News 22 Dec 17

Kosovo MPs Attempt to Stop War Court

As MPs staged a dramatic intervention to change the law on the new Hague-based court that will try Kosovo Liberation Army members, the US ambassador to Pristina warned it could have “profoundly negative implications”.

Die Morina, Marija Ristic
The Kosovo parliament in session. Photo: Archive photo /Visar K

The US and Britain, Kosovo’s main wartime backers, strongly urged Pristina lawmakers on Friday evening to step back from an initiative that would undermine the new Specialist Chambers that aims to prosecute former Kosovo Liberation Army members for wartime and post-war crimes.

“This effort, if it succeeds, will have profoundly negative implications for Kosovo’s future as part of Europe. It will be considered by the United States as a stab in the back,” US ambassador Greg Delawie told media in the parliament.

“Kosovo will be choosing isolation instead of cooperation and I have to say we would hate to turn the clock back for Kosovo on progress when it has come so far,” Delawie added.

A meeting of the Kosovo Assembly was being held on Friday evening after 43 MPs out of a total of 120 signed a demand for an extraordinary parliamentary session to revoke the Kosovo law that allows the Specialist Chambers to operate.

The initiative came after Kosovo Liberation Army veterans launched a petition calling for the law governing the new Specialist Chambers to be changed because it is “discriminatory”.

The law on Specialist Chambers Office provides the legal basis for the court which started operating this year, after years of negotiations and pressure on Pristina from the EU and US, although it has yet to issue any indictments.

The British ambassador to Kosovo, Ruairi O'Connell, also urged the MPs to reconsider.

“The UK was with Kosovo in the hardest times. We intervened, and were right to intervene, as part of NATO to protect the people of Kosovo,” O’Connell wrote on Facebook.

“Voting to repeal the law on the special court would be a betrayal of that commitment, and would call into question whether Kosovo believes in justice or impunity. It would have grave consequences for Kosovo,” he warned.

Kosovo’s ruling parties have so far not commented on the issue, but the opposition Democratic League of Kosovo also warned against it.

Kujtim Shala from the LDK said the initiative was “very dangerous” for the country because it threatened its relations with the US and EU.

“The LDK invites political entities and institutions to act in accordance with the interests of citizens,” Shala said.

Senior Kosovo Liberation figures are expected to be indicted by the new court for alleged crimes committed during and after the war in 1999.

The new court is to hear cases arising from the 2014 EU Special Investigative Task Force report which said that unnamed KLA officials would face indictments for a “campaign of persecution” against Serbs, Roma and Kosovo Albanians believed to be collaborators with the Belgrade regime.

The alleged crimes include killings, abductions, illegal detentions and sexual violence.

The court has international staff and is based in The Hague, but operates under Kosovo law. It was expected that the first indictments will be issued in the first half of 2018.

Christopher Bennett, spokesperson for the Kosovo Special Prosecution at the new Hague-based court, said that it was not possible to speculate about any potential changes to the law on the court and its prosecution that was adopted by Pristina.

“We have a mandate that comes from the [Kosovo] special law, and we will continue our work according to our existing mandate, and that’s really everything we can say. We’re not going to talk about other potential mandates,” Bennett told BIRN.

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