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Kosovo War Crimes Court Gains Pace

President and ruling party show signs of nervousness as tribunal readies first indictments.

5 January 2018

Kosovo’s president is facing a barrage of criticism from his key Western partners and the opposition over his support for the abolition of a new war crimes court.

 

"We urge all Kosovo's leaders … to speak out against this initiative and honestly inform Kosovo's citizens of the severe negative consequences, including for Kosovo's international and Euro-Atlantic integration, if Kosovo continues on this path," France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the United States stated yesterday.

 

thaci_100
After lawmakers from the ruling AAK party proposed to overturn the 2015 law establishing the special court, President Hashim Thaci (pictured) last week said he would sign it if it reached his desk, although he told RFE/RL he was not "encouraging lawmakers" to pass such a bill.

 

The Hague-based court, or Specialist Chambers, was set up this year after a long negotiating process and is expected to issue its first indictments soon, EU Observer writes. It is staffed by international judges and prosecutors, whose brief is to investigate alleged crimes by the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army during and after the 1998-1999 conflict with Serbia.

 

Many former guerrilla leaders became leading politicians, and several could be indicted, including Thaci, EU Observer says. When another potential suspect, parliamentarian Daut Haradinaj, last week said the "first arrest for the special court" would "activate" former KLA guerrillas, the United States reacted, saying "threats of violence [were] wholly unacceptable."

 

Daut Haradinaj is the brother of Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who was twice acquitted of war crimes by the now-closed International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, a United Nations court of law.

 

The court is supported by the opposition Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), whose leader, former premier Isa Mustafa, called the AAK proposal "devastating for our state and very damaging for justice.”

 

The LDK has hopes the court will prosecute unsolved murders of its members after the conflict with Serbia, Politico writes. Serbia agreed to pull its forces from its then-province after NATO’s destructive spring 1999 air campaign in support of Kosovan separatists. More than 160,000 Serbs, Roma, and other minorities fled or were forced out of Kosovo. The proposal to establish the special court followed allegations that KLA members kidnapped and murdered Serbs to harvest their organs.

 

"The creation of the Specialist Chambers was the only way for Kosovo to demonstrate its commitment to … rule of law and to continue to receive international support," the five-country statement said.

 

 

  • The new court “has no clear legal precedent in the Balkans or elsewhere,” Politico says: “Unlike the tribunal that tried the most serious crimes in the Yugoslav wars, it is not officially an international body. It will function under Kosovo law. But it is based in The Hague, staffed by international judges and prosecutors and bankrolled by the EU.”

 

  • Thaci pardoned three former KLA fighters last month. The three were among five men serving jail terms for the 2001 murder of a family in revenge because the father had allegedly served in the Serbian police. In their statement, the five countries said they were “deeply concerned” by the pardons.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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