This article is not meant to fully cover trade in post-conflict societies, but rather, the aim of this article is to introduce the kind of issues that enable illicit trade to flourish in post-conflict societies. In particular, this article will cover places like Kosovo and similar post-conflict societies where the EU has an important role in contributing to the country’s development, but receives negative feedback in the form of reports from various EU institutions. A case in point is the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Report of 7 January 2011, concerning the illicit trafficking of human organs in Kosovo. There furthermore was the 2015 bribery scandal of EU officials in Kosovo, but allegations of corruption within European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) Kosovo have since been cleared.
This scandal has shaken the authority of EULEX, especially since it was not ready to manage the challenge of finishing war crimes-related cases in Kosovo since 1999. An outcome of this, and due to the clearly outlined need to finish the war crimes-related investigations, was the formation of The Kosovo Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (SPO), which functions in The Hague, Netherlands. However, the specific immunity of the EULEX mission poses serious challenges to the democratic capacity and sovereignty of the Kosovo state. The EU established the Human Rights Review Panel (the Panel) on 29 October 2009 with a mandate to review alleged human rights violations by EULEX Kosovo. While war crimes have been a long-lasting issue in Kosovo, at least since 1998, Kosovo now suffers from new crimes that have, in some sense, flourished under the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and EULEX Kosovo.
These recent scandals have revealed the unlimited capacity of post-conflict countries to participate in the global phenomenon of the illegal goods trade. As an outcome of this, we can draw up some conclusions about other post-conflict societies, such as Ukraine, Syria and Libya, where the EU is investing money and support for new democratic governments, and where a future EULEX mission could be possible. All successful transnational business, legal or illegal, relies on establishing strong international networks. Organised crime groups are innovative and adaptable in their business methods, for instance in transferring many of their activities to the Internet while still maintaining some local presence in illicit markets.
However, the specific immunity of the EULEX mission poses serious challenges to the democratic capacity and sovereignty of the Kosovo state
The recent case of trafficking in human organs in Kosovo has shocked both the local population and police force. Organ trafficking has been perceived as a practice that does not belong to ‘Western’ countries, yet has found itself close to the EU, which actually forms a large demand of the illegal organ trade market (i.e. transplanted kidneys). The removal and transplant of kidneys to recipients who have paid large sums of money is inevitably a very profitable business.
In Kosovo, the practice of illegal kidney removal for transplantation gained prominence during the Kosovo War in 1999, where the story of the “Yellow House” dates back to. Here, while the Kosovo Liberation Army forces were kidnapping, torturing and killing civilians, who were predominantly Serb captives, the idea of making profit from selling their organs materialised. Although this crime belongs to those committed during the Kosovo War, which now, 20 years later, has a specific body to deal with such crimes (as aforementioned, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers), this type of crime, in addition to the unauthorized sale of weapons, is a new characteristic of post-conflict societies in the vicinity of the EU.
Saying this, we come to the most important point in the Kosovo post-conflict setting: the infamous, but often overlooked crime of smuggling of migrants. Together with the European migrant crisis since 2015, the smuggling of migrants is one of the most important and dangerous crimes that threatens the EU system of values. While the current migrant crisis has hit Syrian refugees very hard, and simultaneously, has offered endless opportunities for smugglers over the Mediterranean Sea, it is still unclear what has forced the huge movements of people from Kosovo to join this wave of migrants. The government of post-conflict Kosovo, together with the EULEX Kosovo administration, fails to provide an adequate standard of living for its citizens. While corruption is widespread in Kosovo, it is not acceptable for EULEX officials to be connected to such activities, since it further undermines their already fragile peace-keeping and state-building missions.
Organ trafficking has found itself close to the EU, which actually forms a large demand of the illegal organ trade market (i.e. transplanted kidneys)
Controversies have followed Kosovo since the beginning of its statehood; in particular, its partial recognition by UN member states and recent cases connected to self-determination, such as the Russian annexation of Crimea. The success of policing in Kosovo, on one hand, has greatly improved, as the results in the fight against counterfeit goods has increased by over 100%, but on the other hand, various other organised crimes have arisen as mentioned previously. The recent developments and agreements between the Serbian and Kosovo governments, such as the Brussels Agreement of 2013, was a step forward in building trust between the Serbian minority and Albanian majority in Kosovo. However, more than five years later, it still has been not fully implemented. Furthermore, since Kosovo’s democratisation, EU integration and trade liberalisation has taken another hit as Kosovo’s government declared a trade war against Serbia in late 2018, raising customs tariffs on Serbian and Bosnian goods from 10% to 100%. By blocking all trade, this has reopened the door for illegal and illicit trade, smuggling, and organised crime development. A country with such a divided past and troublesome present has deviated from its path towards EU integration; how one of the core elements of integration, the free trade, plans to go forward is simply another question.
This article is not meant to blame or shame anyone, but rather, seeks to outline the dangers and negative potentials for organised crime in post-conflict societies.
Attila Nagy (LLM International Business Law) is a law lecturer and researcher from the International Business College Mitrovica-Spark in Kosovo. With a wide regional and global experience, he focuses on law, business, human and minority rights and comparative Constitutional law.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of RUSI or any other institution.