Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Body Snatchers Redux

Last Tuesday the Council of Europe voted to endorse a 27-page report accusing the prime minister and other members of Kosovo's government of operating a human organ smuggling ring during the Kosovo-Serbia War in the late 1990s. The alleged ring was discussed earlier in this post, but in short, a branch of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) known as the Drenica Group is accused of smuggling both Kosovars and captured Serbian soldiers into Albania, where they were executed and their organs harvested for transplant (for a tidy profit of course). This is on top of other more run-of-the-mill criminal activities Drenica is said to have engaged in like drug smuggling and prostitution. The man in charge of the Drenica Group at the time is Kosovo's current Prime Minister Hashim Thaci; much of the leadership of what then was the KLA is now Kosovo's government.

The Council of Europe report will do nothing to boost the image of Kosovo, which had already taken a hit over allegations that their most recent parlimentary elections were far from fair and open. Nor will they help to change a perception that Kosovo is less of a country than it is a massive criminal enterprise. Black market activities, like drug smuggling, are said to make up a large chunk of Kosovo's economy; in fact the joke going around Russia when Afghanistan recently recognized Kosovo's independence was that this marked the first time that a drug supplier had recognized the independence of one of their major dealers.

But the heinous nature of the crimes – the murder of people to sell their organs – trancends mere criminal activity. Not surprisingly, the government of Kosovo is vigorously denying the charges and Thaci is even threatening to sue the author of the report, investigator Dick Marty, for libel. What remains to be seen is if the European Union will take up the charges laid out by the Council of Europe. As Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee notes: “given that a number of Western countries, including the US, have now formally recognised Kosovo it's an open question whether there's the political will to pursue Hashim Thaci.” Good question indeed.

And frankly, for all their talk about support of human rights, the European Union has been fairly weak in taking steps to actually protect them, especially among certain less-favored populations: the Roma (or Gypsies) in Central Europe, ethnic Russian minorities in the former Soviet Baltic republics and African migrants in places like Italy and France. Since Kosovo is a pet project for the EU and the Serbs, at least until recently, were cast in the role of Europe's bad guys, it will be interesting to see if the EU takes the allegations contained in the Council of Europe report seriously. I won't be holding my breath.
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