News 13 Sep 12

TV Organ Testimony 'Broke Serbian Law', Expert Says

Serbian law expert says that by broadcasting the testimony of an alleged participant in organ-harvesting, the War Crimes Prosecutor broke Serbia's own criminal procedures.

Marija Ristic

Nikola Lazic, a Belgrade criminal lawyer, said Serbia's Prosecution Office for War Crimes had broken Serbian law as it is forbidden for a protected witness in an investigation phase to speak publicly about the case in question.

“The investigation is also a part of the criminal procedure, and the rules for it are prescribed in criminal law," Lazic said.

By law, the investigation phase needs to be conducted secretly, without the eyes of the public, and only parties involved - prosecutor, judge, lawyer, suspect - in the case should be involved in the findings,” Lazic added.

“Presenting your witness to the public prior to the indictment for the case endangers the overall criminal procedure.

"First, it may affect the judge's decisions, then the potential witnesses, but also the perpetrators, as they are now informed that this specific event is being investigated,” he explained.

Lazic was referring to Monday's broadcast on Serbia's public broadcaster, RTS - done in cooperation with the war crimes prosecutor - of an interview with a self-proclaimed former fighter in the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.

The protected witness, whose face was not shown clearly, claimed that he had removed the heart of a KLA prisoner captured during the Kosovo conflict, intended for the black market in organs.

The Prosecutor for War Crimes said the findings of the investigation were shown on TV to prevent any further cover-ups in the organ-trafficking case.

But the action has been widely criticised in Serbia, as well as being dismissed in Kosovo as fraudulent, and as an attempt to spoil the country's independence celebrations.

Natasa Kandic, head of the Belgrade Humanitarian Law Centre, said it was not the first time that the prosecutor had made public the findings of the investigations.

“If this was a serious investigation, they would just say in public 'We have a crucial witness who can confirm the [findings in the] report of Dick Marty', and then they would forward the evidence to Clint Williamson’s [EU investigation] team, which is in charge of the [organ trafficking] case,” Kandic said to S media online portal.

The investigation into organ harvesting follows the release of a report by Dick Marty, the human rights rapporteur at the Council of Europe, in December 2010.

This claimed that senior KLA figures, many now in the Kosovo government, took part in organ trafficking in the 1990s.

In his interview with RTS, the witness claimed he had personally cut out the heart of a young man in the Albanian town of Kukes, which was then handed over to a client in Tirana.

But Kandic also cast doubt doubt on the authenticity of the testimony, calling it unconvincing, saying that the prosecutor had aired it purely for political reasons.

Some legal experts also question the authority of the Serbian prosecution to independently run the investigation, as the EU has formed a special investigation team for organ trafficking in Kosovo under Clint Williamson.

Under Serbian law, Serbia has right to run its own case if the victims are Serbian citizens, but as almost all the suspects are in Kosovo, it is only possible to try them in absentia.

Serbia and Kosovo have no extradition treaty, since Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence. There is also no agreement between Serbia and the UN and EU missions in Kosovo, UNMIK or EULEX, regarding the extradition of suspected criminals.

Balkan Insight has contacted a number of surgeons, both international and Serbian about the RTS interview.

All agreed that it was possible to remove someone’s heart without being trained as a doctor. However, they doubted that such an amateur operation could then be used for a transplant.

They say that the transplantation procedure from the donor to the receiver is complex, as before taking someone’s heart it needs to be determined whether the person receiving the heart is a complete match, which takes time.

After this is determined, the operation of removing the heart and re-inserting it must be done within a very short time, as the longer it takes, the less likely it is that the receiver will accept it.

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