BIRN Publishes Radovan Karadzic Trial E-Book

Ahead of the former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic’s war crimes verdict this week, BIRN has compiled all its reports on the landmark case into a free, downloadable e-book.

BIRN published a new e-book on Tuesday entitled ‘Radovan Karadzic: Wartime Leader’s Years on Trial’, ahead of the former Bosnian Serb wartime president’s final trial verdict on March 20.

The e-book, which is downloadable free of charge, contains all BIRN’s reports on the case, from the period when Karadzic was on the run to when he was caught and extradited, and throughout the whole of the trial that followed.

Published in English and in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, it includes over 570 articles and runs to more than 1,100 pages.

This is the third e-book published by BIRN. The first was an in-depth e-book containing reports and analyses about the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, while the second one was a compilation of reports on Ratko Mladic’s trial.

Karadzic’s trial began in 2009, lasted for 499 days and heard 586 witnesses.

He was initially indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 1995. He then spent 12 years on the run, and was finally arrested in Belgrade in 2008 and extradited to the UN tribunal.

The first-instance verdict in 2016 found him guilty of the Srebrenica genocide, the persecution and extermination of Croats and Bosniaks from 20 municipalities across Bosnia and Herzegovina, and being a part of a joint criminal enterprise to terrorise the civilian population of Sarajevo during the siege of the city. He was also found guilty of taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

To download the e-book, click here.

Source: Balkan Insight

BIRN and D+ Publish Report on Kosovo Tax Administration

BIRN Kosovo and Democracy Plus, D+, with the support of the British Embassy, organised a roundtable discussion on March 11 to talk about their newly-published Monitoring Report on the Integrity of Kosovo’s Tax Administration, TAK.

At the discussion, findings from work carried out between September 2018 to February 2019 were published – a seven-month period of direct monitoring. This is among the first reports of its kind to be produced and published by local NGOs.

Download report in PDF

The monitoring was launched as a result of the reported low level of confidence that citizens have in TAK, and their perceptions about the level of corruption in the institution.

The aim of the report was to identify the ‘black holes’ in the process and raise red flags about the need for improvements in the standards, procedures and legal bases which enable and improve integrity within TAK.

Kreshnik Gashi, managing editor at BIRN’s site, and Visar Rushiti, Policy Analyst at Democracy Plus, presented the findings of the monitoring report.

“This is one of the first reports produced by civil society on this topic and which looks into what is happening in TAK in depth,” said Gashi.

Thomas Adams, the deputy head of the British Embassy in Kosovo, said that the United Kingdom would support the findings and the recommendations of the report published by BIRN and D+.

The report concluded that TAK must seriously engage in improving the overall situation at the institution. Among the 15 recommendations made, BIRN and D+ suggested improvements to the Disciplinary Commission of TAK, the efficiency of its staff and resources, and for tax inspectors to be included among the public officials required to declare their assets.

The director of the Kosovo Tax Administration, Ilir Murtezaj, said that the institution will try to make changes according to the issues raised in the monitoring report.

“We will try to address the findings and recommendations of the report and implement them to the fullest possible level. We have implemented some of the findings that are in the report, such as the creation of a Disciplinary Commission,” said Murtezaj.

The discussion was attended by Kosovo Finance Minister Bedri Hamza and  Afrim Atashi, the director of the Corruption Prevention Department at the Anti-Corruption Agency, as well as representatives of NGOs and relevant institutions.

Download report in PDF

Egypt to Probe Fake ‘Cleopatras’ After BIRN/ARIJ Revelations

After BIRN/ARIJ reports lifted the lid on the way millions of fake ‘Cleopatra’ cigarettes were being smuggled into North Africa from the Balkans, Egypt’s parliament has demanded an official probe.

The Egyptian parliament’s Industry Committee has urged the country’s state prosecutor to start a criminal investigation into cigarette smuggling – after a series of in-depth investigative reports published by BIRN/ARIJ revealed that the country’s most popular brand was being mass-produced and smuggled in from the Balkans.

The committee said prosecutors needed to look into whether Eastern Company managers had neglected to stop the flow of counterfeit cigarettes from Montenegro and Albania into the country.

“The defaulters [must be held] accountable for what they did due to inaction and not guarding public money, and so the subject should be referred to the General Prosecutor to investigate it and find out the truth,” the committee said in the official report obtained by BIRN, issued in February.

A series of BIRN/ARIJ reports in December 2018 detailed how both state-owned and private factories in Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Greece were involved in a contraband business that has netted vast profits and cost a number of countries significant losses in tax revenues.

Egypt’s No 1 brand cigarette, Cleopatra, was born in 1961 when then ruler Gamal Abdel Nasser asked for a local version of the smuggled American Kent brand that he liked to smoke. Created by the Eastern Company, Cleopatra is now one of the most widely smoked cigarettes in North Africa and a top seller globally.

The BIRN/ARIJ investigations noted that Egypt, the UK and the EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, had considered the flow of cigarettes coming out of Montenegro’s Duvanski Kombinat Podgorica, DKP, “counterfeit”, suspecting they were being channeled to Libyan smugglers who distributed them illegally across North Africa.

Egypt asked repeatedly through diplomatic channels for Montenegro to shut the operation down.

Production did stop finally in 2016, but only after the factory was privatised and came under new ownership.

But the offshore firm that contracted the factory to produce the cigarettes has not given up, according to the BIRN/ARIJ investigations; it set up new production lines in Kosovo and invested 1 million euros in a new operation in Montenegro.

Muhammad Faud, a member of the Egyptian parliament, told the hearing that Eastern’s management had not protected the local Cleopatra brand, which had led its products being counterfeited in Albania and Montenegro.

This had “led to a waste the public money” he said, and to “falsified Cleopatra products that were not manufactured by the Eastern Company taking about 30 per cent of the market”.

Eastern’s parent company, Chemical Industries Holding, has insisted it has done its best to protect the brand. It said registering as many as 548 special trademarks around the world would have cost billions.

It also said that it had a complete dossier of exchanged communications between it and the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and the Egyptian embassy concerning measures taken to stop violations of its trademark and the manufacture of fake Cleopatra cigarettes.

“As a result of the efforts made, the factory producing forged products in Albania was stopped in 2015 for one year, but later started functioning again,” the company said.

The BIRN/ARIJ reports said the counterfeit cigarettes would have been virtually indistinguishable from the originals produced by Eastern Company in Cairo.

The labels bear the words “Made in Egypt”, as well as Egyptian health warnings and a claim to be produced by “Eastern Company”.

The BIRN ARIJ reports said increased taxes on cigarettes in Egypt from the 2010s onward had created a booming black market for the product.

Meanwhile, lawlessness in neighbouring Libya since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi has turned the country into a smuggler’s paradise.

Source: Balkan Insight

BIRN Albania Documentary Screened at European Parliament

A feature-length documentary produced by BIRN Albania, ‘Free Flow’, was screened on March 7 at the European Parliament in Brussels as part of a conference entitled ‘Save the Balkan Rivers: Resisting the Hydroelectric Power Plants (HPPs) in the Balkans and Albania’.

The conference was organised by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) parliamentary group to highlight the threat posed to biodiversity in the Balkans by thousands of planned hydropower plant projects.

Directed by film-maker Elton Baxhaku, the documentary ‘Free Flow’ follows Albania villagers, activists, scientists and artists as they try to draw attention – in court and on the streets – to the threat posed to the environment and the local ecotourism industry by power plant projects.

Present in a panel in the conference in Brussels, along with MEPs Stelios Kouloglou, GUE/NGL and Thomas Waitz, The Greens, BIRN Albania editor Besar Likmeta, highlighted the motivation that pushed BIRN to produce the documentary, underlining that the fight against power plant developers in the region was not only important for safeguarding the environment but was also about the struggle for democracy and the right of local communities to have a voice in the usage and the future of their resources.

The conference included also video spots from MEPs Knut Fleckenstein and Eduard Kukan, and was attended by activist and civil society representatives from Albania, the wider Balkans and EU countries.

BIRN Holds Transitional Justice Reporting Course in Ukraine

A two-day training course on how to report transitional justice issues, organised by BIRN Hub and Hromadske, was held in the Ukrainian capital from March 4-6 as part of BIRN’s Transitional Justice Programme – Justice Report Ukraine.

Ten journalists – five fellows awarded through the BIRN’s grant scheme and five journalists from Hromadske – were trained by BIRN’s international pool of editors to understand the full breadth of transitional justice topics and to develop techniques to cover them.

The course included guidance on the sources used for transitional justice stories, video storytelling in transitional justice, and writing in-depth features on the issue. The journalists then had an opportunity to pitch stories and discuss them with the trainers and the other participants.

The aim of the project is to strengthen in-depth reporting on transitional justice, in order to contribute to a more informed citizenry that is engaged in the democratic process, while the journalists are assisted to build skills and knowledge to cover topics related to conflict, truth, justice, accountability, memory, institutional reform and other issues related to transitional justice.

15 applicants benefit from BIRN’s-EU funded grant scheme

Out of 46 applications by non-governmental and media organisations and individuals, 15 of the submitted proposals have been selected for BIRN’s Medium and Small Grant Scheme, funded by the European Union.

Through this project, named “Support to Civil Society and Media Initiatives”, BIRN aims to improve the overall accountability and transparency of institutions, as well as promote human rights through the stories, documentaries and other journalistic work of the applicants.

The grant scheme is designed to contribute to strengthening independent, investigative and publicly beneficial journalism and freedom of expression in Kosovo, and will provide 13 applicants with small grants of 5,000 euros or less, and two applicants with medium grants, which range from 20,000 to 30,000 euros.

The total amount of the money to be awarded to the grantees as part of the scheme reached 103, 636.50 euros.

The grantees were selected by a professional jury, which met for the first time on January 22 to evaluate the 46 applicants. The jury evaluated 41 applications that fulfilled the eligibility criteria, while during the meeting each member of the jury presented their evaluations for each individual applicant, their comments and then a discussion ensued.

Their decision was based upon the relevance of the proposed actions and activities, creativity, quality of the financial offer, the project team’s potential and previous experience of the applicant.

The objective for the selected applicants will be to contribute to the development of investigative journalism and freedom of expression, increasing the skills of media professionals in monitoring, fact-checking and accountability across Kosovo for the public benefit. The selected projects will engage in a variety of activities including capacity building, investigative reporting, the production of documentaries, analysis of public documents and will address issues related to freedom of expression, protection of minority rights, women’s rights and the fight against corruption.

13 applicants from the selected list were awarded grants from Lot 1, Supporting document-based reporting on themes related to good governance, education, environment, economy, local governance and human rights, and 2 applicants selected were awarded grants from Lot 2, one concerned with combating high-level corruption,  and the other promoting and protecting the rights of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities.

All applicants received individual replies about their application, which also included an evaluation form with points and comments from the jury.

Below is attached the list of the successful applicants of the Call for Proposals for the Medium and Small Grant Scheme package to “Contribute to strengthening independent, investigative and publicly beneficial journalism and freedom of expression in Kosovo” project.

List of awarded grantees

15 kandidatë përfitojnë nga skema e granteve të BIRN, financuar nga BE

Prej 46 aplikacioneve nga organizata të ndryshme joqeveritare, organizata mediale dhe individë, 15 nga propozimet e paraqitura janë përzgjedhur për Skemën e Granteve të Mesme dhe të Vogla të BIRN-it, financuar nga Bashkimi Evropian.

Nëpërmjet këtij projekti, të quajtur “Përkrahja për Shoqërinë Civile dhe Iniciativat nga Mediat”, BIRN synon të përmirësojë llogaridhënien e përgjithshme dhe transparencën e institucioneve, si dhe të promovojë të drejtat e njeriut përmes tregimeve, dokumentarëve dhe punëve të tjera gazetareske të kandidatëve.

Skema e këtij granti është projektuar që të kontribuojë në forcimin e një gazetarie të pavarur, hetuese dhe me dobi publike si dhe lirinë e shprehjes në Kosovë si dhe do ti  pajisë 13 kandidatë me grante të vogla, në shumën prej 5,000 Euro ose më pak, dhe dy kandidatë me grante të mesme, shuma e të cilave do të jetë nga 20,000 deri në 30,000 Euro.

Shuma totale e të hollave që do t’u ndahen përfituesve të granteve si pjesë e skemës ka arritur në 103, 636.50 Euro.

Përfituesit e granteve u përzgjodhën nga një juri profesionale, e cila u takua për herë të parë më 22 janar për të vlerësuar të 46 kandidatët. Juria vlerësoi 41 aplikacione që përmbushën kriteret e pranueshmërisë, ndërsa gjatë takimit secili anëtar i jurisë paraqiti vlerësimet e tyre për secilin kandidat individual, komentet e tyre dhe pastaj vazhdohej me diskutime.

Vendimi i tyre bazohej në rëndësinë e veprimeve dhe aktiviteteve të propozuara, kreativitetit, cilësisë së ofertës financiare, potencialit të ekipit të projektit dhe përvojës së mëparshme të kandidatit.

Qëllimi i kandidatëve të përzgjedhur do të jetë të kontribuojnë në zhvillimin e gazetarisë hulumtuese dhe lirisë së shprehjes, duke rritur aftësitë e profesionistëve medialë në monitorimin, kontrollin e fakteve dhe llogaridhënien në Kosovë për të mirën e publikut.

Projektet e përzgjedhura do të angazhohen në një sërë aktivitetesh duke përfshirë ndërtimin e kapaciteteve, raportimin hetimor, prodhimin e dokumentarëve, analizën e dokumenteve publike dhe do të trajtojë çështjet që kanë të bëjnë me lirinë e shprehjes, mbrojtjen e të drejtave të pakicave, të drejtat e grave dhe luftën kundër korrupsionit.

13 kandidatë nga lista e përzgjedhur kanë përfituar nga Pjesa 1, dokumenti mbështetës-bazuar në raportime mbi temat që lidhen me qeverisjen e mirë, arsimin, mjedisin, ekonominë, qeverisjen lokale dhe të drejtat e njeriut, dhe dy kandidatë janë përzgjedhur përfitues nga Pjesa 2, njëri prej tyre ka të bëjë me luftimin e korrupsionit të nivelit të lartë, ndërsa tjetri ka të bëjë me promovimin dhe mbrojtjen e të drejtave të komunitetit rom, ashkali dhe egjiptian.

Të gjithë kandidatët pranuan përgjigje individuale rreth aplikimit të tyre, ku po ashtu përfshihej edhe një formular vlerësimi me pikat dhe komentet nga juria.

Më poshtë mund ta gjeni të bashkangjitur listën e kandidatëve të suksesshëm të Thirrja për Propozime për Paketën e Skemës së granteve të Mesme dhe të Vogla në projektin “Kontributi për fuqizimin e gazetarisë së pavarur, hulumtuese dhe për të mirën publike si dhe lirisë së shprehjes në Kosovë.”

Lista e perfituesve te granteve

15 kandidata dobitnici šeme grantova BIRN-a, koju finansira EU

Od 46 prijava nevladinih i medijskih organizacija i pojedinaca, 15 predloga izabrano je za Šemu malih i srednjih grantova BIRN-a, koju je finansijski omogućila Evropska unija.

Ovim projektom koji nosi naziv „Podrška građanskom društvu i medijskim inicijativama”, BIRN ima za cilj da poboljša opštu odgovornost i transparentnost institucija i da promoviše ljudska prava kroz objavljivanje novinarskih priča, dokumentarnih filmova i drugih novinarskih radova kandidata.

Šema grantova je osmišljena tako da doprinese jačanju nezavisnog, istraživačkog novinarstva za dobrobit javnosti i slobode izražavanja na Kosovu i obezbeđuje male grantove u iznosu do 5,000 evra za 13 kandidata, dok će dva kandidata  dobiti srednje grantove, čija se vrednost kreće u rasponu od 20,000 do 30,000 evra.

Ukupan iznos novca koji će se dodeliti dobitnicima grantova, u sklopu ove šeme, dostigao je 103, 636.50 evra.

Dobitnike grantova  izabrao je profesionalni žiri, koji se sastao prvi put 22. januara da proceni svih 46 kandidata. Žiri je procenio 41 prijavu koja je ispunjavala formalne kriterijume, dok je tokom sastanka svaki član žirija predstavio svoje ocene i komentare za svakog kandidata pojedinačno, nakon čega je nastavljeno sa diskusijom.

Njihova odluka je zasnovana na značaju predloženih radnji i aktivnosti, kreativnosti, kvalitetu njihove finansijske ponude, potencijalu projektnog tima i prethodnom iskustvu kandidata.

Cilj izabranih kandidata biće da doprinesu razvoju istraživačkog novinarstva i slobode izražavanja, podizanjem veština medijskih stručnjaka na praćenju, proveri činjenica i odgovornosti na Kosovu, za dobrobit javnosti.

Izabrani projekti će biti uključeni u niz aktivnosti, među kojima one o izgradnji kapaciteta, istraživačkom izveštavanju, izradi dokumentaraca, analizi javnih dokumenata i pozabaviće se pitanjima u vezi sa slobodom izražavanja, zaštitom prava manjinskih zajednica, žena i borbom protiv korupcije.

13 kandidata sa izabrane liste su dobitnici grantova iz Lot. 1: Izveštavanje o temama u vezi sa dobrom upravom, obrazovanjem, životnom sredinom, privredom, lokalnom upravom i ljudskim pravima, a dva kandidata su izabrana za dobitnike Lot 2: Jedan od njih se bavi suzbijanjem korupcije visokog nivoa, dok se drugi bavi promovisanjem i zaštitom prava zajednica Roma, Aškalija i Egipćana.

Svi kandidati su dobili individualne odgovore u vezi sa prijavama, što je takođe podrazumevalo i obrazac procene sa bodovima i komentarima žirija.

U nastavku možete naći listu uspešnih kandidata u sklopu Poziva za podnošenje predloga za paket šeme malih i srednjih subvencija na projektu „Doprinos jačaju nezavisnog, istraživačkog novinarstva za dobrobit javnosti i slobode izražavanja na Kosovu.”

Lista dobitnika subvencija

Resonant Voices Fellows Selected

Twelve journalists, activists and researchers will spend the upcoming months exploring the many facets of radicalisation and violent extremism in the EU and neighbouring states to help chart a more secure and inclusive future.

We are pleased to announce our very first group of Resonant Voices Fellows who will start working on their topics development during the upcoming workshop in Berlin. Over the next six to nine months, Aggelos AndreouYiannis BabouliasMirza BuljubasicMichael Colborne,  Dimitar Ganev, Barbora Hola, Akos Keller-Alant, Nenad RadicevicAleksandar RoknicEbi SpahiuKatarina Tadic and Eleonora Vio will conduct research, collect stories and untangle the web of influences to expose and challenge extremist messaging targeting vulnerable audiences.

The selected Fellows will look at more than 15 different countries in the EU and its immediate neighbourhood and will cover a wide range of topics. The research will track the evolution of links, networks and cooperation between extremist groups across borders, investigate disinformation campaigns run by governments and extremist groups and their effects on polarisation and radicalisation, analyse narratives of victimisation and injustice among Western Balkans diaspora communities and examine inter-generational transmission of war legacies.

The Resonant Voices Fellows will shed light on extremist messaging and evolving transnational radicalising influences eroding the fabric of our society and undermining our values. Their work will also contribute to vital communication strategies and targeted outreach as a means to combat these threats.

Learn more about the Resonant Voices Initiative and follow the work of RVI Fellows.

BIRN Publishes Western Balkans Stability Monitor

The Western Balkans Stability Monitor is a new product from BIRN Consultancy, a part of the BIRN network, offering institutions and individuals relevant information from the region.

The Stability Monitor analyses developments and trends with an eye on events that have the potential to destabilise countries, governments, societies or the fragile region itself.

As well as from providing analysis of what is going on, it also offers insights into where individual countries, societies and the region are heading, with a focus on developments that have the potential to destabilise.

BIRN’s regional team worked together with analysts to produce the first issue at the end of 2018 in order to give readers a taste of what we will be offering in 2019.

The Western Balkans Stability Monitor covers Albania, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, and will be published on a bi-monthly basis.

Contact BIRN Consultancy at [email protected] to find out more and subscribe.

UK Govt Declines Comment on Arms Shipments Reported by BIRN

The British Government declined to comment on whether it will prosecute the brokers responsible for shipping ammunition from Bosnia to Saudi Arabia, as revealed in an article published by BIRN last year.

The government said it “cannot comment on individuals or companies that have previously been, or are currently being investigated”.

“HM Revenue and Customs, on behalf of the Government, investigates all credible allegations of strategic export control offences, which can proceed to a full criminal investigation. HMRC investigators will recommend prosecution when and where there is clear evidence of a serious criminal offence,” the government wrote in an answer to a question raised by the Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle.

In his question, Russell-Moyle cited BIRN’s last year’s article, according to which the UK failed to warn Sarajevo that almost 30 million Bosnian-made bullets sold to Saudi Arabia would end up in the wrong hands.

The deal was brought to the UK’s attention because two British-based brokers had requested – and were eventually refused – licences to mediate in the Bosnia-Saudi deal.

Though Bosnian officials said they had no record of a broker being involved in the export, a BIRN investigation has established the shipment that left Bosnia in two parts in November 2015 and January 2016, with the approval of Sarajevo, matched the deal for which the UK refused brokering licences in terms of timing, quantity, origin, destination and type of ammunition.

Following BIRN’s investigation into the deal, the British parliament’s committee on arms export controls requested internal correspondence related to the shipment of ammunition from Bosnia to Saudi Arabia.

The committee said it would write a formal letter outlining the information it needs as part of an inquiry into UK arms licences issued in 2016.

BIRN Albania Opens Call for Investigations on Housing and Property Rights

BIRN Albania launched a call for investigative stories on property rights and housing on February 18th.

BIRN is offering grants for three journalists to cover property rights and housing stories, as well as mentoring by experienced editors.

The call is held as part of the project ‘Exposing Corruption through Investigative Reporting’, financed by the National Endowment for Democracy.

The project’s aim is to strengthen journalistic reporting on corruption in the country through cooperation with civil society, in order to contribute to a more informed citizenry that is engaged in the democratic process.

Three journalists will be awarded grants to cover their expenses while conducting investigations and writing their stories on housing and property rights.

The journalists will have around three months to dig deeper and research their ideas, and will also have the opportunity to work with experienced editors as mentors to guide them through the process of writing in accordance with BIRN standards.

The call only applies to journalists from Albania and closes on March 10th.

Click here for more information (in Albanian) about the application procedure.

Click here to download the application (in Albanian).