Discover the Latest Innovations and Lessons Learned in Rule of Law and Legal Empowerment Projects
BY JASON TASHEA
Against the constant chatter of corruption, questionable leadership, and failing government structures, there is one clear bright spot in Kosovo: the juvenile justice system. Thanks to a concerted effort, Kosovo has put in place fundamental building blocks towards a just and equitable juvenile justice system. With further reform, Kosovo can be the juvenile justice leader in the region.
Kosovo has made huge strides regarding their juvenile justice system. In 2008, it incorporated the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into the constitution. In 2010, Kosovo passed the Juvenile Justice Code (JJC), an updated version of the 2004 provisional code. The JJC created the legal backbone for process and procedure in Kosovo and differentiated the juvenile criminal system from the adult system. In 2013, Kosovo restructured its courts to create at least one juvenile judge position, that is a judge focusing solely on juvenile cases, in every jurisdiction. The prosecution service has done something similar. Specialization in juvenile criminal law, which is distinct from adult criminal law, is a huge step forward for Kosovo’s juvenile justice system. Specialization will allow for a deeper understanding and better utilization of the law to help court involved children.
This specialization is being enhanced by the Kosovo Judicial Institute’s (KJI) trainings. These trainings have helped judges, prosecutors, probation officials and others develop a grounded understanding in best practices and outcomes for children. On account of the specialization amongst advocates and judges, and thus lower turnover KJI is in the process of developing an advanced curriculum. KJI’s trainings have been successful at increasing stakeholder awareness and acceptance of diversion, which is an alternative to a formal trial and incarceration. Kosovo, and especially Prizren, successfully employs diversion for many smaller offenses like minor theft or property damage.
While these trainings are helping, they are not doing enough for defense advocates. The KJI and UNICEF events I took part in while in Kosovo did not include the Chamber of Advocates or defense advocates generally. This means while judges and prosecutors are becoming better practitioners of juvenile law, defense advocates are falling behind. Anecdotally, some prosecutors have intervened on behalf of the child because of the defense’s inability to understand the purpose of a diversion alternative. If Kosovo intends to allow youth a fair trial, they need to train defense advocates. It is safe to say that this is not happening in Kosovo, and in fact the current system is perpetuating it.
Another place that Kosovo has surprised many observers is at the Lipjan facility. This is the sole juvenile detention facility in Kosovo. It has a stand alone facility that holds 48 boys, and a women’s facility that also holds girls. The boy’s facility is “sight and sound separated” from the adult and female population in keeping with international standards and norms. The entire facility provides school, certified vocational training, and some counseling. The facility is clean and seemingly well operated. The girls population, however, is not given the same standard of treatment and protection as the boys. The girls need to be held and treated separately from the adult female population; this is both a gender equality and child protection issue. Further, there needs to be financial support to ensure that vocational training can continue and is useful to both genders. Excellent facilities have been provided, but without better funding and protection their use and efficacy will diminish.
Kosovo’s achievements in juvenile justice cannot be diminished. However, Kosovo must prioritize the training of defense advocates and provide appropriate facilities for girls. These are just two areas of needed reform, but taking these steps will show the region Kosovo intends to lead on juvenile justice.
Jason Tashea was a Fulbright Fellow to Kosovo for 2012-13, and is the co-founder of Youth Courts International. He can be found on Twitter at @jtashea.