Vermont Bar Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2 Vermont Bar Journal, Spring 2017, Volume 43, No. 1 - Page 23

by Judge Dean B. Pineles (ret.) Life Beyond the Vermont Trial Bench: Tales from Kosovo Introduction History The wheels touched down at the interna- tional airport in Pristina, Kosovo on Febru- ary 4, 2011. I was reporting for duty as an international criminal judge with the Euro- pean Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX). My remit would include war crimes, orga- nized crime, organ trafficking, corruption and other serious cases. I retired from the Vermont trial bench in December 2005 after more than 21 years of service. However, even before I retired, I became interested in international rule of law work. I had several short-term assign- ments in Russia starting in 1996 with the Vermont-Karelia Rule of Law Project which was started in the early 90s by our own Jus- tice John Dooley and others. Many Ver- mont judges and lawyers have participated in trips to Petrozavodsk and other Russian cities over the years. I traveled to Kazakhstan as a jury trial ex- pert in December 2006 to give a speech on the American perspective at an inter- national conference to commemorate Ka- zakhstan’s initiation of jury trials. The new- ly created capital of Astana, rising out of the steppes, was a sight right out of a Dis- ney set. Along the interior walls of the op- ulent Supreme Court palace were pictures of former Kazakh justices with inscriptions like this: “Executed in 1937, rehabilitated in 1996” which recalled the atrocities of the Stalin era. In 2008-09, my wife Kristina and I (along with our dog Piper) worked in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia for a year. I was a pro bono legal advisor with the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, and worked with the Georgian judiciary and le- gal establishment to bring about reforms, such as the introduction of jury trials. We were in Georgia when the Russians invaded in August 2008. As Russian tanks headed towards the capital Tbilisi where we lived, we were evacuated in a hair-raising ride to neighboring Armenia for three weeks until hostilities ended. My employment with EULEX began in February 2011. I was assigned first to Priz- ren, an ancient city with a strong Ottoman and Muslim influence close to the Albanian border; and then Pristina, the secular capi- tal in the east central part of the country. My one year assignment ended up lasting 28 months until May 2013. Kosovo is located in the western Balkans in southern Europe, and is a small, moun- tainous, land locked country, about half the size of Vermont, with a continental climate. It issurrounded by the countries of the for- mer Yugoslavia: Serbia, Macedonia, Mon- tenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia; and also by Albania which was not part of Yu- goslavia. The history of Kosovo, Yugoslavia and the Balkans is extremely complicated and is highly colored by one’s ethnicity and reli- gion. My understanding of the key events for present purposes follows. The history is presented as a cursory overview and is not intended to be comprehensive. Following WWII, the Balkan countries were consolidated within Yugoslavia, a communist federation, ruled by the iron hand of Marshal Tito. He died in 1980 and Yugoslavia began to slowly unravel. Kosovo was officially part of Serbia, but was populated overwhelmingly by ethnic Albanians, at least 3 to 1. They were Mus- lims, spoke Albanian, and used the Latin al- phabet. The minority Serbian population was Orthodox Christian, spoke Serbian and used the Cyrillic alphabet. There was always serious tension be- tween the majority Albanians and minori- ty Serbians, which Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian leader of Yugoslavia, was able to exploit when he rose to power in the late 1980s. In 1989, the Serbian minority took control of Kosovo through intimidation and force, including all governmental in- stitutions such as the judiciary, as well as schools, universities, and professions, and the Albanian majority was oppressed and marginalized. This gave rise to the Kosovo Liberation Army, or the KLA, that formed clandestine- ly in mid-1990s, which was an ethnic Alba- nian guerilla and separatist group engaged in terrorist tactics against Serbian officials and police officers in Kosovo. Milosevic re- sponded harshly, and in 1998-99 the world watched in horror as war and ethnic cleans- ing descended upon Kosovo, killing thou- sands and causing nearly a million Kosovo Albanian refugees to flee across the bor- ders into Macedonia, Albania and Western Europe. At the time, it was the worst hu- manitarian crisis since World War II. On March 24, 1999, NATO commenced its bombing campaign to stop the crisis. The campaign succeeded after 78 days, THE VERMONT BAR JOURNAL • SPRING 2017 and Kosovo refugees flooded home, only to find widespread destruction and a total upheaval of society. The KLA had become NATO’s ally on the ground, and KLA sol- diers were seen by many as freedom fight- ers, liberators and war heroes. After the war, the UN took control of all institutions in Kosovo. Although rebuild- ing the judiciary was an immediate prior- ity, the ethnic Albanian judges, prosecutors and lawyers who had been marginalized for most of the 1990s were simply incapable of addressing the crimes that arose out of the war. So the UN implemented a plan to recruit international investigators, prosecu- tors and judges to deal with war crimes and other serious cases. The UN applied the law that was in effect in Yugoslavia in 1989 before disintegration, which included provisions dealing with war crimes, and incorporated international treaties like the Geneva Convention. 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