‘’ When a man is denied to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw’’

Nelson Mandela

The beginning of the democratic processes in the 90’s were followed by a series of political, economic, social, psychological and demographic changes within the Balkan region, together with the flourishing of new phenomena such as human trafficking, organized crime and vendetta. But blood feuds are not a recent, nor a new phenomenon that came as a result of this bridging process from one system to another. Blood feuds have been part of the Balkans for centuries now, as part of a large customary law and as a set of unwritten norms that have arisen spontaneously and gradually became a form of internal judicial self-government among our societies.

Blood feuds appear in two main forms. The classic blood feud can only pass through the male bloodline and according to this form, a woman’s blood cannot have honor. However, following the collapse of communism, the modern type of blood feud emerged in addition to the classic one and here people no longer firmly adhere to strict rules such as the minimum age requirement to be involved and the women also become targets of killings and other elements such as pre-emptive strikes & paid blood assassin appeared too.

Blood feud murders are not only a criminal concept but mostly a traditional act of self-expression which brings consequences to life and human health not just for the person involved in them but also its family and the entire local community sometimes. Among consequences that blood feuds bring with them are isolation of individuals and entire families which are denied not just their fundamental rights to life with dignity and freedom, but also to education, childhood development, social security, access to health care, and many other rights. Furthermore, blood feuds can push people to move and be displaced from their communities or even countries because of the fear of persecution due to the threat of life by someone directly, but also indirectly by the state itself which often is unwilling and incapable in defending the person and its family.

So here we are in 2016, stuck with a phenomenon that still continues to bring loss of life and other negative consequences in a modern society where the killing of one another should be absolutely intolerable, where corruption and lack of responsibility from the authorities and from the society itself leaves thousands of children, women and men isolated inside their houses in fear for their safety and where their basic rights are completely denied and ignored by the state.

Shortcomings of the national legal system

Within our national legal frameworks one’s life is protected by law and we have very accurate articles within our legislation and criminal code that nicely include sentences for no less than 25 years of imprisonment or even to life sentence for such crimes. So, the laws in regard to any forms of self-justice are not absent. But the problem is that within our national order the main approach in regard to the blood feuds is strictly criminal and there is lack of enforcement or it’s poorly implemented as a result of which the customary laws still prevail. Even in cases of a well enforced system of justice, under the legal vest we often have another silent problem. Many families involved in blood feuds do not see the state’s criminal justice system as being capable of addressing their concerns. Sentencing a killer to a long prison term might be inadequate to satisfy some families’ conception of justice, which requires restoration of the lost blood, either through a revenge killing or reconciliation between the families.

Here then, we have another layer of the issue, because in cases of reconciliation – the most common method used to solve the blood feuds is mediation. However, being an extrajudicial activity, in which the parties must require the solution of a dispute by a neutral third party, and where the mediators have no right to order or obligate the parties to accept the resolution of the dispute, the mediation remains an option for which most of the people do not choose for. Furthermore, an agreement might never be reached through mediation and as a result the case goes back to square one.

‘Honorable’ behavior and the society

I believe that the biggest problem for the blood feuds existence lies within the gap between the legal system and emancipation level within our society. In the countries where blood feud still exists, there is a distorted relationship between the citizen and the law, or in the best case it is imbalanced throughout the years. High levels of corruption, lack of collaboration between institutions, judicial lack of transparency, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, failure to operate appropriately – all lead to people’s mistrust of state institutions and their disappointment with the implementation of laws. As a result people prefer to deal with the issue themselves, challenging the entire legal system in the country.

Some because they believe that, there is little the state could do to protect them. Others are convinced that the state should do little because matters of honor and respect must be resolved privately, rather than by the police. At this point it’s clear that the issue doesn’t lie only in the legal system and it’s functioning, but deep into the mentality, social behavior and moral values within our society. Because customary law is established under the moral and ethical laws of our society, it is also our duty to deal with it, mainly by raising awareness, working on family issues, educating ourselves, creating opportunities for economic welfare and spreading tolerance and respect among each other. Removing old beliefs about justice and strengthening the respect and obedience for the law itself are the first and most important steps.

No matter of the form, character or size of the phenomenon, blood feuds violate the most fundamental rights of a person: The right to life, freedom and dignity and because the human rights and fundamental freedoms are the foundation of our democratic society and of the entire legal system, their protection and observation is a primary constitutional obligation for both state and society. The state’s obligation to protect the life of its citizen’s in threatening situations is very important and in addition to their obligation to respect human rights, states also have an obligation to ensure human rights by protecting them against interference from private parties.

However, the right to life is also a responsibility of each one of us which means we all have the duty to protect it and not hinder it. We as society have the obligation to create conditions that support such fundamental rights because it is unacceptable that phenomena such as blood feuds still exist among our countries and also paradoxical that in the existence of the state and the laws, the application of the customary norms still prevails. Especially, in a moment when our countries look forward to be fully integrated in the EU, blood feuds cannot and should not be tolerated within our society. As potential or candidate countries, we must be critical about the human rights standards and their protection. After all, they are the most powerful indicator of a country’s accomplishments and the best mirror of our work towards the EU membership.


17/02/2016                                                                                                 Saimira Tola Khouw

Materials and Literature

A. Iseni, Y. Sela, A. Beadini, ‘A comparative study of Albanian customary law with the code of West and the Common Law of England’, Journal of Law, Policy and Globalization, Vol. 18, 2013.

G. Trnavci, ‘The Albanian customary law and The Canon of Leke Dukagjini: A clash or synergy with modern law

S. Joireman, ‘Aiming for certainty, The Kanun, blood feuds and the ascertainment of customary law’,  The journal of legal pluralism and unofficial law,

T.Mangalakova, ‘The Kanun in present – day Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro‘, International Center for Minority Studies and Intercultural Relations.