BIRN Consultancy: Cooperation with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

BIRN Consultancy has begun producing a new bi-monthly political, security and socio-economic review of regional developments in cooperation with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. 

As part of its new partnership with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung South East Europe, BIRN Consultancy will be producing the Political Trends and Dynamics Overview which will form a core part of FES SOE’s bi-monthly publication “Political Trends and Dynamics in South East Europe”.

The publication will provide an overview of current political, security, economic and societal developments in the wider region of South-East Europe, with a particular focus on how they could contribute to conflict.

The February/March issue of the publication in its new format can be accessed here: During the first month, the new issue was downloaded more than 3,000 times.

BIRN BiH Joins Visit to NATO Headquarters

Denis Dzidic, editor of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina, BIRN BiH, joined a visit by the International Republican Institute, IRI, to NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. 

He took part in a meeting titled: “Understanding and Preventing Violent Extremism and Foreign Influence,” which took place on April 20 and 21. 

At numerous other meetings, participants discussed a number of security topics, among which Communication Challenges in Euro-Atlantic Integration and Public Diplomacy Cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina were the most important for BIRN BiH. 

Dzidic also presented work that BIRN BiH has done on monitoring court proceedings for terrorism in Bosnia in relation to people who have gone to fight for ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Some of the findings related to research that BIRN BiH has done in relation to religious radicalization.

 

BIRN BiH Unveils Analysis on Justice Reform

BIRN in Bosnia and Herzegovina has published an analysis of the implementation of the State Strategy for Justice Reform between 2014 and 2018, which shows that serious delays have blighted the processes.

According to BIRN BiH’s analysis, delays marked the State Strategy for Justice reform from the start. The document was only adopted 20 months after the original deadline passed, in September 2015, under international pressure. 

The Action Plan to implement the Strategy was only adopted 17 months later, in February this year. Containing 40 pages and hundreds of measures, a handful have been fulfilled. 

“Successes have been marked in regard to the implementation of the law on free legal aid, and enhancement of the system for plea agreement,” BIRN BiH editor Erna Mackic said. 

“However, key issues such as the creation of a state-level Appeal Court and solving the laws on the Constitutional Court and the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council have not been solved.” 

The analysis shows that the creation of the Appeals Court remains a stumbling block because representatives of the judiciary and political parties cannot agree on its proposed jurisdiction. 

Considering that this issue is currently in the EU-led Structured dialogue on justice, and that the issue of the Constitutional Court and the HJPC laws are likely to follow, the creation of the Appeals Court is causing delays in reforms, the analysis shows. 

“Lack of political will to reform the justice sector is visible through delays in the adoption of the Strategy and Action plan but also in the issue of the Appeals Court. It is important to add that many of the measures in the Strategy depend on financial support, which is currently not adequate,” BIRN BiH editor Denis Dzidic said. 

The analysis of the Strategy for Justice Reform between 2014 and 2018 was carried out with the support of the US embassy in Sarajevo and presented in the American Corner in Sarajevo, with officials from judicial institutions, domestic and international organizations and the media present.

BIRN Investigative Stories Win Two Awards

Two BIRN stories won this year’s Investigative awards from the Independent Journalistic Association of Serbia in the categories for print and on-line media.

“Secret of Vucic’s tavern” won the award in the print media category. BIRN Serbia journalist Jelena Veljkovic wrote on how Serbia’s Property Directorate claimed not to know that an exclusive restaurant had been opened in a part of the Belgrade Cooperative building, which the directorate had leased to the “Belgrade on water” company, refusing to answer whether it believed this use of public property was in accordance with the law.

A story by a group of journalists from BIRN and OCCRP, “Making a Killing: The 1.2 Billion Euro Arms Pipeline to Middle East”, meanwhile won the award in the online media category, along with a colleague from the Center for Investigative Journalism, CINS, whose story showed that the Governor of the National bank of Serbia plagiarized a significant part of her doctoral thesis.

The BIRN arms investigation revealed how thousands of assault rifles, mortar shells, rocket launchers, anti-tank weapons, and heavy machine guns have poured into the Middle East from Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia. The same story is also among three finalists for the Czech Journalism Prize, the best-known Czech media award.

This year, 75 journalists applied for the award given by the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia, NUNS, and the US embassy in Serbia. The jury included Danica Vucenic, journalist from Insajder, Milorad Ivanovic, editor-in-chief of Newsweek Serbia, Predrag Blagojevic, editor-in-chief of online portal Juzne Vesti and Pedja Obradovic, producer at TV N1

‘Jeta ne Kosove’ and KALLXO.com Win EU Prize for Investigative Journalism

On May 5th, 2017, BIRN Kosovo’s television programme Jeta ne Kosove and the anti-corruption platform KALLXO.com were awarded with second place for investigative journalism by the European Union Office in Kosovo. 

The investigation that appealed to the five-member jury was “Organized Tax Fraud,” which revealed that over 300 Kosovo businesses were involved in a tax evasion scheme through the use of shell companies. 

The three-part, 11-month investigation also revealed that the state prosecutor went after the shell companies, which had homeless and poverty-stricken people listed as owners, instead of the actual companies that benefitted from the scheme. After the affair was reported to the state prosecutor, he decided not to go after the businesses that were involved in tax evasion, and instead went after the vulnerable owners of the shell companies, who were unaware of the situation they were involved in.

Accepting the prize, Faik Ispahiu, the show’s producer and director of KALLXO.com, said that to this day the same prosecutor was handling the case, and instead of being punished, he was being rewarded with a trip to the US. The results of the investigation, Ispahiu said, are still ongoing.

This is the second time that Jeta ne Kosove has been awarded with a prize for investigative journalism by the European Union, after receiving an earlier award for the investigation into the “Stents Affair.” During the ceremony, Luigi Brusa, Head of Cooperation Section of the EU office, said that his organization is pleased to support people who support the principles of the European Union.

U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo and Former Kosovo President Visit BIRN

On April 28th, BIRN Kosovo delightfully ended the month of April by hosting two important diplomatic figures in Kosovo, the current U.S Ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie, and Atifete Jahjaga, who served as the fourth president of Kosovo.

In their separate discussions at the BIRN Kosovo office, Delawie and Jahjaga each emphasized that producing in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social issues in Kosovo is an absolute necessity. They declared their appreciation for BIRN’s commitment to fighting endemic corruptive behavior in the country. They also applauded BIRN’s success in conducting the annual report on the monitoring of Kosovo’s courts, in which BIRN Kosovo and Internews Kosova monitors tackled challenges and shortcomings in the justice system.

U.S. Ambassador Delawie expressed his concerns about the imbalanced judicial system in Kosovo, emphasizing the need to combat the partiality and injustices within the system. He went on to congratulate BIRN’s efforts to continuously conduct analysis on corruption within the judicial system in order to assess its performance in respecting legislation and adhering to work ethics and procedural regulations. The Ambassador said that BIRN Kosovo, by producing top-quality, timely, and relevant coverage, is a trendsetter in Kosovo’s media landscape.

Similarly, Jahjaga voiced her concern that Kosovo’s justice institutions infrequently address high-profile corruption cases and instead focus on processing petty corruptive cases, for which soft sentences are often delivered. She congratulated BIRN’s efforts to focus on the treatment of corruption charges, analyzing the problems and obstacles faced in the war against corruption. Jahjaga, the first woman to be president in Kosovo, said that though she is keeping her options open regarding her future plans, there is one particular issue she is certain about: she will continue to work for the survivors of wartime sexual violence, which during her five-year mandate remained one of her main priorities. 

BIRN and Internews Kosova Launch the Annual Court Monitoring Report 2016

On May 8th, 2017, BIRN and Internews Kosova marked a decade of monitoring Kosovo’s judicial system with the launch of the 2016 Court Monitoring Report. This project has been implemented for ten years now, and each year it has provided an overview of the situation in Kosovo’s justice system and has offered recommendations on how to increase transparency and accountability at all levels of the system. 

This year’s report reflects the monitoring of 600 court hearings across 26 courts in the country throughout 2016, including basic courts, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. Panel participants included BIRN Kosovo Director Jeta Xharra, Internews Kosova Executive Director Faik Ispahiu, Chief Prosecutor Aleksandër Lumezi, as well as representatives from the Supreme Court, the Prosecutorial Council, and the Judicial Council.

The author of the report, Petrit Kryeziu, summarized the report’s main findings, including delays on filing criminal charges from the police and the prosecution, failures to justify decisions on pre-detention, and flaws in the strategy for detaining suspects awaiting trial. One of the report’s general recommendations is that Kosovo courts need to work harder on improving the way they treat pre-detention cases. Another recommendation is that the Ministry of Justice needs to consider strengthening the option for alternative sentences, such as referring appropriate cases to mediation.

The report also revealed concrete examples of procedural violations in the judicial system during 2016. These violations included cases in which the defendant’s right to be informed in the native language was denied, unnecessary postponements of court hearings, and lack of court order during trials.

Internews Kosova’s Executive Director Faik Ispahiu expressed gratitude to the entire team who contributed to the making of this project and emphasized that there have been over 50 monitors who worked on this project, some of which are now prosecutors, judges and lawyers. BIRN Kosovo’s Director Jeta Xharra added that despite the fact that the findings indicate room for courts to increase transparency, the ten-year collaboration shows that there is no rivalry between monitors and employees within the justice system.  

Kosovo’s Chief Prosecutor Aleksandër Lumezi stated that he appreciates the findings and recommendations of the report and expressed his readiness to cooperate with the media. He emphasized that the flaws in the system will be improved upon and organized crime and corruption will be properly fought only through cooperation. 

Please, click here to download report.

BIRN Offers Internship Opportunities to University of Prizren Students

On April 24th, BIRN signed a cooperation agreement with the University of Prizren “Ukshin Hoti” in Kosovo on providing students with the opportunity to jumpstart their careers by embarking on professional internships at KALLXO.com, the anti-corruption platform.

BIRN has also offered numerous internship opportunities to the students of University of Prishtina, helping to advance students’ professional careers. Dozens of law and journalism students were provided with opportunities to pursue professional experience at KALLXO.com, with a focus on training students and helping them to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic, and social themes.

Through the cooperation agreement, law students will particularly benefit from such practical experience, during which they will be exposed to BIRN Kosovo’s methods of professional reporting, established to foster change in society while upholding accuracy, fairness and balance.  

Since BIRN is engaged in court monitoring, which aims to reduce wrongdoings spotted within the judicial system, the students will be familiarized with the methods used to identify  irregularities. According to the University’s rector, interning at KALLXO.com—as a bona fide source of objective, unbiased, and accurate information—provides an excellent opportunity for building the students’ personal and professional skills.

BIRN also strongly believes that these internships will equip students with the necessary skills to develop investigative, impartial, unbiased and publicly beneficial reporting in Kosovo. As BIRN is widely known for offering meaningful exposure to on-the-ground work experience, it plans to also provide students from other public universities across the country with similar internship opportunities, in order to expand students’ knowledge of the necessary skills to flourish in a diverse and multicultural work environment.

BIRN BiH Attends ODIHR Trial Monitoring Meeting

Mirna Buljugic, the director of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIRN BiH), participated in the ODIHR Trial Monitoring annual meeting in Skopje, Macedonia, at the end of April 2017.

The objective of the meeting was to share good practice and talk about challenges to trial monitoring around the world.

Buljugic presented BIRN BiH’s work at a session entitled Access to Information, talking about challenges journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina are facing trying to access audio and video material from court hearings, court files (indictments and verdicts) and interviews with legal professionals.

BIRN BiH’s campaign ‘Stop Censorship on War Crimes’ was shared as an example of good advocacy campaign that successfully encouraged people to put pressure on judicial institutions to change practices and rules forbidding the public from getting relevant information on war crime trials.

BIRN Network Visibility, Reach and Impact – 2016 Annual Report

The Annual Report presents the entire range of BIRN’s activities across the region from the perspectives of visibility, reach and impact.

In 2016, members of the BIRN network operated in a challenging environment which was marked by authoritarian tendencies among political elites, political turmoil, economic difficulties and deteriorating media freedoms. Political and financial pressure on the media, the refugee crisis, the long-term economic crisis and accompanying high unemployment, and high levels of corruption are just some problems that countries in the region have experienced.

Through investigative, analytical and specialised coverage of underreported topics such as war crimes cases, the flow of public money, cases of potential or verified corruption, problems within justice systems, media freedoms and ethics, and security issues etc., BIRN continued to play an important role in providing people in the Balkans with access to accurate information.

The Annual Report presents the entire range of BIRN’s activities across the region from the perspectives of visibility, reach and impact.

In this way, we show the scope and significance of the Network’s endeavours: for audiences in the countries of the region and beyond, media professionals, academics, policy makers (in the region and in international organisations), for the civil society sector, and for vulnerable groups. BIRN journalists and film-makers have also received awards for their work in their respective countries and internationally, and the report provides information about this.