News 26 Apr 17

Kosovo Special Court Forced to Revise Procedures

After Kosovo’s Constitutional Court said some of its procedural rules are not in in line with the constitution, the new specialist court to try Kosovo wartime fighters must make changes, again delaying prosecutions.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
The Kosovo Specialist Court building in The Hague. Photo: Europol.

The Kosovo Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that out of a total of 208 rules, ten provisions in the new Hague-based specialist court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence need further consideration as they are not in line with Kosovo constitution - meaning another delay to the start of its judicial work.

The president of the Hague-based court, Ekaterina Trendafilova, said that a new plenary session will be scheduled where the set of rules will be revised in line with the decision.

“The review by the Specialist Chamber of the Constitutional Court of the adopted Rules of Procedure and Evidence is an indispensable corollary to ensure that, as required by the Constitution of Kosovo, the highest human rights standards are applied by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers,” Trendafilova said in a statement.

“Compared to other institutions dealing with similar crimes, this represents an innovative step forward,” she added.

The rules will only enter into force once the Constitutional Court has finally determined that all them conform to Kosovo’s constitution.

Once the rules are revised, the Constitutional Court will make another legal assessment, after which, if they are approved, they will enter into force in seven days.

According to the court the procedure and evidence rules are aimed at “enhancing the fairness, expeditiousness, efficiency, integrity and security of the proceedings before the Specialist Chambers, while complying with the Constitution [of Kosovo] and the highest human rights standards”.

They also deal with the protection of witnesses, victims and other people at risk because of their testimony or cooperation with the new court.

Senior Kosovo Liberation Army figures are expected to be indicted and stand trial at the new court for alleged crimes committed during and after the war with Serbian forces.

It will hear cases arising from the 2014 EU Special Investigaive 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.

International judges and prosecutors will staff the court, although it will operate under Kosovo’s laws.

The SITF report was commissioned after the Council of Europe published an inquiry in 2011 which alleged that some senior Kosovo officials, including current President Hashim Thaci, were responsible for various human rights abuses.

Thaci strongly denied the allegations, and since he become president, he has publicly supported the establishment of the new court.

For the past 18 years since the war ended, the international community has been administrating justice in Kosovo, but its results have been poor - fewer than 20 final verdicts in war crimes cases. Serbia has prosecuted seven cases related to the Kosovo war.

However, it was believed that the Kosovo prosecution couldn’t handle sensitive cases against high officials, which was one of the reasons why the international community decided to establish the new court.

In Kosovo itself, the court is seen as biased as it will only try former KLA fighters - people perceived as liberators by the majority of the country’s Albanian population - while in Serbia, the court has wide support due to hopes that it will prosecute crimes against Serbs.

The Kosovo war saw some 13,000 people killed, mostly Kosovo Albanians, and a million expelled, while 1,666 people are still listed as missing.

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