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Report on corruption claims within EU mission in Kosovo

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KosovoLaw professor Jean Paul Jacque, appointed by High Representative Mogherini to investigate claims of corruption within the EU mission in Kosovo, has presented his findings.

In October 2014, Kosovar media published the story that two senior staffers from the EULEX mission had allegedly accepted bribes in return for a drop of certain charges for a prisoner.

Afterwards, a British prosecutor came out as a whistle-blower, and accused the Mission of a cover-up after she uncovered sensitive information found on tapped telephone conversations in 2012. This fuelled speculation of corruption within EULEX, an unfortunate allegation for an organization specifically designed to combat corruption within Kosovo.

After an investigation lasting four months, professor Jean Paul Jacque concluded that allegations of a cover up seem to have been unfounded. However, according to him, an internal investigation should have been opened at the outset.

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The report, whilst being careful not to include any details concerning on-going judicial proceedings, found that most of the issues raised seemed to have spawned from misunderstandings, and administrative and structural limitations, rather than deliberate errors.

EULEX is the EU’s largest civilian mission. It was launched in 2008 in order to strengthen the rule of law in Kosovo, months after it broke away from Serbia. Currently it has some 1,600 members. This EU Mission deals with sensitive cases of organized crime, corruption and war crimes considered too complex or politically sensitive to be handled by local prosecutors and judges.

The findings remain very careful through its phrasing. However, professor Jacque did provide some advice on the future of the EU Mission in Kosovo: “The continued presence of EULEX is only feasible if comprehensive reforms are made to improve its effectiveness and thus it credibility. There is no point staying just to keep doing the same thing… Its credibility has been damaged to the point that its actions will henceforth often be tainted with suspicion and every decision to convict or not to convict will risk being criticized on the basis of possible corruption.”

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Kosovo is currently ranked 105th of 175 countries in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions index. This Index measures not the amount of corruption within a state, but the amount of corruption perceived by its population.

For a look at the full Report, please click here

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Holocaust

German Nazi war crimes suspect, 96, who went on the run goes on trial

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Irmgard Furchner, a 96-year-old former secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp, is pictured at the beginning of her trial in a courtroom, in Itzehoe, Germany, October 19, 2021. Christian Charisius/Pool via REUTERS

A 96-year-old German woman who was caught shortly after going on the run ahead of a court hearing last month on charges of committing war crimes during World War Two appeared before a judge on Tuesday in the northern town of Itzehoe, writes Miranda Murray, Reuters.

Irmgard Furchner (pictured), accused of having contributed as an 18-year-old to the murder of 11,412 people when she was a typist at the Stutthof concentration camp between 1943 and 1945, was taken into the sparse courtroom in a wheelchair.

Her face was barely visible behind a white mask and scarf pulled low over her eyes. Security was heavy as the judge and legal staff made their way into the court.

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Between 1939 and 1945 some 65,000 people died of starvation and disease or in the gas chamber at the concentration camp near Gdansk, in today's Poland. They included prisoners of war and Jews caught up in the Nazis' extermination campaign.

Irmgard Furchner, a 96-year-old former secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp, arrives in a wheelchair at the beginning of her trial in a courtroom, in Itzehoe, Germany, October 19, 2021. Christian Charisius/Pool via REUTERS
Judge Dominik Gross arrives in the courtroom for the trial against Irmgard Furchner, a 96-year-old former secretary to the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp, in Itzehoe, Germany, October 19, 2021. Christian Charisius/Pool via REUTERS

The trial was postponed after Furchner left her home early on Sept. 30 and went on the run for several hours before being detained later that day.

Charges could not be read until Furchner, who faces trial in an adolescent court because of her young age at the time of the alleged crimes, was present in court.

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She is the latest nonagenarian to have been charged with Holocaust crimes in what is seen as a rush by prosecutors to seize the final opportunity to enact justice for the victims of some of the worst mass killings in history.

Although prosecutors convicted major perpetrators - those who issued orders or pulled triggers - in the 1960s "Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials", the practice until the 2000s was to leave lower-level suspects alone.

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Belgium

British Legion seeks story behind World War II casualties

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Two Britons, killed during the WW2 Blitzkrieg, rest in the pretty Flemish cemetery of Peutie, among countless Belgian ex-combatants. Former UK journalist Dennis Abbott recently put crosses on the graves on behalf of the Royal British Legion during the Armistice commemoration week in November.

But he is also looking for answers.

What were those two young British boys actually doing in Peutie? And above all: who are Lucy and Hannah, the two Belgian women who maintained their graves for years?

Abbott has been living in Belgium for 20 years. He is a former journalist for, among others, The Sun and The Daily Mirror in London and was subsequently a spokesman for the European Commission. He is also a member of the Royal British Legion, a charity which raises money to support serving and former serving members of the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force facing hardship, as well as their families.

One of their tasks is also to keep alive the memory of those who died for our freedom. Indeed, Abbott was a reservist in Iraq for British troops in 2003.

"On the occasion of the annual commemoration of the Armistice, I looked into stories related to the Battle of Belgium in May 1940," says Abbott. "I discovered the graves of two British soldiers of the Grenadier Guards in Peutie. They are Leonard 'Len' Walters and Alfred William Hoare. They both died on the night of 15 to 16 May. Len was barely 20 and Alfred 33. I was curious why their last resting place was in the village cemetery and not in one of the big war cemeteries in Brussels or Heverlee.

“I found an article in a British provincial newspaper explaining that the two soldiers were first buried in the grounds of a local castle - presumably Batenborch - and then taken to the village cemetery.”

Abbott added: "The case won't let me go. I have looked into how the soldiers ended up in Peutie. Apparently, the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards fought alongside the Belgian 6th Regiment Jagers te Voet. But nowhere is a specific mention of the German attack on Peutie to be found.

“The Belgian and British troops fought a rearguard action during a phased withdrawal beyond the Brussels-Willebroek Canal and then to the Channel coast.

"It seems that Peutie was the divisional headquarters of the Jagers te Voet Regiment. My guess is that the staff of the regiment and the British Guardsmen might have been housed at Batenborch Castle. So the castle was a target for the Germans.

"Were Walters and Hoare guarding the place? Were they seconded to the Jagers te Voet to ensure the rearguard in the steady retreat towards Dunkirk? Or were they cut off from their regiment during the fighting?”

"The date on the memorial stone, 15-16 May 1940, is also strange. Why two dates?

“My suspicion is that they died at night during enemy shelling or as a result of a night raid by the Luftwaffe. In the chaos of war, it cannot be ruled out either that they were victims of 'friendly fire'.”

Abbott has also discovered that two women from Peutie, Lucy and Hannah, looked after Len and William's graves for years.

"That intrigues me. What was their relationship with the fallen soldiers? Did they know them? I think Lucy died. The question is whether Hannah is still alive. Their relatives are probably still living in Peutie.  Does anyone know more? On both graves someone has laid some beautiful chrysanthemums.”

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Conflicts

Youth football peace initiative for Georgian conflict zone

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A widely praised peace initiative in Georgia has launched an appeal for vitally needed fresh investment. The international peace project on the Georgian conflict zone has been lauded for helping to reconcile all sides in a dispute dubbed Europe’s “forgotten war.” In an effort to bring long term peace to the area, an ambitious project was launched to set up football infrastructure in the conflict zone of Gori municipality.

Spearheading the initiative is Giorgi Samkharadze, originally a football referee (pictured center)  who has now made an appeal for international donors to help finance his plans.

He said, “Our project has been partly financed by several business companies but it is definitely not enough to tackle our tasks.  On the contrary the situation became worse, tension is just increasing since the beginning of a conflict.”

Georgian and South Ossetian teams

Georgian and South Ossetian teams

Some $250,000 has been raised so far from a couple of investors and this has gone on drainage and an artificial pitch but more investment from donors is urgently needed for his proposals to come to full fruition.  Backing has also come from the EU/Georgia Business Council and Samkharadze  hopes aid may come from both the public and private sectors.

Support for what is still a charity has come from the Georgian Parliament which has written an open letter, appealing for investment for what is seen as a vitally important local peace initiative.

The Parliament of Georgia has given priority to the international peace project Ergneti, a state document was drawn up to seek donor organizations, the finances needed to develop children in the conflict zone with the help of appropriate infrastructure and to promote the systematic development of peace through sport and culture.

Giorgi Samkharadze explains the peace project

Giorgi Samkharadze explains the peace project

The letter, written by the Chairman of the parliament’s Committee of European Integration, senior Georgian MP David Songulashvili, strongly recommends the project which, he says, “touches on reconciliation of the societies of Georgia and Tskhinvali Region - a very prominent issue for Georgia, as well as its international partners.”

Development of the existing project, he says, “would facilitate people-to-people contact, dialogue processes, and reconciliation of the youth from both sides of the Administrative Boundary Line.”

He writes that the Committee “firmly believes that the goals and expected outcomes of this project are truly in line with the western direction of the country’s development, as peaceful resolution of conflicts and territorial integrity within the internationally recognized borders are values we and our international partners are strongly committed to.”

Songulashvili reaffirms the Parliament’s support to the project and recommends Samkharadze as a “valuable potential partner.”

He concludes, “We truly hope to see this project develop and progress in line with the country’s interests.”

Cup final celebrations!

Cup final celebrations!

Samkharadze  told this site he welcomes the intervention by the Georgian parliament, adding, “Georgia is a country of parliamentary rule and, when the Parliament of Georgia and the European Integration Committee supports such an international peace project, I would hope that the European Commission will feel compelled to provide some financial backing for our project.”

He said he now hopes to see “practical help” from the EU for the initiative.

He says such efforts are all the more important now because of a worrying recent upsurge in tensions in the region.

Ergneti is one of the numerous villages located next to the administrative boundary line (ABL), the demarcation between Georgia and Tskhinvali region or South Ossetia. Following the Georgia-Russia War in August 2008, barbed wire fences were installed on the ABL hindering the freedom of movement of people and goods.

In the past, the EU has applauded the efforts of the project but the hope is that this support will translate into financial aid.

Georgian TVs have broadcast news about the  project while the President of the European Commission, Ms. Ursula von der Leyen, and the leadership of the European Parliament have sent letters of support.

Samkharadze said, “This international peace project needs the practical involvement of investors"

 

Giorgi Samkharadze give post match TV interviews

Giorgi Samkharadze give post match TV interviews

One obvious success so far has been the construction of a temporary football stadium for use by locals, located 300 meters from the temporary demarcation line in Ergnet. Recently, there was a friendly football match composed of the locals from the conflict zone. It took place near the Ossetian border and 300 hundred meters from Tskhinvali and local families of those taking part all chipped in to pay the costs of staging the event.

The event itself was highly symbolic and, so too, was the date when it took place, in August – it was in August 2008 that the bitter, albeit short, war started. Representatives from local government and the EU monitoring mission in Georgia (EUMM) were among those present.

Samkharadze  said, “They told us many warm wards and encouraged all of us to continue our activities.”

He told EU Reporter the aim now is to coordinate with different partners “to build the necessary infrastructure in the conflict zone so as to engage young people in sports and cultural activities.”

He adds, “it is necessary to have a good infrastructure for all events and an environment conducive to teachers and children, so as not to lose the enthusiasm they now have but to develop in search of a better future.”

Ergenti was severely damaged in 2008 and a temporary dividing line runs through the village.

“That,” he adds, “ is why we need to create a good infrastructure for all. We do not want war, on the contrary, we are committed to peace.”

He adds, “We are people of different professions committed to one big goal - to develop  both young people and employment in the conflict zone.”

In the longer term he wants to see other sports and activities take place such as rugby, athletics and cultural, artistic and religious events.

 

Presentation of the Cup

Presentation of the Cup

“It is  necessary to have a good infrastructure for all such events, and an environment conducive to teachers of sports and cultural events and children, so as not to lose the enthusiasm they now have but to develop in search of a better future,” he states.

The exciting project – located on one just hectare of land - that he heads will, he says, also continue to facilitate the reconciliation between Ossetians and Georgians along with the development of villages close to the neighbourhood.

The area, as snow, has been a source of tension since the break-up of the Soviet Union. After a short war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, Moscow subsequently recognised South Ossetia as an independent state and began a process of closer ties that Georgia views as effective annexation.

Some 20% of Georgian territory is occupied by the Russian Federation, and the European Union does not recognize the territories occupied by Russia.

Children from both sides of the conflict line united by football

Children from both sides of the conflict line united by football

Before the war, many persons in Ergneti used to trade their agricultural products with the nearby territory now under occupation. Moreover, the market in Ergneti represented a crucial socio-economic meeting point where both Georgians and Ossetians used to meet each other to do business.

Samkharadze hopes, with his pioneering project, to bring the good times back, at least to this part of his native country. The project is, he argues, a model for other similar conflicts around the globe.

It is to be hoped now that, despite the world being gripped by a global health pandemic and the corresponding financial impact, the positive soundings coming out of this small but troubled part of Europe will have some resonance in the corridors of power in Brussels - and beyond.

 

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