Comment 14 Nov 17

Special Court Must Bring Kosovo’s Criminals to Justice

The new Special Court to try former Kosovo Liberation Army members for wartime and post-war crimes is not an attack on the struggle for independence, but an attempt to prosecute criminals.

Shkelzen Gashi Pristina
 The Kosovo Specialist Chambers HQ in The Hague. Photo: Europol.

The majority of people in Kosovo believe that the Special Court is an unfair creation, but the blame for its establishment, first and foremost, lies with us.

For all these years, and especially after the declaration of independence, Kosovo society has failed to create - as Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia have done - a specialist court that would deal with crimes committed by Kosovo Liberation Army members.

The failure of the UN mission UNMIK and the EU rule-of-law mission EULEX in the field of justice has not come about only due to these two international missions themselves, but also because our society has until recently largely opposed confronting Albanian war criminals with justice.

We must bear in mind that no domestic judge or prosecutor has dared to prosecute or punish individuals from the KLA who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Therefore, unfortunately, except for being in need of international prosecutors and judges, we have proved that we also need international policemen and prison guards, due to the privileges and favours that local police officers and guards created for prisoners from the KLA.

The same applies to the local doctors, who issued false medical reports regarding the health status of the accused/convicted.

Furthermore, throughout all these years, we even proved to be in need of international lawyers, as no Kosovar lawyer dared to defend Nazim Bllaca (who surrendered willingly to face justice for the crimes he committed on orders from the top KLA leaders), although the lawyers’ main duty is to protect those charged with crimes.

‘Public Perception of the Kosovo Specialist Court’, a public opinion survey published in September this year by Integra, CPT, PAX and Impunity Watch, suggests that nearly half (48.8 per cent) of Albanians believe that witnesses do not feel safe to testify.

Clint Williamson, the special prosecutor of the EU Special Investigative Task Force, which conducted a three-year investigation into allegations contained in a Council of Europe report that KLA members committed grave crimes between 1998 and 2000, has stated that a number of potential witnesses identified were not interviewed because their current whereabouts could not be established.

Thus to this day there are countless challenges coming from the climate of intimidation intended to undermine any investigation of individuals linked to the KLA.

Moreover, both journalists and members of civil society are highly limited in reporting cases or filing data about crimes committed against non-Albanians.

Opposition to the court

The ‘Public Perception of the Kosovo Specialist Court’ survey suggests that three-quarters of Kosovo Albanians (76.4 per cent) view the mandate of the Special Court for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity mainly related to the KLA as unfair.

Slightly more than half of Kosovo Albanians (51 per cent) say they are willing to protest should KLA fighters be indicted by the Special Court, and 36 per cent are even willing to act in order to prevent the prosecution of the KLA members.

Opponents of the Special Court say its prosecutor, Clint Williamson, has made the worst claim by a Westerner about Kosovo when he spoke about the ethnic cleansing of the majority of Serbs and Roma living south of the Ibar river as a result of the KLA’s persecution of minorities.

According to UNMIK data, after the war in Kosovo, about 1,000 Serbs were killed and nearly half of about 200,000 Serbs who lived in Kosovo until June 1999 left their homes.

Among the main culprits for the killings and departures are KLA individuals, even high-ranking individuals who immediately after the war created in Kosovo an unwelcoming atmosphere for those who were not Albanian, or even Albanians who were not with the KLA.

For example, can the deportation of Roma from their neighborhoods in Pristina and the plundering, burning and destruction of almost all their homes be termed something other than ethnic cleansing?

The opponents of the Special Court also claim that it is committed to creating the incorrect impression that the Hague Tribunal judged the Serbs for the war, while the Special Court will judge the Albanians for the aftermath of the war.

In fact, The Hague Tribunal has judged many of Serbia’s political and military leaders and has convicted some of them, while the multitude of Serb criminals who committed crimes in all areas of the former Yugoslavia should be tried and punished by Belgrade’s Special Court for war crimes.

We ourselves should have condemned the criminals of our own accord, but many of the tasks we do not do are then done by others who, of course, will have their own interests in mind. Thus I am afraid that the Special Court could be the next blackmail tool against Kosovo politicians.

There is also an attempt to present the mandate of the Special Court as only dealing with post-war crimes.

It is true that the emphasis is put on the crimes committed after the end of the war in Kosovo in June 1999, and the crime sites are said to be detention camps in Kosovo and Albania.

But it must be made clear that KLA members have committed crimes against Serbs, Roma and other minorities in Kosovo, as well as against Kosovo Albanians labelled as Serbia’s collaborators and political opponents of the KLA leadership even during the war period, from January 1998 to June 1999.

The investigations and charges are not directed at the KLA, but at individuals for crimes committed during the war when these individuals were members of the KLA, even high up in its hierarchy, and for crimes committed immediately after the war when these individuals were also members of the KLA.

Let’s not forget, the KLA was only demilitarised in September 1999.

This court is about war crimes and crimes against humanity, and most likely, these individuals have used their arms, infrastructure and the KLA’s finances to commit the terrible crimes mentioned in the 2011 report by Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty.

Clearing Kosovo of criminals

The ‘Public Perception of the Kosovo Specialist Court’ survey shows that public awareness about the purpose, mandate and scope of the Special Court is low in Kosovo.

Some people, in order to defend themselves, try to portray the Special Court as an attack on the Kosovo’s struggle for freedom or the KLA as an organisation.

This is, to say the very least, groundless.

We must use the Special Court to clear the KLA and Kosovo of criminals.

The fact that senior KLA officials have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity does not render all KLA members criminals, just as the fact that Kosovo’s political leaders are corrupt does not render all the people of Kosovo corrupt.

Unfortunately, in Kosovo the majority of those in favour of the Special Court think that it should be established because our international partners are demanding it or because it means we will be set free from those who have embezzled the country’s finances for nearly two decades.

But there is almost no opinion that this court should be established for the moral satisfaction of the victims’ families, or the punishment of criminals.

Therefore, in the discourse of those in favour of this court we find phrases like “supposed KLA crimes”, which is as absurd as saying “the supposed crimes of the Serbian forces”.

Finally, it is true that Serbia will use the establishment of the Special Court internationally to smear Kosovo and the entire KLA as the vehicle for the liberation war, in order to portray itself internationally as a victim rather than the aggressor.

Therefore there should be an international project to oppose this campaign by Serbia, which would refresh the global memory with an objective reflection of events in Kosovo from January 1998 to December 1999.

Shkelzen Gashi studied Political Sciences at the University of Pristina and completed his MA on Democracy and Human Rights on the joint study programme of the Universities of Bologna and Sarajevo. He has published many articles about the presentation of Kosovo’s history in history schoolbooks in Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.

The opinions expressed in the Comment section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

Talk about it!

blog comments powered by Disqus