news 29 Nov 12

Hague Tribunal Acquits Kosovo’s Haradinaj

The Hague Tribunal, ICTY, has passed non-guilty verdict in the retrial of former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and two more ex Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, commanders.

 

Edona Peci
BIRN
Pristina

Haradinaj, former Prime Minister of Kosovo, and his two co-defendants, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj, are acquitted of all charges of committing war crimes during the Kosovo conflict of the late 1990s.

Around 100 people gathered in the rain to watch the verdict live on the big screen.

The government of Kosovo welcomed the acquittals.  In a press release, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci described the verdict as just.

“This verdict is the most powerful proof that the Kosovo Liberation Army fought a just war for freedom and did not carry out the crimes for which it has been unfairly accused. This has been proven by the Hague Tribunal today and it will be proven again in the case of Fatmir Limaj and his comrades,”  the press release reads.

Kosovo’s President Atifete Jahjaga said she is happy that “Mr Haradinaj is returning to his family and to Kosovo to continue contributing, consolidating and further strengthening the democratic processes that our country is going through.”

“The ICTY’s decision…is a proof that our war was just and that those who led our freedom fight are not guilty of the crimes they were accused of,” she added.

Haradinaj Will Return to Kosovo Tonight

Haradinaj's lawyer, Ben Emmerson, gave a statement saying that Haradinaj will be returning to Kosovo tonight.

"With the consent of the people, he will soon be resuming his rightful position as the political leader of the country, leading a government that represents all the citizens of Kosova.”

Emmerson also demanded an apology from the former ICTY Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte.

“She must apologise today for her own, entirely personal, responsibility for the decision to issue this indictment without any reliable evidence to justify her decision.”

“She must have known that her decision to indict Ramush served the political interests of the extreme nationalists in Serbia, by depriving Kosovo of its most effective political leader during this crucial period of transition to independence.”

The Trial Chamber found that the prosecution did not prove any of the counts of the indictment including that the defendants were part of a joint criminal enterprise, JCE, to establish KLA control in western Kosovo through detention camps.

Prosecutors alleged that they tortured and killed ethnic Serbs, and Albanians who were deemed to have collaborated with Serbs, in a KLA-run camp at Jablanica in 1998.

“Having considered all the circumstantial evidence offered to prove the existence of the JCE alleged in the Indictment, the Chamber finds that the common purpose of the JCE is not established,” said the presiding judge Bakone Justice Moloto in the explanation of the verdict.

The Hague court acquitted Haradinaj and Balaj of all charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity following a three-year trial in 2008. Brahimaj was sentenced to six years for cruel treatment and torture.

Streets of Pristina I Photo by Beta

In 2010, the Appeals Chamber concluded that witnesses had been intimidated and that the prosecution had not been given the chance to question two potentially crucial witnesses and sent the case for a partial retrial.

After today’s verdict, all three men have been released from the Hague Tribunal’s custody and are expected to return to Kosovo to a hero’s welcome.

In Pristina’s main Mother Teresa square around 100 people gathered in the rain to watch the verdict live on the big screen. Cheers and gunshots were heard as the judge read out the verdict.

“I have never been happier in my life. Ramush Haradinaj is a living legend. I cannot describe how happy I am,” said Shefki Arifi, one of the people at the Mother Teresa square.

“Once again it has been proven that the KLA war was just and Ramush Haradinaj was right,” said Labinot Luraj who also braved the rain to watch the verdict on the square.

The acquittal of Haradinaj and two other KLA commanders has been met with anger in Serbia.

President Tomislav Nikolic said in a statement that the Hague Tribunal was formed "to try the Serbian people".

“The latest decision by the Tribunal is not based on law and justice, the fundamental postulates that any international court should be based on. The Tribunal, obviously founded outside the international law, was formed to try the Serbian people," reads the statment by President Nikolic.

He said the verdict would increase euro-scepticism in Serbia and undermine the efforts to normalise Belgrade Pristina relations.

Milivoje Mihajlovic, spokesperson for the Serbian government, says that the verdict did not come as a surprise.

“I was not surprised. This is a hard day for international justice and it severely compromises our work with the ICTY,” said Mihajlovic, adding that “it is scandalous that the international community remained deaf to the murder of 19 witnesses”.

After the recent acquittal of two Croatian generals for crimes during the Croatian military operation Storm [Oluja], many Serbs feel that the Hague Tribunal does not rule justly when it comes to war crimes committed against them during the wars of the 1990s.

Photo by Beta

 

Photo by Beta
Photo by Beta
Photo by Beta

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Background

Timeline: Cases for War Crimes in Pec Villages

Timeline of events in the case against 13 former Serb fighters charged with committing war crimes in the villages of Cuska, Zahac, Ljubenic and Pavlan in Kosovo in 1999.

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