The president of the Hague court investigating war crimes allegedly committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during its conflict with Serbian forces two decades ago calls on EU diplomats for help to combat a campaign to undermine its work in Kosovo.
In a confidential briefing for European diplomats in The Hague on February 11, the president of the Kosovo Specialized Chamber, Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova, warned that the court was facing increased efforts from within Kosovo to hinder ongoing legal proceedings, including that of former Kosovar President Hashim Thaci, charged with war crimes last year.
In a transcript of the briefing, obtained by Euronews, Trendafilova said that attempts were already being made to challenge the law that the court established in 2015, and maneuvers were being made to pardon those convicted of crimes or even see everything. the court – and its vast confidential records – moved to Pristina, the Kosovo capital, from The Hague, where it is currently based.
“This will certainly endanger the lives, safety, and protection of those who have been or are willing to cooperate with us. These changes would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on witnesses, who might decline to appear, which it would make it impossible for the Specialized Prosecutor to continue with their cases, “said Trendafilova.
Trendafilova, who is Bulgarian, also warned about the safety of witnesses who appear before the prosecution in ongoing cases, and urged European countries to consider “comprehensive cooperation agreements” that allow witnesses and their families to be transferred to others. countries in Europe.
“Without these agreements, it will be very difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to guarantee that testimonies can be given freely and without any fear,” said Trendafilova.
The court in October charged Thaci and former Kosovo Parliament Speaker Kadri Veseli with war crimes, along with two other former KLA militants.
Both were senior commanders during 1998 and 1999, when the NATO-backed KLA fought against Yugoslav army units and Serbian paramilitaries following a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign that forced hundreds of thousands of Kosovars from their homes and murdered others. so many.
The indictment against Thaci, Veseli and two others alleges that they were responsible for atrocities against Serbs and other minorities, as well as ethnic Albanians accused of being collaborators with Serbian forces. All of them deny the charges against them.
A spokesman for the Kosovo Specialized Chambers told Euronews that the briefing was confidential and that the transcript had been accidentally distributed and was intended for the internal use of diplomatic missions. It is unclear how many people received the transcript.
The old guard
The Thaci and Veseli charges, and the work of the court in general, have been controversial since it was created in 2015 by an act of the Kosovar Parliament.
Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, has been largely run by politicians who were KLA fighters, including Thaci, who was president for two terms.
Even those who are not friends of the old guard of Kosovar politicians – like Albin Kurti, leader of the Vetevensdosje movement – have criticized the court. Kurti has asked that war crimes charges be tried in local courts and not in The Hague, where the Kosovo Specialized Chamber is based.
Unlike the International Tribunal for Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which investigated war crimes abuses in the Balkans after the wars of the 1990s, Kurti – who will likely be the next prime minister of Kosovo after the elections last Sunday– said the Hague-based court had singled out the KLA.
Euronews has contacted a Kurti spokesperson and the Kosovo Ministry of Justice for comment.
Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic was indicted for war crimes by the ICTY along with seven other Serbian military and political figures after the Kosovo war. Six were found guilty and sentenced to between 15 and 27 years in prison, and one was acquitted. Milosevic died during his trial in 2006 for the crimes committed in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The ICTY also indicted a number of former KLA leaders for war crimes, some of whom had gone on to hold senior positions in the Kosovo government.
In 2005, after serving as prime minister for only 100 days, the former KLA commander for West Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), resigned and surrendered to The Hague.
Haradinaj was found not guilty in 2008, tried again in 2011 and acquitted once again.