Kosovo: “corruption cases have destroyed the prison system”
Kosovo is a small country of about 11,000 km². It has 12 prisons and 1,648 prisoners, according to the last published figures. The Kosova Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (KRCT) monitors and visits prisons to defend and promote human rights. Alban Muriqi is a law graduate and a project manager at KRCT. Prison Insider asks him three questions.
"Living conditions in detention centres/remand centres are less conducive."
Prison Insider. What are the conditions like in Kosovo prisons?
Alban Muriqi. In general, the living and housing conditions are either good or acceptable 1. In the past four or five years, prisons have improved thanks to new constructions and renovations. Today, overpopulation is not a concern like it was some years ago.
However, living conditions in detention centres (centres for deprivation of liberty for persons remanded in custody and those whose sentence does not exceed three months) are far worse. Overcrowding impedes privacy. The cells contain four beds with worn out sheets and blankets. Like most sanitary facilities, the toilets are often broken or poorly maintained. Ventilation and natural light are not always sufficient. When available, distribution of provisions is irregular. In some prison facilities, five or six inmates live together in one room and there are very few recreational facilities.
In my view, the most urgent need is to properly equip these facilities and guarantee prisoners’ privacy by eradicating overpopulation.
"One expected that attention would be focused on reintegration in the organisation of the prison system. That was not the case."
PI. What was the effect of independence on the prison system?
AM. At the end of the war, in 1999, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) was created. It helped build a prison system in line with existing international norms at the time. The local community did not play any role in the policy making nor in the governance of the prison system. Not even the country’s independence in 2008 could bring about any visible changes: very little responsibilities was assigned to locals, whereas this transfer should have happened at the transition stage. After independence, the European “Rule of Law” Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), which started in December, was created.
In general, the independence of the country did not bring about any significant changes, since the laws and essential infrastructure were already in place when UNMIK established the prison system in 1999.
The situation worsened because of the political ties some prisoners with high economic status had and they could afford better prison conditions. Such preferential treatment resulted in considerable discrimination among the prison population and created discontent among the less privileged inmates.
Attention was expected to be focused on reintegration in the organisation of the prison system. That was not the case. Local authorities were also unable to achieve this goal. This failure is mainly due to a lack of political will and support, insufficient human and financial resources, and the lack of a clearly defined political vision or project.
Hopes for an improved prison system were undermined by corruption cases and ties between some prisoners and influential politicians.
The prison system is currently in its development phase with a long-term perspective for better management.
"We monitor the hearings and communicate with the authorities as a third party."
PI. How did you manage to get testimonies and trust from prisoners, their families and the prison administration?
AM. We gather our information through meetings with prisoners and we keep updating it through reliable channels or sources with eventual relevant or reliable information about their situation.
During our usual monitory visits, we interview convicts individually in the absence of warders. We ask some groups of prisoners’ questions and observe their response to common concerns. Moreover, in recent years, we enriched our information through field surveys in prisons, which helps to provide more targeted and qualitative assessments.
KRCT works with the prison administration to promote standards and good practices.
Our approach is constructive, and we exchange regularly with the central and local prison administration. We send them our conclusions and recommendations.
Particular attention is given to individual cases that we follow regularly. The KRCT plays an important role in drafting and proposing amendments of national policies alongside the National Assembly and government institutions. We share information emerging from our fieldwork, which is valuable. We pay particular attention to the working conditions of prison staff and government policies that concern them.
Apart from our visits, the prisoners can call us (and they do so often). They can write to us or send us letters through their families. As for the remand in custody, we address each of their concerns regarding the conduct of a fair trial or non-compliance with the procedure: we monitor the hearings and communicate with the authorities as a third party (amicus curiae). We are, therefore, strongly present on the national territory. We are always critical and impartial when speaking to authorities and the general public, in the media and on social networks.
Translated by Vivian Durmis and edited by Tanya Solari.