PRISTINA (AP)--Kosovo's criminal justice system is failing the victims of this disputed province and threatens future stability, Human Rights Watch said in a report published Tuesday.
In a 74-page report, Human Rights Watch said that in the nearly seven years since the U.N. took over administering Kosovo, authorities have failed to address problems with the laws, police, and courts.
"Right now, accountability for the past crimes is not on the agenda in Kosovo" Holly Carter, the group's Europe and Central Asia director, said in a statement. "But resolving Kosovo's status without fixing the justice system will poison its future."
The report is a blow to U.N. efforts to establish a stable and democratic society in the ethnically divided province. While Kosovo has a government and fledgling ministries of justice and police, the ultimate responsibility lies with the world body as it steers the province.
Neeraj Singh, the spokesman for the U.N. in Kosovo said the mission welcomed the report's recommendations for improving what he called "the evolving criminal justice system in Kosovo."
The U.N.-mediated talks to determine Kosovo's future status are currently underway in Vienna, Austria and western envoys aim to finish the process by the end of 2006.
The most likely outcome of these talks is some form of independence for Kosovo, on the condition it can protect Serbs and other minorities, in the ethnic Albanian majority province.
The U.N. has administered Kosovo since 1999, after a NATO air war halted a Serb crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians. About ten thousand people were killed and hundreds of thousands ethnic Albanians were displaced before the war ended.
After the war, it was the Serbs who fell victim to vengeful ethnic Albanians.
The worst violence was in March 2004, when two days of anti-Serb rioting left thousands homeless, at least 600 Serb homes and some 30 churches burned, and about 4,000 people - mainly Serbs - were forced to flee.
An estimated 50,000 ethnic Albanians participated in the rioting and 426 individuals were charged - mostly for minor offenses - with half resulting in final decisions, the report said.
"The inadequate criminal justice response to violence in March 2004 symbolizes one of the greatest problems faced by Kosovo today: rampant impunity for crime, particularly where it has political or ethnic dimension," the report said.
As a result, neither ethnic Albanian majority nor Serbs and other minorities, view the criminal justice system as effective, according to the report.
Singh defended the U.N.-run courts and said the "accountability for war crimes and interethnic crime is firmly on the agenda."
The report urges major powers for the E.U., which plans to take on some executive roles in the fields of justice and police after the U.N. administration leaves at the end of the status talks. [ 30-05-06 1140GMT ]