A woman in judicial robes sits on the judge's bench in a courtroom

Justice for Kosovo

One judge’s quest to make courts more transparent and effective

Overhead view of downtown Pristina, Kosovo

After declaring independence in 2008, Kosovo became Europe’s youngest country. Since then, USAID has worked alongside the citizens of Kosovo to help strengthen the country’s justice system.

Afërdita Bytyqi is the first woman to become court president of the Basic Court of Pristina, the largest court in Kosovo.

A woman sits at the head of a board room table

Afërdita applied to become court president in an open competition with five male judges. She scored the highest in her interview. Although some people supported Afërdita, others said the job was too big for a woman to handle. “People thought that I could not successfully manage the Basic Court of Pristina [because of my gender], but I've proven them wrong,” she says.

Afërdita grew up with six brothers and three sisters in Orllat, a village surrounded by mountains about 20 miles from Pristina. Her father and grandfather served as mediators in their community, which inspired her to pursue a legal profession.

“Since I was a child, I dreamt of becoming a judge,” she says. “I was inspired and motivated to become a person with authority and help others in solving cases, namely in delivering justice.”

Two women pick fruit from a tree
Three people eat at a kitchen counter

Before she became court president, Afërdita was a judge in the Serious Crimes Division, handling sensitive and complicated cases, such as terrorism, corruption, and organized crime.

“To become a judge, you have to have courage,” she says.

A woman in judges robes stands in a glass corridor
View of a courtroom from the entry doors

Improving Transparency

Under Afërdita’s leadership, USAID has strengthened the court’s Public Information Office, which keeps the court’s website updated, prepares press releases, and responds to requests from media and civil society. The court publishes decisions online, where anyone can access them.

“I opened the doors of the court,” Afërdita says, “because only by being transparent can we win the trust of the public.”

Reducing backlogged cases

USAID deployed a backlog reduction team to help improve the efficiency of the courts. In two years, judges cut their backlog of cases by 30 percent, and are now resolving more cases than the court receives.

“Cases should be processed within a reasonable timeframe because if the cases addressed to the court drag on, we have violated the rights of the citizens,” Afërdita explains.

A judge's gavel
Two women and a man in judges robes look at papers on a desk
A group of people stands on a mountain overlooking an agricultural landscape

“The role of the justice system in democracy is big,” Afërdita says. “Because only when we have an efficient system can we say that we have a democratic system in Kosovo.”

An animation of a judge at the bench closing a folder

After all that Afërdita has accomplished, her critics — the ones who tried to discourage her from applying to become court president — have changed their tune.

“They have changed their conviction,” she says, “and are saying that the court really needed a person like you.”

About This Story

USAID’s Justice System Strengthening Program is strengthening justice and the rule of law in Kosovo by improving the judiciary’s efficiency, accountability, and professionalism. The four-year program began in late 2015.

As part of the program, USAID deployed backlog reduction teams to help Basic Courts across the country resolve cases that were over two years old, clearing more than 70% of them.

USAID efforts to increase accountability and integrity have resulted in mandatory continuing legal education for all judges in Kosovo; nearly 60% of judges have been trained on a code of ethics.

In pushing for greater transparency, USAID helped Kosovo’s courts increase the number of final judgments that are posted online for public access, from about 80 decisions published in 2016 to nearly 8,000 two years later.

By partnering with local leaders like Afërdita, USAID is helping Kosovo on its journey to becoming a resilient, citizen-responsive democracy.

Photos and video by Sebastian Lindstrom and Philippa Young for USAID; Story by Nic Corbett, USAID