(Brussels) – Kosovo’s newly formed parliament should promptly enact the legislative and constitutional changes required for the special court on post-war atrocity crimes to function, Human Rights Watch said today. Kosovo held parliamentary elections on June 8, 2014, but the close results prevented a government from being formed and the parliament from sitting until December 9.
Kosovo’s previous parliament in April approved creation of the special court to try serious crimes committed after the 1998-1999 Kosovo war. The lawmakers let it to the new parliament to approve the court’s statute and pass statutory and constitutional amendments so that indictments can be filed and trials can begin.
“Making the special court operational should be a key priority for Kosovo’s new parliament,” said Lotte Leicht, European Union director at Human Rights Watch. “Only an independent and credible special court with effective witness protection can address the serious allegations of the horrible post-conflict crimes.”
The special court will adjudicate cases against individuals based on a 2010 Council of Europe report by the Swiss senator Dick Marty. The report accused members of the ethnic Albanian insurgency, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), of abductions, beatings, summary executions, and, in some cases, the forced removal of human organs on Albanian territory during and after the Kosovo war.
To investigate the alleged crimes in the Marty report, in 2011 the European Union established an autonomous investigative body based outside of Kosovo called the Special Investigative Task Force.
The first chief prosecutor of the task force, Clint Williamson, announced on July 29, 2014, that he had enough evidence for indictments against some former senior KLA officials who he said were responsible for an organized campaign of abductions, illegal detentions, unlawful killings, and sexual violence. He said most victims were members of minority groups – Serbs, Roma, and others – but also Kosovo Albanians considered collaborators with Serbs or political opponents of the KLA leadership.
The chief prosecutor said his findings were largely consistent with Senator Marty’s report, including allegations of a “handful” of organ trafficking cases, but he did not secure enough evidence to merit indictments for that crime.
Indictments for the other crimes, including crimes against humanity, can be filed after the special court is established, he said.
The special court will operate within the Kosovo justice system but have a chamber abroad to enhance witness protection and overall security. The EU and international partners, including the US, will appoint the international judges and prosecutors.
On December 11, the EU nominated a new chief prosecutor of the Special Investigative Task Force, David Schwendiman.
The EU and US government have consistently stressed in public the importance of a transparent and credible judicial process to adjudicate the allegations in the Marty Report.
On December 9, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Federica Mogherini, called for passing the amendments that would make the court operational. On the same day, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed US support for Kosovo’s commitment to establish a special court to handle allegations investigated by the task force.
“All eyes are on Kosovo’s new leaders to see that they fulfil their pledges and see justice through without further delay,” Leicht said. “It’s high time to break with cycles of impunity and lay down a future for Kosovo based on justice for serious crimes.”