The laws are there; laws that also protect Kosovo’s minorities. But marginalized communities do not necessarily know them. And they are not used to go to court. ECMI Kosovo is on the case.
ECMI Kosovo issues a monthly news summary on its website. Every time, the summary mentions how many benefited from free legal aid in the past month. Together, the figures exceed a thousand within this year, as was also the case in 2011.
The figures reflect one core service of the ECMI Kosovo project aimed at enhancing the positive impact of the law for vulnerable and marginalized groups in Kosovo. This italicized string is also the project title.
Creating a handful of success stories
Obviously, the project of ECMI Kosovo and its partners is providing legal aid to a lot of people. However, according to project leader Lars Burema the main point is elsewhere.
Kosovo does have an exhaustive legal system that ensures human rights and the rights also of marginalized population groups. The difficulty is in the implementation. The relevant people don’t know their rights and how to get access to the legal system and to defend their rights, he explains.
For Burema and ECMI Kosovo, the sense is in helping people get access to justice and to create awareness also for the future on how this is achieved:
“Our goal is achieved, if we have established a handful of success stories on how to access human rights and a belief that it is possible.”
The wider perspective is that “citizens and civil society start doing what we are doing right now. In this sense it is about empowerment and capacity building,” explains Burema.
Non-discrimination is in focus
ECMI Kosovo and its partners offer legal aid for cases of various kinds. However, the common denominator is equal treatment, says Lars Burema from ECMI in Prishtina:
“Our focus is non-discrimination. This is equal access to public services, non-segregated education, and equal access to public documents and so on.”
For instance, the monthly update for June describes how ECMI Kosovo submitted 23 complaints to the Kosovo Ombudsperson. The complaints all relate to violations of the Law on Use of Languages by Kosovo institutions. The complaints specifically address unequal availability of information. The cases are still pending.
The problem of issuing information in only the majority language of the individual municipality is typical. However, there are many more issues and cases:
- Ramiz Sadiku was previously a socially owned company dealing with building construction. Discrimination has allegedly occurred in the process of privatization. Only some of the previous workers have been offered shares. The case is pending.
- Roma community members report that they are refused the possibility to exchange their Serbian driver licenses for Kosovo licenses. Allegedly, the rejections are given on grounds of ethnicity.
- Cases of ethnic separation of school classes occur. There are examples of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians being placed into segregated school classes.
Further examples can be found in ECMI Kosovo’s monthly updates.
More outreach activities
The establishing of precedence by means of legal aid and successful cases is one out of two major project’s approaches. The second approach is workshops and trainings. The outreach activities target for instance judges and civil society organizations.
As recently as September, ECMI Kosovo organized two training workshops. The workshops treated international standards and local legislation regarding anti-discrimination. The workshops were attended by selected judges from all over Kosovo.
Access to legal aid and sponsors
ECMI Kosovo and Centre for Legal Aid and Regional Development (CLARD) operate eight legal clinics throughout Kosovo. The legal aid lawyers are paid for their services, while municipalities offer free office space, legal clinics, as hubs for the project.
The project is financed by the EU and it is managed by the European Union Office in Kosovo.