The project Free Legal Aid aimed at protecting and promoting property rights of IDPs, refugees and returnees under the readmission agreement was presented today in Belgrade.
Two-year project funded by the EU with EUR3.65 million is a follow-up to four earlier projects implemented by the EU Delegation to Serbia and the Office for Kosovo and Metohija.
Team leader Declan O’Mahony said at the conference that there were at least 60,000 property return requests made by IDPs from Kosovo to which local courts in Kosovo failed to respond, adding that such a situation resulted in huge backlog of cases impossible to process within a reasonable timeframe.
According to O’Mahony, within the EU’s project aimed at providing free legal aid to IDPs, refugees and returnees under readmission agreement, four separate units will be set up in Belgrade, Nis, Kraljevo and Valjevo with two additional departments in Kosovska Mitrovica and Gracanica.
Each unit will employ two lawyers, an experienced one and a novice, both registered with Kosovo* Bar Chamber, as well as two to five apprentices. The beneficiaries will have to meet clear criteria for the provision of legal aid, counselling and court representation, he explained.
O’Mahony said that out of 705 lawyers registered with Kosovo Bar Chamber, only 23 of them were of Serbian nationality and only 10 of those 23 had the right to represent clients before courts.
Head of Operations at the EU Delegation to Serbia Nicolas Bizel described the project, which was already under implementation, as highly relevant as the right to legal aid was among the fundamental EU rights. He said that the Delegation would continue to be Serbia’s key partner in resolving that issue.
Deputy Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Dusan Kozarev said that there were 204,049 IDPs from Kosovo in Serbia, with estimates of another 18,000 in Kosovo.
He warned that the abandoned houses, which once belonged to Serbs and other non-Albanians, were being systematically destroyed, adding that the Kosovo Property Agency is processing some 40,000 requests for the return of occupied property. Also, he said, there were around 18,000 compensation, damaged or destroyed property claims lodged with courts.
*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.