I spent most of last night studying the long and tortured history of this tiny country as I continued to use my jet lag to my benefit. (It brought back my days of western civ and reminded me why I never did well in the class.) How can so many places in the world experience volatility and unrest for centuries and never seem to approach what we take for granted in the USA. It always seems to come back to the corruption of power on the part of man. It is somewhat of a shocking realization for me but one that is certainly worth the experience. There truly IS no place like home. When I put my feet on Italian soil this Saturday, the first thing I will do is give a special thanks to my four grandparents for having the courage to seek a better life.
I have a much clearer understanding why I am here and what is my purpose. When I think about the history of our country and those brave men and women whose dream of freedom became the cornerstone for the foundation of liberty they built for us, I become even more empowered in my activism for human rights-civil rights-victims rights. And that is what is missing here in Kosovo. In America, the common people always have been the ones who demanded and fought for the protection of individual rights. That is our history. That is our amazing heritage. In this and other parts of the world, there has always been much fighting ... but it has been the fighting for survival.
So despite the effort, the skill and the good intentions of the USA, NATO, the new breed of Kosovar leaders, victims continue to feel helpless. They are paralyzed and silent in a system created by centuries of hatred and bloodshed. I learned today that I was asked to come here to try to help ignite a spark of individual activism and advocacy... similar to what was given to me and to others some years ago in the birth of the victims rights movement in the USA and particularly, in NJ.
My day began with a long meeting with two fathers whose daughters were murdered, their attorneys and the legal advisor to the US Embassy. In one case, the father of a murdered domestic violence victim has been told by the family court that it was incompetent to hear his request for custody of his granddaughter so he has no remedy in the justice process. His daughter was repeatedly beaten by her husband and here they do not have TROs that last more than 24 hours. So while she was pleading with the police and the prosecutor to give her a hearing in order to obtain a restraining order, she was killed by him. It has been years and there is still no movement on the criminal case in the courts. A public interest group funded by the USA has filed suit against 2 of the judges who refuse to move the case. I met with him and the private lawyer of the father today and we discussed strategy and what the father can do to get his voice heard. Today there is a front page article about the case, along with photos of the judges in the second largest newspaper in the country. In the other case, the victims father was told by the police that they were not going to investigate her murder and there was nothing he could do about it. Well, after our meeting today, the dad and his lawyers now have a game plan which includes dad coming forward publicly and speaking about the denial of his rights as a victim. There is a panel discussion scheduled for Friday with the 2 fathers and me that I am told will be broadcast on TV . . . so we are hopefully going to jump start the self help activism here in Kosovo for crime victims this week.
I learned today that many of the judges and prosecutors are holdovers from the Milosevic days where his Serbian controlled regime appointed all the judges and prosecutors and for a decade they have collected a paycheck and did very little. I was told today that it takes about 7 years for a criminal case to come to trial. There are no juries and no plea bargaining at this time and judges are loathe to incarcerate offenders for violent crimes.
I spent the rest of my day brainstorming with the US and NATO advisors and I am very impressed with the model they are developing for victims rights in Kosovo. I feel that once the new criminal code is adopted (my friend Michelle is writing it) and qualified judges and prosecutors are appointed, they will have a strong base on which to build a system of victim justice. The strong influence of the US has been necessary and it will continue to be present.
Also, because I always have to put my 2 cents in everything, I began working with them on a plan for victim compensation using forfeiture and confiscation funds to pay for benefits. I will be talking this up all week. It’s a new concept to them but we all know it works in the US.
I am told that Kosovo has a population of about 2 million people. Just 10-20 years ago almost half of the population (all Albanians) was forced to leave as a result of ethnic cleansing so they are making great strides in establishing the proper framework for victim justice. But as we well know, the new government needs to put the right people in to implement the plan.
That was a part of my day. Sorry this is long but this is a very meaningful experience for me so I gecome talkative. I am very thankful for this opportunity.
By the way—there are no restrictions on parking and it is common to park on the sidewalk and just about anywhere you can find a space. The people are sweet and they do love us Americans.
Well it is just about midnight.
Richard Pompelio, Esq. is a member of the law firm of DiFrancesco Bateman, Warren, N.J,. and he also serves as the Executive Director of the New Jersey Crime Victims’ Law Center in Parsippany, N.J. He can be reached at 973-903-9848 and firstname.lastname@example.org.