The Illicit Trafficking in Human Organs in Kosovo and Albania
Následující článek se zabývá vysoce kontroverzní a palčivé problematiky obchodu s orgány. Právě této problematice a jejímu vztahu ke Kosovu a Albánii se věnuje následující článek v anglickém jazyce.
Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?
– Augustine of Hippo
It took time for the troops of the NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR to establish its control over Kosovo after the war formally ended on 10th June 1999. The Yugoslav Army (FRY) was on retreat from the Serbian southernmost region, which became subject to deliberate actions of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) – a Kosovar Albanian paramilitary group that was considered a terrorist organisation for the most of its existence. By then, however, militiamen of the KLA acted as allies of NATO on the ground, backed up by the US. Seeking revenge as victims of Milosevic’s invasion, they committed numerous violent crimes, targeting primarily – but not exclusively – the Serbian minority (Marty, 2010). Up to the present day, this violence remains unpunished, as the KLA was granted the status of KFOR’s partner in restoring order and some of its leaders subsequently made it to the highest circles of Kosovar politics. A large number of ethnic Serbs disappeared during the first post-conflict weeks and were never found again (Flottau, 2008; Lewis, 2011a).
According to information presented by the former ICTY prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, Council of Europe, Human Rights Watch and several journalists, more than 300 Kosovar Serbs fell victim to forced abduction and transportation to secret detention facilities in North Albania, operated by the KLA and their affiliates from the Kosovar and Albanian criminal underworld, sometimes being referred to as the JCE – Joint Criminal Enterprise (ICTY, 2010; 2011; Marty, 2010). Some abductees then proceeded to the so called ‘Yellow House’ in Rripe and ’Safe House’ in Fushë-Krujë, both Central Albania, where they found death. Posthumously, their kidneys were removed and sold on the black market (Bottorff, 2011; Milosevic, 2011). Despite the extent of different testimonies on this incident and direct involvement of several international investigators and prosecutors, not a single person was put on trial. The evidence gathered is still insufficient to file an indictment and the Albanian authorities are not keen to cooperate (Flottau, 2008; Thorpe, 2010).
Despite the misfortune of the international system of justice, this paper takes the above-stated information as a point of departure. Aiming for their analysis, the following question is posed: “How can the alleged trafficking in human organs in Kosovo and Albania be understood through the two paradigms of transnational and local organised crime?” Pursuing a critical point ofview, the paper moreover asks: ”What links can be found between the Kosovar government and the alleged trafficking in human organs in Kosovo and Albania?” The sources used for the purposes of this essay include relevant literature, reports of international organisations, leaked intelligence documents, ICTY case sheets and media articles.
In their book State Crime: Governments, Violence and Corruption, Green and Ward (2004: 96) identify a distinction between
“competing paradigms in the causal explanation of organised crime. The ‘transnational school’, primarily concerned with the study of illicit markets and trafficking, theorises organised crime as a consequence of state prohibitionist strategies. The ‘local’ school by contrast, argues that organised crime is relatively distinct from illicit markets and much more a product of local social, political and economic conditions…”
As for the transnational school, Berdal and Serrano (2002: 15) show that prohibition is probably the worst kind of state intervention as it has a particularly destabilising impact to the sphere of illegal. “*T+he state not only creates illegal markets but de facto abrogates the enforcement of many other regulatory laws in these illicit economic spheres”. Albanese (2011: 3) attempts for a classification of transnational crimes, which he divides into three categories – provision of illicit goods, provision of illicit services, and infiltration of business or government. The defining feature of transnational crimes is “violations of law that involve more than one country in their planning, execution or impact” and the underlying motive is said to be personal gain and profit (2011: 2-3).
The local school is trying to distance itself from the cross-border activities of criminal groups, and pays attention to the structure and character of criminal organisations themselves and the contexts in which they are created and perpetuated. What matters here is how the different groups are tied to a particular territory and how they exercise their control over such territory, which can include – for example – the practices of racketeering. It is also important to follow what values are being attached to family ties, and whether there are any codes of secrecy and special symbols (Finckenauer, 2007). This paper argues that the two schools should not be seen as competing, as suggested by Green and Ward (2004), but, rather as complementary. A theoretical framework inclusive of both the transnational and local paradigm has got, in fact, good prospects for a better understanding of any case of organised crime.
Then, what is transnational about the alleged trafficking in human organs in Kosovo and Albania? Firstly, the case clearly goes beyond boundaries of only one state. The victims were Kosovar Serbs by their ethnic origin, abducted in the region of Kosovo, which was, according to the internationally recognised borders, a territory of the Federal Republic of Serbia in 1999. Despite the de facto non-existence of any boundaries between Kosovo and Albania, the abducted Serbs formally crossed those (Marty, 2010). Secondly, the ‘harvested’ kidneys from the assassinated abductees did not stay in Albania, but left the country via the airport in Tirana for the purposes of overseas transplants (Bottorff, 2011). Thirdly, this was clearly done for the gain of the offenders. The trade in human organs constitutes a lucrative business, and the price of one particular kidney on the black market goes up to €90,000 1 (Lewis, 2011b). The high demand for kidneys can be further illustrated by another case of illicit organ trafficking in the Kosovar capital of Pristina, where the infamous ‘Turkish Frankenstein’ Yusuf Sonmez – also connected to the network of transnational organised crime – was running transplant tourism at the private Medicus clinic, despite having no legitimate licence to perform organ transplants (Brajshori, 2010; Lewis, 2011b).
Thinking of the given case in terms of the local paradigm, the leaked secret KFOR documents (n.d.) show the actors of the Kosovar and Albanian criminal underworld in the light of strong inclination to their own territory – an attribute the highly fractionalised KLA shared with them. Importantly, it was also demonstrated that many persons involved in the Kosovar and Albanian organised crime served in the KLA, even as high-ranking officers (Marty, 2010). In the popular sense, the term “fifteen families” is often used in reference to the Albanian mafia. The division along family/clan lines is believed to be really strict even in the diaspora, making the Albanian and Kosovar organised crime “probably more difficult to penetrate than the Cosa Nostra” (2010: 11, italics in original). The obedience of the mafia members is further ensured by codes of secrecy and honour originating from Kanun – the Albanian customary law from the 15th century, revived after the fall of communism, accounting for the total of 12 books in full, but sold in a paperback edition in the streets of Albanian towns (KFOR, n.d.; Marty, 2010).
Having addressed the issue of the alleged illicit organ trafficking in Kosovo and Albania from the perspective of a transnational and local understanding of organised crime, the second question of this essay remains to be answered. What links can be found between the Kosovar government and the trafficking? At first, it has to be stated that this remains a highly controversial puzzle as there is a significant number of people considering the whole matter just a politically motivated conspiracy (Lewis, 2011a; Thorpe, 2010). Nevertheless, several lines have been drawn.
The most frequently named individual – Hashim Thaci – currently holds the office of the Prime Minister of Kosovo. Thaci is believed to be the leader of the infamous KLA faction called the “Drenica Group”, a mixture of militiamen and criminals who were directly involved in running the secret detention facilities in Albania, violence committed against the Kosovar Serbs, and the organ trafficking itself (Dominguez, 2010; Marty, 2010). Described as ‘the power behind Thaci’, Xhavit Haliti, who is now a senior member of Thaci’s ruling party (PDK), is also put in a connection to the criminal underworld (Lewis, 2011a).
In the leaked KFOR documents (n.d.), both Thaci and Haliti were identified as the ‘biggest fish’ in the Kosovar organised crime. Although the documents show the complexity of the problem, no credible evidence was collected and both Thaci and Albanian authorities reject the claims about the possible interconnection of the governments’ officials and organised crime (Lewis, 2011a). The Albanian side also makes for a big obstruction as regards the past and present attempts of inquiry by war crimes investigators from Serbia, the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) (Thorpe, 2010). Up to the present day, no exhumations were allowed on the Albanian territory, as the authorities claim “(t)here was no war here, so there are no graves to look for” (Marty, 2010: 9). Apparently the
most successful investigation was performed by UNMIK, which stormed the ‘Yellow House’ in Rripe in 2004 and found a number of bloodstains and medical equipment suitable for organ transplants in and around the house (Flottau, 2008). The Katuci family, who resided in the house at that point, provided only highly contradictory and disputable explanations 2Bodies of those who fell victim to the alleged organ trafficking were believed to be buried along the road to Rripe, however, again, the investigators were not allowed to conduct exhumations (ibid.).
In his notorious article War Making and State Making as Organized Crime, Charles Tilly (1985) presented states as being not so far from criminal organisations, basing his ideas upon the link between extraction and protection. The key finding here is that the basic function of both governments and criminal groups is the provision of security to those, who pay them money. The experience from the Balkans shows that the relationship between governments and organised crime can be far more complex. Especially, when justice is taken away, states might become nothing but great robberies.
1 A brief internet research suggests that the prices might be even much higher. The online database of black market activities Havoscope (2011) shows that in Singapore, kidney buyers pay more than €200,000 per kidney.
2 A granddaughter of Abdulla Katuci, the owner of the house, denied the organ harvesting allegations, claiming that the bloodstains came from a woman who gave a birth in the house. Besides that, according to her, animals were butchered in the house for a Muslim festival (Flottau, 2008; Thorpe 2010).
Albanese, J. S. (2011). Transnational Crime and the 21st Century: Criminal Enterprise, Corruption and Opportunity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Berdal, M. & Serrano, M. (2002). Transnational Organized Crime and International Security. Business as Usual? London: Lynne Riener.
Bottorff, A. (2011). EU Prosecutor to Investigate Alleged Organ Trafficking in Albania. Jurist: Legal
News and Research. Retrieved 2011-11-13, from http://jurist.org/paperchase/2011/10/eu- prosecutor-to-investigate-alleged-organ-trafficking-in-albania.php.
Brajshori, M. (2010). Organ Trafficking Case Sent to Kosovo Court. SETimes. Retrieved 2011-11-13, from http://www.setimes.com/cocoon/setimes/print/en_GB/features/setimes/features/2010/12/14/feature-03.
Dominguez, N. (2010). Carla Del Ponte Feels Vindicated by Kosovo Report. Swissinfo.ch. Retrieveed 2011-11-13, from http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/politics/foreign_affairs/Carla_Del_Ponte_feels
Finckenauer, J. O. (2007). Mafia and Organized Crime: A Beginner’s Guide. Oxford: Oneworld.
Flottau, R. (2008). Albania’s House at the End of the World. Family Denies Organ Harvesting Allegations. Spiegel Online. Retrieved 2011-11-13, from http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,580422,00.html.
Green, P. & Ward, T. (2004). State Crime: Governments, Violence and Corruption.London: Pluto Press.
Havoscope (2011). Kidney and Organ Prices. Online Database of Black Market Activities. Retrieved 2011-11-13, from http://www.havocscope.com/black-market-prices/organs-kidneys/.
ICTY (2010). Limaj et al. Case Information Sheet. Retrieved 2011-11-13, from http://www.icty.org/x/cases/limaj/cis/en/cis_limaj_al_en.pdf.
ICTY (2011). Haradinaj et al. Case Information Sheet. Retrieved 2011-11-13, from http://icty.org/x/cases/haradinaj/cis/en/cis_haradinaj_al_en.pdf.
KFOR (n.d.). Organized Crime in Kosovo. Clan Structure, Main Links. NATO KFOR Intelligence Report.
Lewis, P. (2011a). Report Identifies Hashim Thaci as ‘Big Fish’ in Organized Crime. The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-11-13, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/24/hashim-thaci- kosovo-organised-crime/print.
Lewis, P. (2011b). Six Kosovar Doctors Face Charges of Illegal Organ Trafficking. British medical journal : overseas and retired doctors edition 342(7787), pp: 14.
Marty, D. (2010). Inhuman Treatment of People and Illicit Trafficking in Human Organs in Kosovo.
Council of Europe, Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Right. Report. Retrieved 2011-11-13, from http://www.assembly.coe.int/CommitteeDocs/2010/ajdoc462010prov.pdf.
Milosevic, S. (2011). The Bloody Yellow House. Online Blog. Retrieved 2011-11-13, Fric http://thebloodyellowhouse.wordpress.com/.
Thorne, N. (2010). End of the Road for Kosovo Organ Claims? BBC News. Retrieved 2011-11-13, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10166800.
Tilly, C. (1985). War Making and State Making as Organized Crime. In P. Evans, D. Rueschemeyer & T.
Skocpol (Eds.), Bringing the State Back. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Autor: Viktor Vodák, absolvent oboru Bezpečnostní a strategická studia, FSS MU. V současnosti studuje magisterský obor Global Criminology na Utrechtské univerzitě.
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