Timeline 21 Jan 11

From Kosovo's Organ-Harvesting Controversy to Special Court

This is the sequence of events leading from the organ-trafficking allegations in Kosovo to the creation of the special court that aims to prosecute Kosovo Liberation Army crimes.

Marija Ristic BIRN Belgrade

1993 – A group of Kosovo Albanians and other Albanians from former Yugoslavia form the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, aiming to wrest independence of the province from Serbia.

March 1998 – Serbian security forces kill 52 members of the family of Adem Jashari, a KLA guerrilla fighter from the central Drenica region, which intensified already troubled relations between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo.

Spring 1998 – Spring 1999 - KLA guerrillas and Serbian security forces engage in skirmishes, which results in a violent clampdown by Serbian forces and provokes a humanitarian crisis.

March - June 1999 - After failed Western-mediated talks between Serbian authorities and Kosovo Albanian representatives in France, NATO bombs former Yugoslavia to force Serbia to yield control of Kosovo. After Serbian forces withdraw, Kosovo is handed to the United Nations to administer until future negotiations resolve the final status of the territory.

Autumn 2003 - Journalists from US public radio investigative documentary maker American Radio Works first hear allegations that ethnic Serbs from Kosovo were taken to Albania between 1999 and 2000 and probably had organs removed and harvested.

February 2004 - A joint team of investigators from the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, ICTY, and the UN mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, visit a farmhouse near the Albanian town of Burrel, known as “the Yellow House”, where it was alleged that ethnic Serbs were taken for organ harvesting. The team finds medical equipment, including syringes, intravenous drip bags, and stomach tranquilizers.

Spring 2008 - Carla del Ponte, outgoing Chief Prosecutor of the ICTY, makes the first public mention of suspicions concerning the abduction, killing and removal of organs of some ethnic Serbs in “the Yellow House” in her memoir The Hunt.

Autumn 2008 - The EU rule of law mission in Kosovo, EULEX, arrests several doctors and an aide in the Kosovo Ministry of Health after a Turkish national claims he had gone there to have his kidney removed for trafficking.

April 2009 - Balkan Insight, the BBC, and the US-based Center for Investigative Journalism publish stories concerning allegations of torture and murder of mostly Kosovo Albanian civilians in Albania during the 1999 war. Wartime makeshift detention centres are uncovered in the towns of Kukes and Durres in Albania.

May 2010 - Three former KLA commanders, Sabit Geci, Sadri Aliaj were arrested in Kosovo and Xhemsit Krasniqi issued an arrest warrant, to face charges of torture and murder of Kosovo inhabitants in detention centres in Kukes, Cahan, and Durres in Albania during the 1999 war. Krasniqi was believed to be in Albania. But EULEX told Balkan Insight that it had uncovered no evidence to back up claims that the so-called Yellow House had been used for organ trafficking.

November 2010 - EULEX brings indictments against the operators of a private medical clinic in Prishtina, Kosovo, where prosecutors say operations took place to remove kidneys destined for organ trafficking and illegal transplants. Media reports connect the group to an infamous international organ trafficking network linked to Turkish surgeon Yusuf Sonmez.

December 2010 - Council of Europe Rapporteur Dick Marty says in a report that evidence was mounting that groups including senior Kosovo Albanian guerrillas had been part of an organ harvesting and trafficking network operating in a villa in the town of Fushe Kruje, Albania, which was part of an established network. Some ethnic Serbs and Albanians were killed there, the report adds, after which their kidneys were removed. The report details other human rights abuses by elements connected to the former KLA, as well as “a nexus” between KLA elements and organized crime. The claims are strongly rejected by those accused.

September 2011 – The European Union formed the EU Special Investigative Task Force (SITF). The SITF is to conduct an independent criminal investigation into the war crime and organised crime allegations contained in the Council of Europe (CoE) report of January 2011 by Senator Dick Marty, as well as other possible crimes connected to those allegations.

It works under the authority of the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX).

March 2012 - Serbia has called on the UN to establish convention that would treat organ trafficking as a crime against humanity and a war crime. Vuk Jeremic, Serbian Minister for Foreign Affairs, filed a proposal before the UN Council for Human Rights to adopt a common document that will treat organ trafficking as a crime against humanity and, when committed during war,  as war crimes.

According to Jeremic, Council of Europe is already working on its convention on organ trafficking, but a strong global initiative is required as well.

April 2012 - The Serbian prosecution stated that they were investigating Fatmir Limaj and other 28 ex-Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, fighters for organ trafficking and other war crimes against civilians in Kosovo.

According to Serbia’s Prosecutor's Office for War Crimes, Fatmir Limaj, an ex-KLA commander, is suspected of deporting several Serbs and non Albanians from Lapusnik camp in Kosovo to camps in north Albania, where the illegal organ transplants allegedly took place.

May 2012 - Albania’s parliament passed a law giving EULEX sweeping powers to investigate allegations that the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, harvested organs of Serbian prisoners in Albania.

April 2013 - A Kosovo court has convicted five men of participating in an illegal organ-trading ring that harvested and sold human kidneys at the Medicus clinic near Pristina.

April 2013 - The EU rule of law mission in Kosovo said it was launching a new investigation into eight people suspected of involvement in the organ-trading ring that operated from the Medicus clinic outside Pristina in 2008.

April 2014 - Kosovo’s president said she was willing to cooperate with a proposed new international tribunal to deal with war crimes and alleged organ-trafficking during the late 1990s conflict.

Jahjaga’s comments came several weeks after local media leaked what was reported as being a draft statute for a new international tribunal to prosecute people for “serious crimes” committed from 1998 to 2000 which are linked to a Council of Europe report on alleged organ trafficking by Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas during the conflict.

April 2014 - After a heated debate, Kosovo lawmakers voted for the establishment of a new special court to probe war crimes and organ-trafficking allegedly committed by Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas.

July 2014 - The report published by the EU’s Special Investigative Task Force said that unnamed “senior officials of the former Kosovo Liberation Army” will face indictments for crimes against humanity and other abuses committed after the 1999 conflict.

“These individuals bear responsibility for a campaign of persecution that was directed against the ethnic Serb, Roma, and other minority populations of Kosovo and toward fellow Kosovo Albanians who they labeled either to be collaborators with Serbs or, more commonly, simply to have been political opponents of the KLA leadership,” Clint Williamson, the lead prosecutor with the task force, told a press conference in Brussels.

December 2014 - US lawyer David Schwendiman was appointed as the chief prosecutor of the the European Union’s Special Investigative Task Force on Kosovo. He will also take the role of the new special war crimes court that is expected to prosecute senior Kosovo Liberation Army figures.

August 2015 - Lawmakers voted to change the constitution to set up a new war crimes court to try former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters despite strong resistance from opposition politicians and ex-guerrillas.

October 2015 - Kosovo court ordered a month's detention for former Kosovo Liberation Army leader Xhemshit Krasniqi, suspected of carrying out war crimes in Albania.

January 2016 - The long-anticipated special court to try senior Kosovo Liberation Army fighters for war crimes and post-war offences will be set up in The Hague this year.

The Dutch government announced that it “has consented to the European Union’s request to the Netherlands to host this Kosovo court”, the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

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