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Kosovo: Press Briefing Transcript for briefing of 14 Mar 2007

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Briefing by UNMIK Director of Justice Albert Moskowitz

UNMIK Spokesperson Neeraj Singh

Good morning. I have great pleasure in welcoming Mr. Albert Moskowitz, Director of UNMIK's Department of Justice, who has unfortunately decided to leave us soon to take up another assignment on judicial capacity-building in South-East Asia. We invited Mr. Moskowitz for his last meeting with you here. Thank you very much for being here Mr. Moskowitz. We'll have a statement from the Director of Justice followed by questions from you and after that as usual we'll continue our regular weekly press briefing. So over to Mr. Moskowitz.

UNMIK Director of Justice Albert Moskowitz

Thank you Neeraj, thank you all for being here. As Neeraj says, I am leaving Kosovo. It has been an honour to serve as the Director of DOJ for what has been a very eventful 13 months. But my time in Kosovo will soon be over as I will rejoin my family for a brief period of time back in the United States and then take on new challenges in a different part of the world, South-East Asia.

About a year ago, I came before many of you here today in a press conference, to talk about two initiatives that I hoped to tackle during my tenure here: corruption and the establishment of Kosovo's Special Prosecutors Office. And I take this opportunity as I leave, to report to you now that significant progress has been made in both areas.

With respect to the fight against corruption, the Department of Justice working very closely with the police, has focused resources to increase the number of corruption and organized crimes cases investigated and prosecuted. For example, in 2006 alone we have brought over 20 such cases, arresting 26 people, involving cases such as a corrupt judge, financial fraud in government agencies, in ministries, corporate fraud and banking misconduct. These cases involve millions of euros. Already several convictions have been obtained while other cases are at various stages of adjudication. These cases are complex and often time-consuming to investigate and to prosecute. But significant progress has been made and I anticipate that this momentum will continue through UNMIK and through the follow-on mission as well.

And an important tool to continue the fight against corruption in my view is the development of the Kosovo Special Prosecutor's Office (KSPO). And I am here to report that the KSPO has now begun its work, not as soon as I would have liked, but it is now up and running. Four local prosecutors are working alongside international advisors and mentors and are now doing investigating and prosecution of sensitive and complex cases. Additional local applicants are being recruited and interviewed, and we hope to double the number of local prosecutors in the KSPO in the next several months. Many, many countries recognise the importance of establishing a special prosecutor's office to handle the most difficult and sensitive cases like corruption and organised crime. And now Kosovo is developing this capacity as well.

Over the last year, the Department has assisted in the transfer of competencies to the Ministry of Justice and to the Kosovo Judicial Council. In some ways this has been the most important work of the Department, because the Ministry of Justice and the Council are essential to a well functioning judicial system in Kosovo. Virtually all responsibilities previously handled by the Department of Justice are now being capably managed by the Ministry of Justice and the Council. These two institutions have shown growth and maturity in the last year, in my view. And in the future it is essential that these two institutions continue to be strong and independent and gain the confidence and expertise necessary to improve the delivery of justice to the people of Kosovo.

And speaking of challenges ahead, it is essential that protection for witnesses and victims be improved in Kosovo. No one can be prosecuted without witnesses and these witnesses must feel secure and safe enough to come forward and testify. Some progress is being made on this front as well. For example, a video link system has been now established here in Kosovo which will allow for testimony to be given at remote locations and will also allow the identities of witnesses to be electronically masked, and we will be demonstrating this technology this Friday for you all, but much more must be done on this front.

And finally, in terms of issues for the future let me also emphasise one more thing. A quality judicial system costs money; it's not free. Facilities must be upgraded, court rooms and court houses must be made safe and secure, but most importantly a judicial system is made up of people - judges, prosecutors and staff - and they must be paid appropriately. At present, that is not the case in Kosovo. At the end of the day a good judicial system depends upon good and skilled people. The best legal minds will not serve in the judiciary unless the pay is competitive. Now there are only about 400 judges and prosecutors in Kosovo. A significant increase in their salary will not have a big impact on the overall budget, but it will have a big impact on the quality of justice for the people of Kosovo. It is up to Kosovo to decide what its priorities are, but if strengthening the rule of law is a priority, as it must be, then Kosovo must act on this and pay its judges, prosecutors and staff appropriate salaries. And with that I will be happy to take any questions.