in Kosovo during the independence war of the late-1990s.

Haradinaj’s lawyer, Toby Cadman, sought a postponement of the trial, claiming that he had not been able to communicate with his client for health reasons. However the court did not approve his request.

The indictment alleges that, between September 7 and 25, 2020, at “three press conferences and other broadcasted events, as well as through… social media statements, Mr Gucati and Mr Haradinaj revealed, without authorisation” lawfully protected information.

It also claims that they identified “details of certain (potential) witnesses”.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers were set up under pressure from Kosovo’s Western allies to try crimes allegedly committed during and just after the Kosovo war from 1998 to 2000. They are part of Kosovo’s judicial system but located in the Netherlands and are staffed by internationals.

The existence of the Court is, however, widely resented by Kosovo Albanians who see it as an insult to the KLA’s war for Kosovo’s freedom from Serbia’s violent rule.

COVID-19: Four new cases, no deaths (media)

Four new cases with COVID-19 have been confirmed in the last 24 hours in Kosovo. Eight persons recovered from the virus during this time. There are 318 active cases with COVID-19 in Kosovo.

Kosovo death rate soars as result of COVID, data reveal (Prishtina Insight)

New figures published by the Kosovo Statistics Agency reveal a drastic increase in the overall death rate in Kosovo compared to previous years.

While the new variant of COVID-19, Omicron, spreads fast around the world, countries have started bracing for a new wave of infections.

Scientists say the symptoms of this variant seem “milder” than with previous variants, such as Delta, but countries with vulnerable health systems still worry.

New data published by the Statistics Agency on the mortality rate in Kosovo for the past two years show an alarming increase in the death rate compared to pre-COVID predictions for these two years, with September this year marking a record 200-per-cent increase in the death rate.

While the number of infections, hospitalization and deaths is reported every day, it remains difficult to estimate significant trends from these numbers, or know how bad the rate is compared to how it might have been. Also, because countries report the COVID-19 deaths differently, it is challenging to draw comparisons among them.

But researchers agree that excess mortality rates are a reliable metric in measuring the effect of the pandemic on a population. Excess mortality is the overall number of deaths from all possible causes, beyond what would have been expected in normal conditions.

The general trend in the mortality rate in Kosovo before the pandemic was an increase of 5 per cent. This means that on average 5 per cent more people died every year compared to the year before – from 2015 to 2019.

This number varied in months; cold January was the month when the most deaths occured. However, in 2020, average mortality rates increased by 33 per cent, rising in some months by as much as 70 per cent, as was the case in September that year.

This year saw an even more drastic rise. Data from January to September shows that the mortality rate doubled in Kosovo compared to the same months in 2019, i.e before the pandemic. September 2021 stood out with an increase of more than 200 per cent in the death rate compared to 2019.

This graph represents excess mortality for the years 2014 to 2021. The excess mortality for both 2020 and 2021 are compared to 2019, for better reference.

Older data for excess mortality, published by Our World in Data, put Kosovo under North Macedonia and Albania, which reported a 130 and 120 per cent increase in mortality, respectively.

These comparative data, however, have to be taken with a grain of salt because deaths are sometimes not reported with precision, due to bureaucratic delays and other problems caused by the pandemic.

Conspiracy theories about vaccines fading

The news is more cheering when it comes to vaccinations. Once lagging behind, Kosovo now leads the region, with half of its population having had at least one jab, and 43 per cent of the population double vaccinated.

A study bv BiEPAG in December 2020 warned that conspiracy theories about the pandemic, the origin of the virus and the vaccine posed a major risk to public health in the Western Balkans and had weakened trust in institutions and states, promoting populist views and undermining democratic development.

In October 2020, when this survey was conducted, more than half of those taking part expressed hesitation about the vaccine and said that they would probably or certainly not get a jab. Another 8 per cent were not sure or refused to answer.

One year later, things have changed. Half of the citizens have already been vaccinated.

Factors behind this change may have included proper information issued through the media, public campaigns, people’s own experience with COVID or measures taken by governments to restrict access to public spaces to those who have had jabs.

The same study stated that ethnicity also matters when it comes to belief in conspiracy theories.

Kosovo Serbs, the community in Kosovo most prone to conspiracy theories, displayed most resistance to vaccination: a tremendous 89.6 per cent of Serbs from Kosovo surveyed said that they would reject vaccines.

The National Institute for Public Health does not have specific data for the number of vaccinated people from minorities.

All the other Western Balkan countries are close behind, with only Bosnia and Herzegovina seriously lagging behind.

Kosovo seems to be performing better in this field than some EU countries, like Romania and Bulgaria, and has rates comparative to Slovakia and Croatia.

Compared to the EU average, the Western Balkans is still lagging behind, however. The EU had vaccinated more than 70 per cent of its population by December 3, Our World in Data reports.  The average for Western Balkans is far lower, at just over 40 per cent.

Head of private sector union warns Kurti of big protests next week (Express)

The leader of the Independent Private Sector Union, Jusuf Azemi, said on Monday that if the Kurti-led government does not start delivering on the promises it made it will be faced with major protests starting next week. He said that the demands of the workers are grounded and that he understands the demands of other unions too. “In two weeks, we [the unions] blocked the hospitals during the Hoti government. Every government knows this,” Azemi said during a debate.

Kosovo judges’ ‘sexist’ language in rape trial draws outrage (BIRN)

Prime Minister joins chorus of condemnation of ‘shocking’ sexist language used by a judges’ panel that acquitted five men of sexual abuse in 2012 – saying it underlines need for reform of justice system.

Activists in Kosovo have demanded an investigation into the judges’ panel of the Court of Gjilan/Gnjilane that acquitted five men accused of sexually violating a 19-year-old woman in 2012, after a local media platform at the weekend revealed the highly sexist language the judges had used.

An London-based independent journalist from Kosovo, Vudi Xhymshiti, opened an online petition on Sunday, calling on Kosovo leaders and institutions to take action against the judges.

Xhymshiti told BIRN that the petition, which had gained around 1000 signatures on Monday, was “going well,” adding that once they have 2,000 signatures they will make a press statement, and when they have 5,000, they will officially contact political leaders. “If it is necessary we will organize protests,” Xhymshiti said.

Betimi per Drejtesi (Oath for Justice), a specialized TV show on the rule of law, produced by Kosovo Law Institute, IDK, and the public broadcaster, Radio Television of Kosovo, RTK, on Saturday reported the sexist language used by the panel of the Basic Court of Gjilan/Gnjilane in this case.

The 19-year-old victim had reported being constantly threatened, sexually abused, and suffering physical harm. She told the police she was threatened and sexually abused by five men and suffered physical injuries due to the abuse.

She said she couldn’t report the case earlier because she had been kept in a closed place. One of the accused, she said, had taken her by force by taxi to Gjilan and then raped her at an apartment with four others.

But, in their ruling, the judges accused of the victim of “quenching her lust” with the accused and suggested she only reported the case to police because the accused, being a married man, had rejected her. The judges ruled there was no proof that the accused used violence or serious threats to the victim.

“At the time when the harm occurred, of her own she will accepted first, on the critical day, to travel by taxi with the first accused to Gjilan, although she knew he was of the male gender,” they said,

The court concluded that she had an “agreement with them to go on sexual adventures,” adding that she had thereby given her silent consent to the subsequent abuse.

“The victim with her bad habits especially in terms of morals took the opportunity to spend some time quenching her sexual lust with the accused in question,” they ruled.

The court said the victim only reported the case to justify what had happened to her family, and because the first accused had no interest in keeping her with him, because he was married.

The petition calls on President Vjosa Osmani, Prime Minister Albin Kurti, Parliament Speaker Glauk Konjufca, and Minister of Justice Albulena Haxhiu to investigate the judges in the case and dismiss and prosecute them if need be.

“Every minute that this judges’ panel continues to work in the institutions of justice is one more minute’s opportunity for injustice,” the petition reads.

It calls on institutions to “provide mental, emotional and physical medical services for the victim of double abuse,” as well as “compensate financially the damage caused to the victim as a result of the failure to provide institutions that should serve the citizen with justice and not permanent violence”.

The petition also seeks an investigation into all previous court decisions on similar cases.

PM Kurti agreed that the revelations were shocking.

He told the media on Sunday: “The Gjilan case is another proof of the need for reform in our justice system. Women and girls continue being victims … the language in such a court decision is intolerable, and I am shocked by the language used. I am not familiar with the case, but based on what we can see, it is intolerable.”

Many ordinary citizens have joined the condemnation of the judges on social media, among other things requesting a public database of sexual abusers.

BIRN contacted the Kosovo Judicial Council on whether they will start disciplinary procedures against the judges but had not received a response by the time of publication.

This is not the first time Kosovo courts reached similar decisions on cases of sexual violence. In October, BIRN reported a case where the Court of Pristina sentenced a man to only eight months in prison for sexual violence against a 15-year-old, finding several mitigating circumstances.

Youth from Kosovo will receive direct help from Youth Guarantee scheme (EWB)

Youth is an essential factor in daily life participation in Kosovo it was concluded during the event “Youth Guarantee Program – What’s in for youth”, organized by Kosovar Youth Council, within the “Connecting Youth” platform.

Kosovar Youth Council is part of this Platform, established in 2017 to promote youth connectivity in the region. It is the only initiative of the kind that works as a methodical tool to promote cooperation and dialogue between youth as means for a resilient and diverse region.

During the panel it was recalled that Connecting youth platform has initiated the assessment of the Economic and Investment Plan from the perspective of youth, thus aiming to encourage youth active involvement in such sectorial policy-making process for their initiation to implementation, under the emphasis that rather than just being a beneficiary.

It is concluded that youth should be an actor of change throughout this whole process.

“Kosovo youth who are neither employed, in education or trained (NEET) will receive direct help from the Youth Guarantee scheme, which is very ambitious, but it has already proven to work within Eu member countries where the scheme was tested,” it was said during the panel.

According to Ditjon Fetahu, from Kosovar Youth Council,  this scheme is very important for youth in Kosovo and it will involve many stakeholders such as civil society organizations, government and institutions, and the youth as the most important part.

“It is important that the Youth Guarantee scheme reaches those that are harder to reach. This entails that those who were always lacking opportunities find those opportunities through the schemes to academically and professionally further themselves,” Fetahu told EWB.

He added that it is also very important that youth organizations are essential in policy drafting and implementation to ensure that the voices of the Kosovo youth have a seat at the table where decisions are made.

“The participation of youth in decision making is essential not only in fields where the youth is a focus group but in every sphere of decision making because it is important to understand that, especially in Kosovo where 2/3 of the population is young, every decision made will directly impact the youth,” explains Fetahu.

He assesses that the current state of youth in the decision-making process is not very pleasing which is why Kosovar Youth Council trying to aim to further involve the youth in these areas.

Ditjon Fetahu explains that it is safe to say that the biggest issue that the Kosovo youth faces is unemployment.

“With Kosovo having an unemployment rate of 49.1% it is evident why that is the biggest issue faced by the youth. Unfortunately, Kosovo leads the unemployment rate in the region which is why the implementation of the Connecting Youth platform, and the Youth Guarantee scheme is of such importance because neither employed, in the education of trained (NEET) youth is the main focus,” says Fetahu.

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