A front row seat to history in Kosovo

Katerina Ossenova [University of Pittsburgh School of Law 2L, in Kosovo]: "Kosovo is at a remarkable moment in history, witnessing both state-building and interaction and cooperation between the world's largest international organizations. My internship position for the summer is with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), at the Department of Justice, Legal Policy Division. UNMIK was created by United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) with the mandate to provide interim administration for Kosovo. UNMIK was formed in response to the war in Kosovo in 1999 between Serbia and ethnic Kosovo Albanians who for years struggled for win autonomy for Kosovo, independent from Serbia proper. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's military crackdown against the armed resistance by the Kosovo Liberation Army resulted in hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled to Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro as well as the deaths of thousands of people. Serbian forces were driven out of Kosovo by NATO air strikes in the summer of 1999 and UNMIK took over administration of the province. The administration of Kosovo was divided into four components: the UN was to head civil administration, the European Union was to oversee reconstruction, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was charged with institution-building and democratization, and the UN High Commission for Refugees was tasked with humanitarian affairs. Ultimate authority rests with the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN, who reports directly to the Secretary General of the United Nations. Since UNMIK assumed control of the transitional civil administration in Kosovo, KFOR forces, made up of troops from all over the world, maintained control over military and security matters. Since 1999, UNMIK has reserved certain powers and competencies but has gradually transferred powers to the Provisional Institutions of Self Government. Currently, negotiations are ongoing in Vienna to determine the final status of Kosovo.

My first impression upon my arrival in Prishtinë/PriÅ¡tina was the striking similarity between Kosovo and my native Bulgaria. From the Soviet-like buildings to the ever crowded cafes, this was another Balkan country struggling to free itself of the legacy of its past while trying to define its future in Eastern European politics. In a strategic location amongst former Yugoslavian nations, as well as rich in mineral resources, this territory of approximately one million people will greatly influence the stability and democratization of the region. The Legal Policy Division of UNMIK DOJ has the important task of facilitating international judicial cooperation and assistance between Kosovo and other jurisdictions, nations, and Kosovo's judicial system. LPD is divided between the external relations section (ERS), the policy legislation section (PLS), and litigation. ERS focuses on coordinating, negotiating and facilitating criminal matters that concern Kosovo residents and other nations and jurisdictions. LPD is concerned with drafting legislation, policies, and procedures that govern Kosovo. The office is comprised of local Kosovo Albanians along with a staff of international experts and managers.

My work at LPD has been both surreal and fascinating. After just completing my first year of law school, I did not expect to be assigned complicated and politically charged criminal cases or to have the opportunity to draft actual legislation. I have been able to work on an extradition case concerning the transfer of a Kosovo resident to a foreign nation upon the issuance and execution of an international wanted notice. My work has also included drafting and implementing an international wanted notice, negotiating with the Belgrade War Crimes Council, as well as requesting for the transfer of a sentenced person from Kosovo to Serbia and Montenegro. I attended senior legal officer meetings, wrote interoffice and action memos for the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations, and drafted and revised legislation.

My interaction on a daily basis with a variety of people from all over the world has made my internship unique. On any given day, I work and meet with people from USAID, the Supreme Court of Kosovo, Council of Europe, OSCE, NATO, the European Union, the Ministry of Justice, etc. However, the best part of my experience so far has been my rapidly growing friendships with the local staff. Their willingness and desire to tell me about their personal experiences during the war or to show me Kosovo's beautiful towns and national treasures adds so much depth and understanding to the situation here. Visiting Kosovo's larger towns, including Gjakovë/Đakovica, Pejë/Peć, Istok/Istog, Prizren, Gjilan/Gnjilane, and Mitrovicë/Mitrovica, has given me the opportunity to see first hand not only the remains of a devastating war but also the re-building and development efforts taking place throughout the territory.

I believe being here this summer is a once in a lifetime opportunity since I'm literally living in what inevitably will be an important moment in history. Since the negotiations about the final status of Kosovo could finish by the end of the year, UNMIK is scaling down its operations and more power and authority is being transferred to the local government. The referendum in Montenegro that took place on Sunday, May 21, 2006 that resulted in over 55% of the population voting for an independent state had a very favorable response here as yet another nation separated itself from Serbia. There are many places around the world that are closely watching Kosovo's progress toward independence and will act in its footsteps if the result is an independent and sovereign state. Boundaries and borders continue to change and new nations are created — even in regions as old as the Balkans. What has taken place in Kosovo since 1999 and will take place over the next few years will not only dramatically impact the stability and security of Eastern Europe but will also influence the development of new nation states. Also of importance is the ability of international organizations and agencies — such as the EU, UN, Council of Europe, and OSCE among others —to actually direct, monitor, and govern international crises, disputes, and relations. The most valuable part for me is having a front row seat to this whole process!"

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