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News 29 Aug 11

US Prosecutor to Lead Organ Trafficking Investigation

John Clint Williamson has been appointed as the lead prosecutor for an investigation into allegations of organ trafficking by the Kosovo Liberation Army in northern Albania.

Petrit Collaku and Michael Montgomery
Pristina

Williamson, who played a key role in bringing indictments against Slobodan Milosevic, will serve as the lead prosecutor in a seven-member task force headquartered in Brussels but operating under the jurisdiction of the EU’s rule of law mission to Kosovo, diplomats said on Monday.

His task force will probe the Council of Europe’s 2010 report which alleged that a criminal network with links to Kosovo’s incumbent Prime Minister Hashim Thaci executed kidnapped civilians and sold their organs after the 1999 Kosovo war.

The report, headed by human rights investigator Dick Marty, claimed that “numerous concrete and convergent indicators confirm that some Serbians and some Albanian Kosovars were held prisoner in secret places of detention under KLA control in northern Albania and were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, before ultimately disappearing.”

Marty’s findings corroborated allegations raised in a 2009 investigation by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, Center for Investigative Reporting and the BBC.

Thaci has denied the allegations and pledged to work with the investigators.

Williamson has extensive experience investigating and prosecuting complex criminal cases including war crimes.  He was a prosecutor for the U.S. Justice Department and served as a trial attorney for seven years at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

During the Bush administration, Williamson served as Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues.  He is currently a Special Expert on war crimes for the United Nations Secretary-General.

The decision to appoint Williamson signals strong U.S. backing for the probe and follows months of intensive negotiations between the EU and Dick Marty.

Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch said the appointment of Williamson was a "welcome sign that the EU and US government are taking this investigation seriously."

"The key to the investigation is now witness protection, and western governments must step up to provide the financial and logistical support to make sure those people with information about serious crimes feel safe.  That includes accepting resettlements of witnesses and, if necessary, their families," he said.

EULEX is the European Union's rule of law mission in Kosovo. It was established in 2008 and is the largest civilian crisis management mission in history. More than 2,000 international police officers, judges and prosecutors are supported by approximately 1,200 local staff. Its aim is to help Kosovo's authorities to develop independent and multi-ethnic justice, police and customs services.

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Background

21 Jan 11

KLA Organ Trafficking: Fact or Fiction?

Shocking claims have remained in the limelight for years but have yet to be cleared up one way or the other.

09 Apr 09

KLA Ran Torture Camps in Albania

The Kosovo Liberation Army maintained a network of prisons in their bases in Albania and Kosovo during and after the conflict of 1999, eyewitnesses allege. Only now are the details of what occurred there emerging.

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.

Key Players

dick-marty-controversial-investigator
16 Dec 10

Dick Marty, Controversial Investigator

Swiss senator has won plaudits in many countries for championing human rights and taking on the CIA over renditions – but among Albanians he is best known for opposing Kosovo’s independence.

09 Apr 09

KLA : From Guerilla Wars to Party Plenums

The Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, was an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group that came to the fore in the mid-1990s, demanding the unification of Albanian territories in former Yugoslavia with Albania.

11 Oct 08

The Drenica Group

Crime gang allegedly headed by Prime Minister Thaci is said to have run a range of mafia-like enterprises, from cigarette smuggling to trafficking in organs.