Illegal Logging in Kosovo

Illegal logging in Kosovo is both a domestic and a transnational problem shared by other Balkan states. Among the driving forces for this illegal activity is a high domestic demand for wood that is four times the production rate. Most of this is used for domestic fuel as there is a lack of an adequate energy supply. Taking into account the social and economic context of this crime, Article 358 of the criminal code allows for an exception for logging destined for household use.[1] Putting aside legal logging for domestic use, illegal logging is one of the most important environmental problems in Kosovo because it causes deforestation and puts ecosystems of flora and fauna at risk. Despite the existing legal framework for forest management, forests are an obvious target for illegal activities, since they cover a large area and it is extremely difficult to ensure their full protection against two major problems: illegal woodcutting and forest fires (Kryeziu et al. 2012). Increasing the degree of protection usually involves a significant rise in the cost of forest management, which is often unacceptable for state-owned companies and land owners. High rates of unemployment and low salaries also drive up deforestation.

According to EULEX (2012), ‘illegal logging comes in many forms in Kosovo including logging from public forests without permission, logging in protected areas, false declaration of volume of harvested wood and illegal logging from private forests. Smuggling and illegal accounting practices, extend the list further’. Nevertheless, Kosovo Forestry Agency insisted in 2012 that it was stopping needless destruction and that about 8,200 cases of illegal actions concerning Kosovo’s forests had been prosecuted in courts; it was also tabulating cases of illegal logging and attacks against foresters or forest guards (Kryeziu et al. 2012, p. 11). However, no data on these proceedings is available in the official websites of EULEX or the Kosovar government. The prevalence of illegal logging shows that the current organizational and legal infrastructure is not fully functional, mainly due to the insufficient number of employees in the Kosovo Forest Agency (Markus-Johansson et al. 2010, p. 50).

Illegal logging is also a component of transnational organized crime because of Kosovo’s undefined and uncontrolled borders. Thus, ‘the lack of capacity to protect forests in Kosovo means that publicly and privately owned forests particularly at the border/ boundary are vulnerable and a prime target of wood thieves’ (EULEX 2012). The geographical situation of Kosovo in the Balkans as well as its uncontrolled and undefined borders have made Kosovo a destination, as well as a transport zone, for illegal wood from Albania and Montenegro. Even though customs authorities control cross-border trade, irregularities in documentation are a problem that has only partly been addressed. No significant amounts of illegal wood have been reported, although there is likely to be a large margin of error (Marcus-Johansson et al. 2010, p. 59). Despite the Kosovar authorities cooperating with Serbian border police to prevent illegal trade, irregular practices have been denounced by NGOs that consider northern Kosovo as a ‘gangster’s paradise’ because now ‘unlike when UNMIK had a major police presence in the north, the Kosovo Police and EULEX are seldom visible, and Serbs feel that there is no recourse to justice. This can result in odd situations, like armed gangs of Albanians stealing timber from Serbs in the north, with almost no consequences’ (Kemp et al. 2013, p. 46). Further institutional and practical measures are needed in the border regions to combat trade in illegally logged wood. However, lack of political will and lack of funding and capacity has created a serious obstacle to efficient cross-border cooperation.

  • [1] Article 358 of the Criminal Code on Forest Theft: 1. Whoever, with the intent to steal, cutsdown trees in a forest and the quantity of the timber cut down exceeds two cubic meters shall bepunished by a fine or by imprisonment of up to one (1) year. 2. When the offense provided for inparagraph 1 of this Article is committed with the intent to sell the cut timber; if the quantity of thecut timber exceeds five cubic meters; or, the offense is committed in a protected forest, protectedpark or any other forest used for a specific purpose, the perpetrator shall be punished by a fine andby imprisonment of three (3) months to three (3) years. 3. An attempt to commit the offenseprovided for in paragraph 1 of this Article shall be punishable, Code No. 04/L-082 Criminal Codeof the Republic of Kosovo, available at http://www.kuvendikosoves.org/common/docs/ligjet/Criminal%20Code.pdf.
 
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