The controversial amnesty legislation, part of the Kosovo-Serbia deal to normalise relations, failed to win parliament’s approval amid widespread public opposition.
The amnesty legislation put forward by the government of PM Hashim Thaci had been widely expected to gain preliminary approval during the first reading of the legislation.
It appears that souring public opinion in recent days – including several protests – may have influenced lawmakers.
Seventy MPs voted in favor the draft law – ten short of the 80 needed to pass it. The legislation will be sent back to the government, which must revise the law before it can be voted on again.
The law was intended to grant amnesty for a range of offences and was drafted as a part of the EU-brokered deal to normalise relations between Prishtina and Belgrade.
Serbia wants the amnesty so Serbs in north Kosovo cannot be prosecuted for any resistance to the Prishtina authorities in the past, which would prevent them from taking roles in Kosovo public institutions in the future.
But critics in Kosovo have accused the authorities of pushing through legislation that could be used to absolve high-ranking politicians of criminal activity.
“The draft law aims to amnesty all the corrupt [people] in this government, in the previous government and those who cooperated with them,” said Albulena Haxhiu from the opposition Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) Movement.
“This draft law is against justice, equality and the interests of Kosovo citizens,” she added.
The government however has strongly denied this.
“There will never be amnesty [for people] identified with politics or certain political parties,” said justice minister Hajredin Kuci.
“There will be no amnesty for offences related to corruption, human trafficking or those related to vote theft,” he said.
The law as initially drafted would have granted amnesty to all those accused of certain criminal offences from 1999, after the war, until June 20, 2013.
Amnesties proposed for offences like armed rebellion and espionage came in response to concerns about prosecution raised by Kosovo Serbs who have been charged with resisting Pristina’s rule and fear jail when they come under central government control.
The legislation was a result of the agreement between Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci, signed on April 19 this year.
The day before the first reading, France’s ambassador to Prishtina, Marsye Daviet, called on MPs to pass the law.
“We do strongly want this amnesty law to be ratified tomorrow [July 4],” Daviet said, saying it would help to ensure that Serbs became integrated into Kosovo’s police and judiciary.
Behar Selimi, the deputy head of the parliamentary commission on the proposed legislation, urged the international community to push Serbia to reciprocate by granting amnesties to former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas.
“It would help the process of normalisation of relations [between Pristina and Belgrade] if the international community puts pressure on Serbia so it would also establish some kind of amnesty for ex-Kosovo Liberation Army fighters who are hunted by Interpol without being charged for anything specific,” Selimi said.
Most political parties also said they would support the law only if changes, mainly related to article 3, were changed or deleted.
Article 3 envisages 20 per cent reductions in punishments for those convicted of a series of crimes including murders, manslaughter, harassment, defamation, assault and theft.
“We won’t vote for the law if ordinary crimes aren’t deleted from the list, if public officials aren’t aware that they won’t be amnestied,” said Ardian Gjini from the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK).
The Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, said that the possibility of amnesties for officials and public servants should be removed from the draft legislation.
“Otherwise, the LDK’s parliamentary group will not support this draft law,” said LDK MP Haki Demolli.
While the law was being debated in parliament, members of the opposition Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) movement and civil society groups protested in front of the building.
“We want justice, not amnesty,” shouted some 150 protestors, urging lawmakers not to approve the legislation.
One NGO, the Kosovo Law Institute, said that the draft law contravened international legal norms.
“The state has no right… to forgive offences committed against one individual,” it said, explaining that this violated victims’ rights to legal recourse as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Campaign group Amnesty International also criticised the proposed law.
“Amnesty International cannot welcome the draft law on amnesty, as some of the ordinary crimes or offences included in the law may amount to human rights violations, and we consider that those convicted of human rights violations, or reasonably suspected of human rights violations, should be brought to justice,” the campaign group said in a statement.
Responding to the draft law’s failure to pass, the government on Friday removed the controversial article 3 from the legislation and added a new article which states that “all criminal offences which resulted in bodily harm and murder will not be amnestied”.
The draft with the revised text will be sent back to parliament next week.
Meanwhile the US urged lawmakers to approve the legislation, describing it as a “critical and important” part of the Pristina-Belgrade deal.
“I encourage all citizens to read it and to understand that this law was developed through the dialogue process,” Philip Reeker, US deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs said in a statement while visiting Pristina on Friday.