analysis 28 Nov 12

Kosovo Awaits Haradinaj Verdict in Hope and Anxiety

While family and friends prepare for a homecoming for Ramush Haradinaj, there is fear that the ICTY is under pressure to issue a verdict that will appease Serbia.

Edona Peci
Photo by Wikicommons

“I apologize for this mess, but we are doing the final repairs to the building,” Daut Haradinaj says.

The brother of the former KLA leader and former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj ushers BIRN into his office at the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo’s headquarters in Pristina.

The AAK party is busy preparing for the hoped-for return from The Hague of its leader, as is the whole Haradinaj family.

On Thursday, the clan will gather at the family home in Gllogjan, the western village where 44-year-old Ramush was born.

There they will watch live transmission of the judgment of the appeal court of the Hague Tribunal.

The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, is to pass its verdict on the retrial of Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj, all three former commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.

The trio are accused of torturing and killing prisoners in a KLA-run camp at Jablanica during the Kosovo conflict in 1998.

In 2008, the ICTY acquitted Haradinaj and Balaj of charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity while jailing Brahimaj for six years for cruelty and torture.

Daut Haradinaj, a member of Kosovo’s parliament, recalls the “difficult period” that the family and the party has gone through since the judicial process started years ago.

“I wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone in Kosovo,” he said.

Although he seems tired and concerned, Haradinaj’s brother insists he feels optimistic about the judgment on Thursday.

“We hope that the innocence of all three of them will be reconfirmed,” he said.

“It’s been a marathon trial, but I hope the final judgment will favour our war, Ramush and his friends…Our war was a defensive and a just war,” he told BIRN.

 Photo by Wikicommons

The release of Haradinaj is widely expected by the public in Kosovo; posters and billboards welcoming Haradinaj back home have gone up throughout Pristina and other cities.

Thousands of people also showed their support for of the former KLA commander by posting on Facebook.

“Ramush Haradinaj is returning”, “Free Ramush Haradinaj” or Ramush is coming” are some posts made on one of his accounts.

The verdict on Haradiaj will be issued one day after Albania marks its the anniversary of its independence which is also celebrated by Albanians in Kosovo and the region.

Ardian Pacolli, a political science student from Pristina, says any other verdict but the acquittal of Haradinaj “would be a big mistake.

“He didn’t do anything he should be punished for. I think he has fought for his land and his people… I just feel sorry Haradinaj can’t be in Kosovo when we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of Albania's independence.”

The ICTY issued its initial indictment against Haradinaj and his two co-accused on March 4, 2005.

Four days after the indictment was issued and only a hundred days after he had run the government of Kosovo, Haradinaj resigned to surrender voluntarily to the court on March 9.

After a three-year trial at the ICTY, he was released in April 2008. He returned to Kosovo, his family and politics, continuing his activities as head of the opposition AAK.

But on July 21, 2010, the Appeal Chamber of the ICTY partially quashed the earlier acquittals of the trio, ordering a partial retrial.

The Hague prosecution had convinced an appeal judge that it had not been given time to hear the evidence of two key witnesses.

After a 35-day re-trial, during which 12 witnesses were called, expectations are high in Kosovo that the case will be wrapped up at last.

The timing of Thursday’s judgment is sensitive. The Tribunal verdict will come just over two weeks after the ICTY acquitted Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, two former Croatian army generals, of war crimes.

On November 16 the Tribunal Appeal Chamber quashed the first-instance verdicts passed in April 2011, which jailed Gotovina and Markac for 24 and 18 years for involvement in a “joint criminal enterprise”.

This related to “Oluja” [“Storm”] the Croatian Army operation in summer of 1995 that terminated a Serbian revolt in the southwest Krajina region.

Officials in Belgrade bitterly condemned the appeal verdict. Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said it “confirms the claims of those who say that the Hague Tribunal is not a court and its only purpose is to meet a preset political agenda”.

According to a senior Serbian politician, Rasim Ljajic, “nothing good” could be expected with regard to the Haradinaj et al case.

Photo by Beta

The concern among officials in Kosovo is that pressure may be now piling on the Hague court to “balance” the controversial Croatian verdicts with another that assuages Serbia’s anger.

Agim Ceku, Kosovo’s Security Forces Minister, says the government “is concerned by Belgrade’s pressure” on the Hague court.

“Any other verdict but a dismissal of all charges would be an injustice, if not the height of injustice,” he told BIRN.

“Ramush will be needed in Kosovo, but also in the region”, the former KLA chief of staff added.

Although not actively involved in politics since the retrial started, Haradinaj has remained leader of the AAK.

The party has a role in the current dialogue on normalization of relations between Pristina and Belgrade.

Blerim Shala, an AAK deputy leaders and an MP in parliament, was appointed last week as Kosovo’s political coordinator of the dialogue team, which is led by Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci.

The Tribunal decision to order a partial re-trial of the three former KLA commanders was the first of its kind since the court was established in 1993.

Afrim Hoti, international law professor at the University of Pristina, says “the request for a partial retrial has already damaged the ICTY’s image, by placing it under the suspicion of political influence.

“According to what I have seen, the trial has not been characterized by any new arguments,” he said.

“After a partial retrial we’re at the same point known previously, which should mean the release of Haradinaj,” he added.

Whatever the verdict on the Haradinaj et al, many issues linked to the war of 1998-1999 in Kosovo will remain unresolved.

Former members of the KLA, the guerrilla force established in the late 1990s fighting for independence from Serbia, continue to face allegations of war crimes, allegedly committed in different parts of Kosovo and outside the country.

Kosovo’s image as the innocent party in the conflict was badly shaken in 2010 by the report of the human rights rapporteur at the Council of Europe, Dick Marty.

He accused senior former KLA fighters, including Kosovo's current Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, of harvesting the organs of Serbian prisoners and others in Albania during the conflict in Kosovo.

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