Kosovo Specialist Chambers vow independence, gives no time table for indictments

15 September 2016 by Stephanie van den Berg, The Hague (The Netherlands)

In their first ever press conference since taking office the registrar and the prosecutor of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, a special court set up in the Hague to try crimes allegedly committed by Kosovo Albanian guerilla fighters during and after the 1998-99 conflict were at pains to stress their independence and avoided giving a clear time table for when to expect indictments.

Specialist Prosecutor David Schwendiman, a former international prosecutor in the Bosnian state court's war crimes department, insisted he would do his job “without fear or favour” and would base decision “solely on the facts” regardless of “political, diplomatic or other implications or consequences”. The court is controversial in Kosovo where many see the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) as freedom fighters who fought a just war against Belgrade's oppressive regime in the then Serb province. Pristina feels unfairly singled out for an extra court after already having several KLA commanders on trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), where all but one were acquitted [IJT-164].

KLA memorial in Mitrovica, Kosovo (Photo: Joost van Egmond)
Image caption: 
KLA memorial in Mitrovica, Kosovo (Photo: Joost van Egmond)

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers which is seated in The Hague but operating under Kosovo law with international prosecutors and judges was set up after pressure from the European Union on the Kosovo government to address allegations of war crimes committed against ethnic Serbs by the KLA during and immediately after the conflict. [IJT-164] which ended when a NATO bombing campaign forced Serb troops out.

The main difference with the ICTY cases is that this new court has jurisdiction for the period during and after the conflict, from early 1998 until the end of 2000, while the ICTY's temporal jurisdiction ended in 1999 and that it can also investigate crimes commenced in Kosovo but moved across the border with Albania for instance.

In 2011 a report by Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty tied top Kosovo politicians – notably, current president and former KLA leader Hashim Thaci – to gruesome crimes against Serbs, including trade in organs harvested from prisoners of war. Thaci denies the allegations.

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