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News 09 Jan 15

New Kosovo War Court Remains Under Wraps

Kosovo’s parliament is due to pass legislation setting up a new EU-backed special court to try war crimes, but exact details about the nature of the court are still unknown.

Una Hajdari
BIRN
Pristina

 

Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s recently-formed government has vowed to expedite a vote in parliament on new legislation that would set in motion the creation of the special court which is expected to try former Kosovo Liberation Army officials for war crimes.

The voting is expected to take place in February, but although three opposition parties in parliament have already made clear they will vote against it, no draft of the actual legislation has been made public yet.

Although the proposed establishment of the court, which deal with allegations raised in last year’s report by the EU’s Special Investigative Task Force, has caused controversy, the public and politicians in Kosovo remain in the dark about how it will operate.

Kosovo’s Justice Ministry has kept silent about the issue, repeating that “nothing is clear yet”.

What is known for now – according to local media reports – is that the most sensitive parts of the proceedings will be held in the Netherlands.

This means that witness hearings and any trials of high-profile politicians will take place away from those in Kosovo who might want to influence proceedings – a problem which has been considered a weakness in cases run by the EU’s rule-of-law mission (EULEX), which has been operating in Kosovo since 2008.

Whether the court will follow international law, or a mixture of Kosovo and Dutch legislation, is not clear.

The only official piece of documentation publicly available is an exchange of letters in April 2014 between President Atifete Jahjaga and former EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, intended to show the willingness of both sides to create the new court.

Kosovo’s parliament, before going into snap elections in June last year, gave its approval for the creation of the court, under strong pressure from the EU and US diplomats in Kosovo, but since then, no further clarification has been offered.

Edita Tahiri, Kosovo’s Minister for the Dialogue with Serbia, who oversees working groups involved in implementing the deal to normalise relations with Belgrade, said the public has to wait for details to emerge.

“We did what was necessary in agreeing to the formation of the court. Now we need to wait for the relevant authorities to draft the necessary laws, both the Kosovo justice institutions and the international ones,” Tahiri said.

It was initially predicted that court could start work in January 2015, but a six-month-long political deadlock following the snap elections in Kosovo seriously delayed this.

The main fear of those who oppose the court is that it bears too close a resemblance to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia – except that it would focus only on crimes perpetrated in Kosovo, including those committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army, who are widely seen as the country’s liberators from Belgrade’s rule.

“We think the special court is bad news for Kosovo,” said Donika Kadaj-Bujupi, an opposition MP from the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo party.

“The country has shown willingness for international justice, and this will only damage the image of the country,” Kadaj-Bujupi added.

The first order of business for the court will be to deal with the findings of the Special Investigative Task Force investigation into war crimes and organised crime during the 1998-2000 period in Kosovo.

The former chief prosecutor for the Special Investigative Task Force, Clint Williamson, said in its August 2014 report that there were clear indications that kidnappings and murders were committed by members of the KLA.

Williamson said that “senior officials of the former Kosovo Liberation Army” would face indictments for crimes against humanity and other abuses.

He also said that there was “compelling evidence” of organ harvesting by KLA fighters, although not enough to raise indictments yet.

 

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