Feature article from THE WIRE, Amnesty’s global campaign magazine
Activists, lawyers, judges, trial observers and the UN itself have used Amnesty’s Fair Trial Manual to defend human rights worldwide. Political prisoners, including Albin Kurti from Kosovo, have also used the book to represent themselves in court.
Albin is the leader of Kosovo’s Lëvizja VETËVENDOSJE! (Movement for Self-Determination!). He was arrested during a peaceful protest in 2007 and tried by the UN interim authorities in Kosovo (UNMIK). He told us his story.
“Lëvizja VETËVENDOSJE! demonstrated peacefully against the so-called Ahtisaari Plan for Kosovo’s future in 2007,” he told us. “We believed it would be damaging and increase social misery.”
“UNMIK police began shooting at us with rubber bullets. Some people were shot in the face. Two protesters died and more than 80 were injured. I and other activists were beaten, kicked and sprayed with pepper spray, and one woman was knocked unconscious. In total, 16 of us were arrested and imprisoned.
“I was targeted as the movement’s leader. I spent five months in prison and another five under house arrest. I was interrogated only once, for 30 minutes. Isolation was a greater priority than investigation. My detention conditions were not good; I was labelled a ‘Category A’ prisoner and held with people serving sentences of 25-30 years.
“When my trial began, a friend gave me the Amnesty International Fair Trial Manual. I read it thoroughly and started to see myself not only as a political activist suffering the injustice of the system, but also as a human being with rights and liberties. This equipped me for my struggle.
“My trial had many irregularities, including the fact that all my defence lawyers were appointed by UNMIK. So UNMIK was prosecuting, judging and defending me at the same time. I therefore didn’t accept my defence counsel, and ended up representing myself.
“The Fair Trial Manual made me aware of the multitude of cases similar to mine from all over the world. I drew many important lessons. I also became aware of the human rights laws and mechanisms that I had been denied. It taught me to prepare myself much better for questioning prosecution witnesses and following court sessions.
”Eventually, seven different lawyers resigned from defending me when they saw that it was a show trial. Their civil disobedience set me free.
“The media organization Top Media voted me ‘Personality of the Year’ in 2011. The same year, VETËVENDOSJE! won 14 seats in Kosovo’s parliamentary elections, showing the success of our movement.
“My detention and trial made me understand Kosovo’s international system much better and helped me fight more effectively. To other activists I say: Organise, act and never underestimate the power of insistence.”
Find out more
The new, updated edition of Amnesty’s Fair Trial Manual, first published in 1998, will be released in April. Find out more and download a free copy at www.amnesty.org/fairtrials
Story originally appeared in The Wire, Amnesty International’s global campaign magazine