Time for Kosovo women to inherit property!10 March 2011
“I would shame my family if I demanded my equal share of property,” a female protagonist declares in the Albanian film Asking for inheritance - asking for trouble. The film and panel discussion that followed, focusing on female property and inheritance rights in Kosovo, was held to mark International Women’s Day.
The event was part of a new monthly initiative started this year by the Office of the Presidency of EULEX Judges, the EULEX Best Practices Unit, and the EULEX Human Rights and Gender Office. Its aim: the identification of human rights and gender-related problems associated with the implementation of the rule of law.
In his opening address, Alexander Hug, the Head of EULEX Human Rights and Gender Office (HRGO), said: “Our theme today focuses on the hiatus between theory and practice: Kosovo’s applicable laws guarantee gender equality, yet only a small percentage of women own land or other property.”
The film showed that many Kosovo Albanian women do not receive any inheritance, either because they waive their right to inheritance in favour of their brothers, or because sometimes the inheritance claim before the court ignores them.
The panel discussion raised several important points: firstly, women are assumed to waive such rights because of social pressures, like preservation of family harmony or avoidance of conflict. Although the film focused on Albanian women, Serbian women were said to face similar discrimination.
The panel members included the acting president of the municipal court in Pristina, OSCE representative, directors of the Lawyers’ Association, NORMA and the Kosovo Gender Studies Centre, the EULEX Justice Component and the EULEX Property Rights Unit.
A second issue was the judges’ failure in many cases to investigate the number of legal heirs, or, should they do so, the lack of accurate civil registries, resulting in unequal access to justice.
Several other issues were identified. The courts are often left to formalize informal agreements prepared beforehand within the family, excluding women from property. Although the courts cannot solve problems rooted in discriminatory family customs, judicial institutions should strictly adhere to the applicable law. Municipal civil registries are incomplete, outdated, or underused leaving the courts unable to determine the precise number of lawful claimants. The NORMA representative said: “Property rights were traditionally based on oral agreements as the Kosovo Albanian population did not trust the state.”
Solutions proposed include closer interaction between courts and municipal institutions, improving civil registries to include all family members, rapid notification of deaths to municipal courts, the use of sanctions for those ignoring the law, awareness campaigns targeting women and men, and learning from good practices in neighbouring countries.
The current talks between Belgrade and Pristina may provide the US with an opportunity to shift away from a policy that has become dependent on one leader and upon giving full backing to all of Pristina’s political claims.
By Gerard Gallucci
Since December, news from Kosovo has been increasingly about the involvement of its political leaders in corruption, organ trafficking and organized crime, extending back to acts committed by the KLA during the war. EULEX is currently investigating the alleged involvement of senior officials who are former KLA members. These investigations may be, in part, an effort to make-up for EULEX’s failure to pursue allegations in a report, by Swiss Senator Dick Marty, on Prime Minister Thaci’s involvement in KLA organ trafficking. EULEX tried to deflect calls for it to investigate Thaci by blaming Marty for not passing on the names of witnesses. But some witnesses are dead and those living seem reluctant to entrust themselves into Kosovo’s witness protection scheme. So, EULEX apparently dug through its files and came up with the current investigation. But in the Balkans, it is hard to please everyone and former-KLA have been quite active in criticizing and demonstrating against EULEX.
All this has led some to suggest that perhaps the creation of an Albanian-majority, independent Kosovo was a mistake. Some have charged too that none of the information on corruption and criminal involvement is really new but was previously covered up and ignored for political reasons. This is almost certainly true. Anyone working in the Balkans since the collapse of Yugoslavia will be quite familiar with the near ubiquitous links between political and criminal circles. Of course, traditional brigandage has characterized certain areas of Kosovo since time immemorial. And stories of human rights abuses and criminal activity by KLA figures were common in Kosovo. Some of these may not stand up to the demands for evidence, but the general picture has been known for some time.
It seems certain that someone was protecting the Kosovo leadership from being investigated. Some cite reports that the US pressured UNMIK not to investigate charges into Thaci’s leadership. The US may also have played a role in ensuring that former KLA leader and prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, was pulled in front of the Hague to get him out of Thaci’s way. Indeed, the US may have sought to punish a high-ranking UNMIK official for seeking to help Haradinaj as it had helped Thaci.
It is no secret that the US judged Thaci to be key to maintaining control over the Kosovo Albanians. Keeping him as a trusted and cooperative prime minister became in itself an important element of US policy. In return for him keeping the lid on Albanian irredentism and for accepting the form – if not the substance – of the Ahtisaari Plan, Thaci received complete US backing both for him and for Pristina’s claim of independence and “territorial integrity” (meaning control of the north). Thus the US followed the path it has often used in backing the likes of the Shah of Iran, Mobutu, Pinochet, Saddam (before 9/11), Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi – swallow any reservations about the behavior of “your man” as long as he remains “your man.” Typically, the US was unable to extricate itself from these relationships until it was too late for a happy ending.