Kosovo: International pacifist organisation calls for end of prosecution of Albin Kurti
On 5 February in Prishtina, Kosovo, nonviolent activist Albin Kurti faces the fifth hearing in a trial where he is charged with "attempting to cause general danger and/or large-scale property damage", obstructing official persons in performing their duties, and inciting people to break a police cordon. Albin is currently being held in detention on remand in prison, and has been classified as a Category A prisoner - a high risk prisoner - because he did not attend the last court session voluntarily due to his principled non-recognition of the UNMIK system in Kosovo.
War Resisters' International - an international pacifist network committed to nonviolent forms of action and with 82 affiliates in 42 countries - regards the prosecution of Albin Kurti as a politically motivated attempt to harass and discredit one of the most outspoken and persistent critics of the international administration of Kosovo and the movement Vetëvendosje (Self-Determination) which he helped found. UN missions are supposedly rigorous in their efforts to respect international human rights standards and to provide a model of good governance. Instead, UNMIK - the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo - has shown itself to be unaccountable and - in the face of pluralism and civil disobedience - quite simply authoritarian, failing to respect legal process.
This hearing takes place almost a year after the events concerned, on 10 February, when UNMIK police opened fire on an unarmed demonstration, calling for the right to self-determination, with rubber bullets, killing two people and injuring more than 80 more. Although the UNMIK chief of police subsequently had to resign, the police unit concerned has returned to Rumania where no further investigation has taken place. Meanwhile Albin Kurti was immediately arrested and held in detention until July, when he was placed under house arrest which was finally rescinded on 19th December 2007.
The prosecution of Albin Kurti has been criticised in detailed by both Amnesty International and the International Helsinki Federation. As well as being detained, and on various occasions prevented from speaking with media or seeing international human rights visitors, Albin Kurti has been the subject of repeated defamatory remarks by UNMIK officials. The lawyer appointed by UNMIK to act as his defence counsel in two trial sessions was someone who had made statements to the media condemning Albin Kurti. He was finally dismissed on 30 January based on evidence presented to the court on 4 December but ignored at the time.
WRI has been in contact with Albin Kurti since 1997, when as a student leader he was the most prominent advocate of active nonviolence to achieve the right to a proper education in Kosovo. Later, as a worker in Adem Demaçi's office when Demaçi was the political spokesperson for the Kosova Liberation Army (UÇK), Albin was involved in securing the release of various prisoners taken by the UÇK. Arrested by the Milosevic regime during the NATO bombings, Albin remained in prison until December 2000. Since his release, Albin has criticised the corruption of various institutions in Kosovo, has refused invitations to join political parties and has campaigned to give a voice to families - of all ethnicities - who do not know what has become of loved ones they have not seen since the war.
This is not the first time during the UNMIK period that the police response to nonviolent demonstrations has been found wanting. The office of the Kosovo Ombudsperson has had occasion to criticise excessive police violence against sit-down protests and acts of civil disobedience organised by Albin Kurti and colleagues in the movement Vetëvendosje (Self-Determination). These demonstrations have always been clearly focused on the policies of the powers-that-be - that is of UNMIK and the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government established under UNMIK auspices. These protests have never sought to foment ethnic hatred - quite the contrary.
Albin himself has invariably been careful to distinguish between the Serbian people as a whole and the criminal political project of various Serbian political leaders. He has spoken for reconciliation and against ethnic hatred. However, like most Kosovo Albanians, he fervently believes that Kosovo has the right to self-determination, and if such self-determination does not respect the human rights of all its citizens, we are confident that Albin Kurti will be in the forefront of those who protest and seek to protect anybody threatened.
WRI calls for an end of the prosecution of Albin Kurti and respect from UNMIK for its critics inside Kosovo, including extra-parliamentary critics ready to use civil disobedience.
(chairperson, War Resisters' International)
signed on behalf of the Executive Committee of the War Resisters' International