Kosovo leaders face crimes against humanity charges

Senior Kosovo leaders face indictment for crimes against humanity after a report by US prosecutor Clint Williamson was released on 29 July. The charges include killings, abductions, disappearances, sexual violence and other forms of persecutions against Serb and Roma minority populations, as well as political opponents, since the end of the conflict with Serbia in 1999. Although the suspects are not named, they are referred to as "senior officials of the former Kosovo Liberation Army" (KLA), who fought against Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian regime. The EU special investigative task force (SITF) which led the investigation is likely to prosecute some top figures of Kosovo politics, who accessed leadership positions after the country’s independence in 2008.

Top politicians threatened

The report issued two days ago goes beyond investigations concerning the 1998-1999 Kosovo conflict in which both Serbian forces and Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) members have been tried in The Hague’s International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). SITF’s report is new since it investigated crimes that were committed after 1999 by KLA members and were not yet tried. After investigating on 800 dead or disappeared people in the cities of Orahovac and Zočište, Clint Williamson underlined that crimes targeted mainly Kosovo Serbs and other minorities, who suffered from ethnic cleansing. The report highlights cases of “unlawful killings, abductions, enforced disappearances, illegal detentions in camps in Kosovo and Albania, sexual violence, other forms of inhumane treatment, forced displacements of individuals from their homes and communities, and desecration and destruction of churches and other religious sites”. It follows earlier 2010 findings by Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty who had declared that “handful” of prisoners had been subjected to organ trafficking and consequently killed. Although lacking evidence concerning this charge, Williamson highlighted the particularly well-organised, widespread and systematic nature of other counts of indictment, justifying the crimes against humanity label. Marty’s report had also directly involved outgoing Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, who was then the KLA’s leader.      

Serbia satisfied, US and EU embarrassed

Reactions to the report were numerous and varied. Kosovo’s government welcomed the report as “an important step in determining the potential responsibilities of individuals and putting an end to unfounded allegations and accusations” whereas some KLA war veterans condemned it as “ridiculous”. On the Serbian side, Marko Duric, the head of Serbian government office for Kosovo declared that “We can only be happy at the moment when we have final verdicts which will bring the perpetrators responsible for the crimes to justice”. Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic added that the report “brings satisfaction to victims” and “greatly contributes to international justice”. On the opposite side, concern is raising in the United States and EU countries, who allegedly supported the KLA’s and its leaders during and after the war against Milosevic. "European governments and the U.S. government are today surprised because they did not expect Williamson come out with positive results,” Dick Marty said.

Obstacles to trial

Genuine trial of former KLA members nevertheless faces several obstacles. “We have taken steps to counter the impact of the witness intimidation and we will continue to do so. We will actively investigate these activities and will prosecute any individuals found to have been involved," Williamson said. However, this task should be rendered difficult by the absence of physical evidence. "There are no bodies, no names of victims," he declared, while Marty underlined that "Evidence was difficult to present because witnesses have no confidence in the Kosovo judiciary and international courts."

 In addition, the creation of a special court to judge the crimes would require a constitutional change in Kosovo, only possible with a two-third majority in Parliament. Since most suspects are part of the Parliament, such an event is unlikely to happen. Another possibility provided by international criminal law is the creation of a Special court by the United Nations Security Council, on the model of the ICTY and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Such tribunals would enable international prosecutors to overcome Kosovo’s national jurisdiction and force all UN member countries to cooperate in the investigation. Media say it could be created in 2015, most probably in the Netherlands.

Kosovo politics still in turmoil

The news of SITF’s report comes as Kosovo has been undergoing a political deadlock for several weeks. After June 8th elections, four opposition parties organized themselves into a coalition to oppose outgoing Prime Minister Hashim Thaci’s PDK (Democratic Party of Kosovo). One of them, the nationalist Vetevendosje movement, presented conditions to join the coalition, notably the end of EU-led talks with Serbia. More recently, the election as Parliament speaker of Isa Mustafa, leader of Democratic League of Kosovo, was brought to court by Hashim Thaci. His party denounced procedural irregularities and opposed the opposition coalition saying it had the largest parliamentary group and gained the majority of popular support. The Constitutional Court of Kosovo should resolve the issue and pave the way for President Atifete Jahjaga to designate a Prime Minister in the following weeks.   


Sources : The Guardian, SITF, Le Point, Le Courrier des Balkans, Balkan Insight I, Balkan Insight II, Balkan Insight III, Balkan Insight IV, European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity, B92.

Photo: Beta. Prosecutor Clint Williamson.

Author : Laura Gounon

Aanmelden nieuwsbrief

Meeschrijven voor de FMS? Stuur je inzending (maximaal 400 woorden) naar info@foundationmaxvanderstoel.nl