News 26 Jun 15

Kosovo Vote on New War Crimes Court Fails

A vote to change the constitution to allow the establishment of a controversial new special court to try Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas failed because not enough MPs voted in favour.

Petrit Collaku
BIRN
Pristina

Protest outside parliament against the new court.

Photo: BIRN.

The long-delayed vote on constitutional changes to establish the new court to try alleged war crimes committed during the 1998-99 conflict failed on Friday to gain enough votes in favour to pass the legislation.

After a heated debate, only 75 MPs voted for the changes - six short of the number required to approve the legislation. Seven voted against and two abstained but the remainder of the MPs in the 120-seat legislature refused to take part in the voting process.

The proposed establishment of the EU-backed court has been highly controversial in Kosovo.

Veterans’ associations and opposition parties have claimed that it is an insult to the KLA’s armed struggle to escape Serbian control during the 1998-99 conflict, and some demonstrated outside parliament during Friday’s session.

At the beginning of the session, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Isa Mustafa told MPs that the court would try individuals and not the KLA’s war.

“I invite all of you to vote for the proposed amendment,” Mustafa urged.

Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci also told parliament that it was in Kosovo’s interests to create the special court.

“We will prove that we have nothing to hide and preserve the historical and strategic alliance with our partners the United States of America, the European Union and NATO. We have to establish this independent and international institution,” said Thaci.

But Glauk Konjufca from the opposition Vetevendosje (Self-Determination Movement) party said that the court was an insult to the KLA’s struggle.

“A court that tries Kosovo’s Liberation Army, I wouldn’t vote for it even if I knew that [not doing so] would cause the end of the world,” Konjufca said.

Ramush Haradinaj, leader of opposition party the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo opposition party said justice was being imposed selectively because Belgrade was not being forced to set up a similar court.

“This is not happening to other republics of the former Yugoslavia. This is not happening to Serbia. This is not happening to all the others that were parties in war,” Haradinaj said.

The establishment of the so-called Specialised Chambers, often referred to as the ‘special court’, first became public in an exchange of letters between Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga and the EU’s foreign policy chief last year.

It is widely considered by the Kosovo public and most political parties to have been imposed by Pristina’s western allies.

The US had also threatened not to continue opposing Russian attempts at the UN Security Council to establish a Kosovo tribunal if the new court is not established.

Opposition parties have blamed the ruling parties for bowing to international pressure and acting against Kosovo’s interests.

The mandate for the court is derived from a report published in early 2011 by Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty, who claimed that crimes against civilians such as kidnapping, torture and organ-harvesting were committed by members of the KLA during the conflict.

The report implicated Thaci, the former political head of the KLA and the ex-prime minister of Kosovo, who is now foreign minister. Thaci strongly denies the allegations.

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