Analysis 05 Oct 12

TV Organ Testimony Harms Investigation

Officials and experts warn Serbia’s war crimes prosecutors’ political agenda may endanger investigations and undermine the credibility of the office.

Marija Ristic
Bruno Vekaric, Deputy Prosecutor for War Crimes I Photo by Media Centre

A controversial television interview organised by the Serbian war crimes prosecutors’ office has endangered the investigation into organ trafficking during the Kosovo conflict and risks traumatising families of victims, say human rights activists and officials.

They warn the interview, aired on September 10 on the Serbian public broadcaster RTS, with a man who claims he harvested human organs in Kosovo has also alerted perpetrators and question the motives of the prosecutor’s office in arranging the interview.

The programme was set up by Serbia's deputy war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric and featured a protected prosecution witness who said that he removed a prisoner's heart that was intended for the black market in organs.

Natasa Kandic, head of Humanitarian Law Centre in Belgrade, believes the interview was broadcast to please Serbia’s new nationalistic government, part of its policy to use cases against ethnic Albanians to score political points.

She says the incident threatens the credibility of an institution that should be independent and non-political. “It is not professional to call the media and talk about an investigation and do that without cooperating with the EULEX and EU team in charge of the case,” said Kandic.

Claims of organ harvesting by the KLA during and after the conflict are being examined by the US prosecutor John Clint Williamson who was appointed by the EU.

International organisations and human rights activist worry how the controversial TV testimony could impact on the investigation.

An official at the Organisation for the Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, which monitors war crimes processes in the Balkans, told Balkan Insight that “the perpetrators of the crime are now informed about the case and the findings and can easily escape justice.”

Kandic shares this fear. “In the interview, the witness said that there were some doctors present with him.  With this testimony, the prosecutor gave the sign to the doctors that they should escape as someone is running the case against them,” she said.

Jelko Kacin, EP Raporrteur for Serbia I Photo by Beta

The European Parliament Rapporteur for Serbia, Jelko Kacin, told Balkan Insight he was concerned how the TV interview would impact the families of victims.

“It is horrible issue and it simply needs to be tackled, but this has to be done professionally and this TV approach is not a professional way,” Kacin said.

 “I hope that they [the prosecution] are aware of the consequences of this decision, not only in terms of the emotional impact for those still searching for their loved ones, but also for Serbia’s credibility.”

Responding to Kacin, the prosecution said that the families of victims of the Kosovo conflict had approved the broadcast and dismissed allegations that the office lacked professionalism and credibility. They insist the broadcast was the only way of releasing their findings to the public.

The Kosovo authorities say the sudden appearance of the alleged witness was an attempt by Serbia to derail its independence celebrations which were held on the same day.

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 that linked senior former KLA fighters, including Kosovo's Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, to organised crime and accused them of having harvested the organs of Serbian prisoners and others in Albania in the Kosovo war.

Kosovo and Albania have denied the allegations.

This is not the first time Serbia has been accused of using war crimes cases against ethnic Albanians for political gain.

“If you remember we also had a few months ago a political case of arresting ethnic Albanians for war crimes in the election campaign just for bringing political points to the politicians [link to the story],” said Kandic.

She was referring to the May arrest of ethnic Albanians suspected of committing war crimes during the 2001 insurgency in south Serbia, despite an amnesty law that cleared all involved in the brief conflict. After the May 6 elections, the Albanians were released prompting many to criticise the move as politically motivated.

Arrest of the Gnjilane group members I Photo by Beta

These new attacks on the prosecutors’ credibility and motives come after a setback last week in a major trial involving ethnic Albanians – the Gnjilane case. The testimony of the prosecution’s key witness, codenamed Bozur 50, was dismissed by judges. They said they didn’t believe the former member of the KLA who claimed that he participated in mass atrocities committed in Kosovo town of Gnjilane in 1999.

“No one living in Gnjilane ever heard about the events that the key witness stated. The prosecution was dealing with some other staged event and not the real one and misused the suffering of the victims, “said judge Snezana Garotic Nikolic.

“They [victims] all named other people and other events. Instead of dealing with the real perpetrators and real victims, the prosecutor focused on one witness whose story we simply didn’t believe,” Garotic said.

The Gnjilane case was the largest trial run by Serbia against ethnic Albanians accused of committing crimes in Kosovo.

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