News 25 Jul 17

Serbia ‘Staged Unfair Trials of Kosovo Albanians’: Report

Serbian courts staged almost 2,000 unfair trials of Kosovo Albanians from 1998 to 2000, violating their rights and using discredited techniques to convict them, claimed a report by the Humanitarian Law Centre.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
The presentation of the HLC report. Photo: Medija Centar.

Serbian courts unfairly tried 1,874 Kosovo Albanians from 1998 to 2000, many of them being defendants who were transferred to prisons in Serbia after the Kosovo war ended in June 1999, said the report launched on Tuesday in Belgrade by the Humanitarian Law Centre.

“The report takes note of several breaches of the law, but it also points out the fact that many people in the judiciary who were active in these processes still occupy important functions today,” said Budimir Ivanisevic, executive director of the HLC.

The report says that in 1996 and 1997, district prosecutors in Kosovo started bringing a large number of charges of terrorism and other related crimes against ethnic Albanians.

They were accused, amongst other things, of organising terrorist gangs, attacking the police, military and civilians, and working towards the violent secession of Kosovo from Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

After Belgrade’s forces pulled out of Kosovo at the end of the war in June 1999, the Kosovo Albanians who were being prosecuted were relocated to prisons in Serbia and their trials continued before Serbian courts.

The HLC report alleges that Serbian institutions committed numerous human rights violations, and ignored the arrested Kosovo Albanians’ claims that they were being treated inhumanely, in some cases being tortured to extract confessions.

In most cases, a discredited paraffin test was used to determine the presence of nitrate – a component of gunpowder – on the hands of the suspects.

“The paraffin test was abandoned in the mid-20th century, and is not considered worthy evidence that someone fired a weapon. Many of the arrested people were farmers and had contact with [nitrates],” said the author of the report, Mihailo Pavlovic.

Pavlovic added that there were cases in which suspects were convicted on basis of the statements they gave alone.

However, they were denied the right to use their own language, and were made to sign statements in Serbian that they did not understand, he explained.

“The accused later claimed that they said something else, and not what was written in the statement,” Pavlovic said.

Lawyer Teki Bokshi from Kosovo, who defended some of the accused from 1998 to 2000, said that he was not allowed to talk to the defendants in Albanian when he visited them.

"The head of the Central Prison [in Belgrade] came and said, ‘You cannot speak the Shiptar language’ here, this is Serbia,” Bokshi said.

Asked whether the Kosovo Albanians who were subjected to unfair trials can sue Serbia, Bokshi said that the statute of limitations has expired.

Kosovo Albanians underwent trials in Serbia were released after two amnesty laws were passed in 2001 and 2002.

According to the HLC report, a large number of judges and prosecutors who handled the cases of the Kosovo Albanians are still working in Serbian state agencies and the judiciary.

“This [report] is our attempt to initiate a re-evaluation of the judges and prosecutors who still hold important offices in this country,” Ivanisevic said.

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