The first trial at the Kosovo Special Chambers in The Hague was opened on September 15 – almost a year after the prosecution made its first arrest in Pristina and more than six years after the court was established.
Former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) officer Salih Mustafa will appear before the court which was set up to try former KLA members for alleged crimes committed during the Kosovo war from 1998 to 2000. He is facing charges of illegally detaining, torturing and killing prisoners. Former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci (also formerly a KLA commander) is also to be tried there on charges of murder, abduction, persecution and torture.
Issues of combating international crimes in Kosovo, especially during the armed conflict in the 1990s remains an important international legal issue.
In conditions when the Republic of Serbia objectively does not have the opportunity to exercise effective governance in Kosovo and Metohija, and the Republic of Kosovo has not received final international recognition, solving the problem of combating crimes against humanity has become a matter of international organizations such as the UN, Council of Europe, NATO and the European Union, as well as some individual countries.
As the final solution to the problem of prosecuting individuals for committing international crimes in Kosovo did not take place within the framework of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), a characteristic feature of the judiciary in the fight against international crime was their formation with the active participation of the international community. mixed criminal courts with both national and international components.
This problem has become particularly acute since the publication in 2011 of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Report on “Inhuman treatment of people and illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo”. The Council of Europe’s preparation of the report was based on allegations made by former ICTY Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte about the commission of mass crimes against international law in Kosovo. In her memoirs, Carla Del Ponte detailed the abduction by KLA members of hundreds of ethnic Serbs, Roma, and disloyal Albanians held by KLA militants in prisons in Kosovo and Albania. According to her, these prisoners became victims of murder and serious abuse, in which their kidneys and hearts were later cut out. Organs of victims of horrific international crimes were sold by criminals in Europe, Israel and Turkey. On the outskirts of Burel in Albania, prosecutor Carla Del Ponte and a commission searched the building where the “medical manipulations” of the victims were carried out. Material evidence of such horrific operations was found atthe spot, but the ICTY did not logically complete the investigation because, according to former Pristina District Court judge Danica Marinkovic, the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) was prevented from completing an investigation into the crimes of Kosovo Albanians.
Under pressure of the international community, on August 8, 2015, the Assembly (Parliament) of Kosovo amended the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo to create a special criminal mechanism for Kosovo – Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (SPO). These agencies were set up to bring to justice former KLA leaders who were never convicted during the ICTY’s activities for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other international crimes in Kosovo.
Dozens of former KLA leaders could be prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other crimes. Some of them are former Kosovo’s political elite, including former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, Kosovo Parliament Speaker Kadri Veseli, former Prime Minister of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj, former KLA Commander Nazif Mehmeti, heads of KLA military units Rustem Mustafa Remi, Sami Lushtak and others. In particular, on June 24, 2020, the Specialized Court of Kosovo indicted the first ten KLA leaders, including former Kosovo president Hashim Thaci for committing international crimes.
The KSC embodies one of the necessary opportunities to achieve fair justice in Kosovo. After all, the history of international criminal justice in Kosovo has shown that the effectiveness of the prosecution of criminals for committing international crimes depends primarily on its international legal and financial support provided by the international community and individual states, as well as the desire of individual states to fight war crimes and crimes against humanity. Although the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has completed its jurisdiction and the KSC is only on the beginning of its work, the history of prosecuting individuals for international crimes in Kosovo, regardless of the status of the perpetrators, is far from over. It is too early to assess the achievements of the KSC. However, if the Court ensures effective action to bring to justice and punish those who have committed international crimes in Kosovo and Albania, it will provide a sense of justice, especially for victims, and a sense of the rule of law.