AIIS report lists threats to rule of law in the region and ways to aid its establishment

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 22, 2017 10:33

AIIS report lists threats to rule of law in the region and ways to aid its establishment

TIRANA, Dec. 20 – A report published this week on the rule of law in the Western Balkans concluded that the establishment of rule of law in the region remains an increasingly difficult process. The report explored some of the ways the governments, civil society and the media can act and use other successful state models to facilitate necessary changes.

According to the experts, corruption, bribery and organized crime are major threats against democracy and economic and social prosperity. The region’s post-conflict environment worsens the situation, as it gives way to weak governance, disruptive influence by Russia and other actors and stalled Euro-Atlantic integration.

In light of this, the report followed, “Western Balkan countries should start with fundamental steps and learn from EU’s previous enlargement processes.” Another step is making the best out of international assisting bodies in respective countries, such as OSCE in Albania.

“Its core activity is strengthening the country’s administration and the legislative and judicial reform. This includes monitoring, which leads to reform changes and further implementation in the courts,” the report said concerning OSCE, but referring to other organs as well.

On the other hand, the EU itself should regain trust and credibility in the eyes of the Western Balkans, as “its efficiency in monitoring states’ progress and ability to implement accession conditions have been undermined, as alternative ways of governing do emerge.”

In turn, the report, compiled by the Albanian Institute of International Studies (AIIS) in cooperation with PfP Consortium Study Group, the Austrian National Defense Academy and the George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies, mentioned some of the best practices of national state efforts to strengthen rule of law.

Different states have been given different priorities according to their situation. In Albania, the justice reform was mentioned as one of the main conditions.

“For promoting the justice reform, Albania has accepted donations by international experts and brand consultation, due to its difficulty in drafting the law. Concerning the justice reform, a vetting of all existing structures and legislations is the country’s key to move forward,” it was said.

Zagreb, it was mentioned, has managed to strengthen the rule of law through the State Prosecutor’s Office for the Suppression of Organized Crime and Corruption (USKOK). USKOK’s employees go through regular security checks, while “its executive powers go so far as to punish corruption with jail time and loss of money.”

Another example was Macedonia’s special prosecutor office, which was established to investigate alleged illegal wiretapping, election fraud and abuse of public office from the people who are in power.

“Although this method needs to be more transparent and has to extend its network before being called successful, it must be considered that it has given rise to debates in Macedonia and its public support in polls reaches 60%,” the report followed.

Another key component mentioned by experts was the countries’ civil society. Not to be overlooked is the need of a system “of civic education focusing on enhancing civic responsibility and engagement” for the creation of societies respectful of human rights and the rule of law.

The report said: “for this reasons, civil society organizations (CSO-s) in the Western Balkan countries should act to lower prejudices, protect human rights, monitor anti-corruption policies and raise awareness in order to finance their programs.”

A good practice offered in the report was Montenegro’s Democracy School, of the Centre for Civic Education, and the Leadership School, of the Civil Alliance. Belgrade’s example, on the other hand, shows that SCOs can help EU accession and the implementation of states’ action plans, through “trial monitoring and facilitating public discussion.”

The lack of support and attention towards independent media was also brought to attention in the report. Bosnia and Herzegovina was mentioned as an example of the downfalls that lacking media financing can bring, such as the rise of Russian influence in the country and decrease of investigative journalism.

“Investment in independent media supports the establishment of a kind of watchdog of crime and corruption, which calls on the misuse of public posts and halts pro-Russian controlled media that bring instability into the region,” it was written.

Among the recommendations addressing the international community, especially the EU and NATO, were the acknowledgment of external actors’ influence in the region (Turkey, Russia) in civil society and media working against democracy and the rule of law. Moreover, it was recommended that the EU should urge all states to create Action Plans to open accession negotiations, as well as strategically plan the use of funds to assist the media and civil society, which are underfunded.

In this vein, the report noted that “The EU should uphold the same standards for its member states and publicly denounce negative developments in the context of democratic standards for the member states that result as non-inspiring cases.”

In an economic context, the report underlined, “Investors need a well-functioning, independent and effective juridical system which guarantees rapid and impartial conflict-solving in courts.”

For this reason, countries should adopt the best regional practices that have been proved efficient and draw lessons from the negative experiences of other countries.

Lastly, the report recommended that CSOs should be more active and concerned with providing civic education in order to contribute to the rule of law. Moreover, media outlets should be careful not to promote or use hate speech, especially during political campaigns.

More specifically, the report said: “Donors should promote and financially support independent media and particularly reports which focus on investigative journalism.”

The report comes at a time when the reforms in many EU aspirant countries, and particularly Albania, are being put to the test by political developments and citizens are mainly untrusting of the functionality of the rule of law in everyday situations.

Albania lost 19 places in the 2016 Rule of Law Index to rank 72nd out of 113 countries worldwide on deteriorating perception on corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, and justice enforcement.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 22, 2017 10:33