Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci speaks at a news conference in Pristina.

© 2010 Reuters

(Brussels) - The European Union rule-of-law mission in Kosovo should appoint an independent, high-level prosecutor to investigate alleged crimes by former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Human Rights Watch said today. An improved program for witness protection and relocation is also necessary for a credible investigation, Human Rights Watch said.

Allegations of abductions, disappearances, executions, organ trafficking, and other serious crimes coordinated by leading Kosovo politicians were presented in a December 2010 report for the Council of Europe prepared by Swiss senator Dick Marty.

"The EU mission in Kosovo will face great obstacles to conducting a credible investigation into these serious allegations," said Lotte Leicht, European Union director at Human Rights Watch. "It is crucial to have an independent senior prosecutor, an effective witness protection program - including the ability to relocate witnesses outside the Balkans - and the security required for such a delicate investigation."

The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly will consider the Marty report on January 25, 2011.

The governments of Kosovo, Albania, and the United States have welcomed an investigation by the EU rule-of-law mission in Kosovo, EULEX, into the allegations contained in the Marty report. The international police, prosecutors, and judges who comprise EULEX work with their local counterparts to strengthen and develop local mechanisms for justice and accountability.

The United States and EU governments should demand the appointment of an independent special prosecutor and investigative team, Human Rights Watch said, and give the unit the high-level political backing needed to ensure its successful operation.

A credible investigation by EULEX, run by an independent special prosecutor, should meet seven criteria, Human Rights Watch said:

•1.       It should be directed by an independent, high-level special prosecutor who has experience investigating complex criminal cases, and who has the authority to appoint his or her own investigative team.

•2.       Its investigative headquarters should be based outside Kosovo and Albania to secure evidence and protect staff from potential intimidation.

•3.       It needs access to a functioning witness protection program, with commitments by the EU, US, and other governments to accept witnesses and family members whose safety requires relocating them.

•4.       It should have in place secure systems to store and maintain the integrity of evidence, as well as information technology systems whose access is restricted to the special investigative unit's personnel.

•5.       It should have fully vetted translators for all local languages.

•6.       It should have a guaranteed budget to pursue multiple complex investigations.

•7.       It needs full cooperation from relevant authorities - in Kosovo, Albania, and Serbia, among others - and international institutions, including EULEX; the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK; and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

The US and EU should also press the governments of Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, and other countries to cooperate fully with the investigation, Human Rights Watch said. This includes honoring requests for evidence or testimony from officials and carrying out arrests.

The Council of Europe report, approved unanimously by the legal affairs and human rights committee of the Parliamentary Assembly on December 16, 2010, alleges that a group of former KLA members, including the outgoing Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, are responsible for abductions, beatings, summary executions and, in some cases, the forced removal of human organs on Albanian territory after the Kosovo war ended on June 12, 1999. The report describes the victims as mostly Serbs and Roma from Kosovo but also ethnic Albanians suspected of collaboration with the Serbian government before or during the war, or members of rival armed groups.

The report also highlights the plight of roughly 1,900 people who remain missing from the Kosovo war, about two-thirds of them ethnic Albanians.

"While supporting a proper EULEX investigation into alleged KLA crimes, the US and European governments should pressure Serbia to come clean on the fate of the missing, including bodies that were moved, destroyed, or reburied in Serbia," Leicht said.