News 23 Apr 14

Kosovo MPs Approve New War Crimes Court

After a heated debate, Kosovo lawmakers voted for the establishment of a new special court to probe war crimes and organ-trafficking allegedly committed by Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas.

Edona Peci

The proposal to establish the new tribunal was passed by 89 votes to 22 in parliament on Wednesday, although Prime Minister Hashim Thaci called it “the biggest injustice and insult which could be done to Kosovo and its people”.

“Our war was just and in line with the international norms of war,” insisted Thaci, who was the political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army during its 1998-99 conflict with Serbian forces.

But he also said that Kosovo needed the new court in order to “cleanse” itself of allegations made in a 2010 report by Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty which claimed that former KLA commanders including Thaci ran organised criminal enterprises including an ad-hoc network of detention facilities in Albania and suggested that guerrillas harvested prisoners’ organs.

Kosovo “has to overcome this challenge united”, Thaci said, urging MPs to vote in favour.

During the debate, other MPs also strongly rejected allegations of war crimes and organ-trafficking by the KLA.

Fatmir Limaj, a former KLA commander who was acquitted of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), questioned why Kosovo should have a special court when other countries like Bosnia were allowed by the international community to try their own cases.

“The ICTY dealt with war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. It tried all the cases it could, and those it was not able to deal with were transferred to local courts. Why does Kosovo have to be treated differently?” he asked.

But Serb MP Vesna Mikic, from the United Serb List (Jedinstvena Srpska Lista) party, said she hoped that the new court would ensure that “all criminals who were members of the KLA will face justice”.

“They have to be convicted for every single Serb victim, every raped Serb, every removed Serb organ, every burned Serb holy monument, every forcedly taken piece of Serb land and for every expelled Serb,” she said.

The US embassy in Pristina praised MPs for approving the new tribunal, saying that they “affirmed their commitment to establishing a court under Kosovo law that will strictly focus on individuals and individual acts”.

“Today’s vote paves the way for a process that the international community will view as credible, and that will help close this difficult chapter in Kosovo’s history,” the embassy said in a statement.

The tribunal will operate under Kosovo’s laws, but prosecutors and judges will be international, Thaci explained in parliament.

It is expected to have an office in Kosovo and one outside the country, but it remains unclear exactly when it is going to be established.

Wednesday’s vote also endorsed an extension of the mandate of the EU rule-of-law mission in Kosovo, EULEX, until June 2016.

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