Kosovo threat to EU-backed war crimes court before first case heard

Prosecutors in The Hague could indict ex-rebels who are now top politicians

Kosovo’s president Hashim Thaci described the court as a “historic injustice” against members of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority. Photograph: Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images

Kosovo’s president Hashim Thaci described the court as a “historic injustice” against members of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority. Photograph: Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images

 

A new EU-backed court to prosecute crimes committed during the 1998-9 Kosovo war is under threat from some of the country’s top politicians before handing down its first indictment.

Deputies from Kosovo’s ruling coalition want its parliament to abolish the Kosovo specialist chambers in The Hague, which they believe will unjustly target former guerrillas who fought for independence from Serbia.

A bid to vote on the issue last week failed when opposition parties boycotted parliament, depriving it of a quorum, but critics of the chambers hope to try again in the near future.

They have been given a boost Kosovo’s president Hashim Thaci, who this week described the court as a “historic injustice” against members of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority, who make up almost 95 per cent of its 2 million residents.

Mr Thaci said he would “sign any decision” that parliament took on the matter despite sharp western criticism of the threat to the fledgling court.

“Serbia had invaded Kosovo and it was a defensive war of the liberators and the people of Kosovo,” Mr Thaci told Radio Free Europe.

Displaced

Mr Thaci commanded rebels in fighting against government troops in the then Serbian region, which killed some 13,000 people and displaced about one million – the vast majority of them ethnic Albanians – before Nato bombing drove out Belgrade’s forces and a UN mission took control.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and has been recognised as a state by more than 100 countries, but Serbia rejects its sovereignty and accuses ex-guerrillas including Mr Thaci and his prime minister Ramush Haradinaj of war crimes.

The specialist chambers stem from a 2011 report by the Council of Europe that linked senior Kosovar rebels to the torture and murder of Serbs during and immediately after the war, and to the possible harvesting of prisoners’ organs for sale on the black market.

Kosovo’s parliament approved the creation of the chambers in 2015 and formally they are part of the country’s judicial system, despite being located in the Netherlands and staffed by international employees in a bid to ensure fair trials and security for witnesses.

The US envoy to Kosovo, Greg Delawie, said a vote to abolish the court would have “profoundly negative implications for Kosovo’s future as part of Europe... I’m calling on Kosovo’s leaders to help shut this effort down.”

‘Appalling’

Nataliya Apostolova, the EU special representative for Kosovo, described the threat to the chambers “appalling and extremely damaging”.

Many Serbs hope the new court will redress what they see as the bias of UN war crimes tribunal, which is now closing.

It is mandated, however, to try all crimes committed on the territory of Kosovo between 1998-2000, by or against anyone with Yugoslav or Kosovo citizenship, regardless of ethnicity.