Perspectives | Justice

“The Snake” raises its head for the Special Court

By - 12.10.2017

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci blames the international community for his own political failures.

In the wild, snakes, and many other reptiles, seldom appear on the surface. They are most often spotted when they are out searching, especially when seeking shelter in the event of rain or a storm.

This week, Kosovo’s own “Snake,” president Hashim Thaci, who was given the nickname during his time as political director of the Kosovo Liberation Army, found himself out searching. He sought shelter in the midst of a group of people who he addressed with an unprecedented speech. The storm that had awoken him was Kosovo’s newly formed Special Court.

It is the Court that Thaci had personally convinced his fellow PDK deputies to approve, and helped pass through the Kosovo Assembly in 2015. It is also the Court which the president once called “a necessity,” but now turns out to be “completely unjust and to the detriment of peace between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo.” At least this is how it was presented by the man who led its establishment during a speech held on Monday (Oct. 9), given while presenting a report titled “Public perceptions on the Special Court.

In the speech, Thaci seemed to be attempting to exculpate himself from the establishment of the court, stating that:“The decision to establish the Special Court came more as an international political need, demanded from us by international actors, rather than it being a decision for our justice system.” He went on to repeat the same claim, shifting blame for the court’s existence on to the United States and the European Union.

This assertion comes at the time when the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office in the Hague is expected to publish the first indictments against former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) members, who are alleged to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It is a bold claim from Thaci, especially as around three years ago, different media outlets reported that it was he who had managed to pressure deputies into voting in favor of the Special Court.

Thaci, Foreign Minister at the time of the court's establishment, never revealed the promises that were given by the international community regarding integration, but said that there was no other way forward.

The constitutional amendments for the establishment of the Special Court, namely the Draft Law for Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, were voted on twice in the Assembly session held on Aug. 3, 2015. At the first attempt, 10 deputies of PDK voted against the amendments, which were subsequently approved on the second attempt, after nine of the PDK deputies who had voted against were convinced to change their vote.

Thaci, Foreign Minister at the time, never revealed the promises that were given by the international community regarding integration, but said that there was no other way forward. He asserted that it was a choice between voting for the special court or having the UN Security Council deal with war crimes allegedly committed by former KLA members. The latter option was to be avoided at all costs because of Kosovo’s already brittle position in the international arena, and the fact that it would mean that Kosovo would have to deal with the past for another 20 years.

“The Kosovo Government has amended the constitution so as to establish the Special Court,” Thaci told the session. “This is not an easy decision, but it is necessary nevertheless, in accordance with our responsibilities and our partnership with the international community. It is our responsibility to face this challenge, rather than leave it as a burden which would cause great delays in our Euro-Atlantic integration process.” It was a difficult session for Thaci, who came under heavy pressure from across the Assembly.

Over two years later at Monday’s (Oct. 9) press conference, Thaci now alleges that, in exchange for voting in favor of the Special Court, the international community promised Kosovo membership in the Council of Europe, faster liberalization of visas for Kosovo, massive support for membership in UNESCO, faster establishment of Kosovo Armed Forces and new recognitions of Kosovo’s statehood.

“Kosovo has kept its word and established the Special Court,” Thaci told the press conference. “The international community has not kept any of its promises. On the contrary, Kosovo’s Euro-Atlantic integration process has been made more difficult.”

“I was not aware that the ambassador was in the room, nor did I see him leaving it while I was speaking. If he left the room as a response to what I was saying, then this behavior is not at all diplomatic.”

Thaci on British ambassador Ruairi O'Connell leaving the room during his speech.

The speech was too much to bear for many who were in the room. British Ambassador to Kosovo, Ruairi O’Connell, left the room during Thaci’s speech, and in a subsequent interview with the Koha Ditore newspaper, labelled Thaci’s accusation against the international community as unjust. He went on to deny that any promises had been made to Thaci in exchange for establishing the Special Court.

“We have not made any promises to Kosovo in exchange for the Special Court, and it is unjust to claim the contrary. Membership to international organizations is based on the respective specific membership criteria of each individual organization. The United Kingdom is working to support full international integration,” the Ambassador told Koha Ditore on Oct 11, 2017.

On the same day, Thaci commented on O’Connell’s actions at a press conference, saying “I was not aware that the ambassador was in the room, nor did I see him leaving it while I was speaking. If he left the room as a response to what I was saying, then this behavior is not at all diplomatic.”

Speaking to Koha Ditore, representatives of the EU and the US Embassy in Kosovo gave responses that were similar to that of the British ambassador. The EU spokeswoman in Brussels, Maja Kocijancic, mentioned immediate reforms in the rule of law as the main criterion, among others, which Kosovo is yet to fulfill in its European integration process.

Kosovo has serious issues with corruption and organized crime. The Kosovo judiciary is continuously assessed as being open to political influences including by the European Commission progress report. Two key conditions in Kosovo’s visa liberalization process are the war on crime and the ratification of the agreement for border demarcation between Kosovo and Montenegro.

Thaci on the other hand is now saying that visa liberalization was promised in exchange for establishing the Special Court. Through its Embassy in Prishtina, the US has restated that they “heavily support Kosovo’s membership in international organizations; which is based on the respective specific criteria of each institution.”

What do the president’s messages tell us about the Special Court?

The speech that Thaci gave on Monday regarding the Special Court contains a narrative which totally contradicts the one he used three years ago when attempting to convince deputies to vote in favor of the Special Court.

A few important conclusions can be drawn from his new message. Firstly, it turns out that the president, according to his own words, had never shared the complete truth regarding the Special Court, which he previously proclaimed was an initiative which aims to find the truth in between the “lies” of Dick Marty’s report, stating that there would be no prosecution of former KLA members.

Secondly, it turns out that president Thaci has made a detrimental compromise in Kosovo’s name by, as he said himself, attempting to fulfill the wishes of the international community. According to Thaci, the international community promised visa liberalization, membership in UNESCO, new recognitions of Kosovo’s statehood and further integration, in exchange for voting in favor of the Law for the Special Court in the Assembly. None of these promises have been kept, whereas the Special Court is expected to initiate trials soon.

Now that we are waiting for the first indictments against former KLA members, who are alleged to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, the president is labelling the Special Court as an injustice and a process which will not bring peace but rather will only prosecute former KLA members.

Consequently, president Thaci has taken part in a process which could delegitimize the KLA’s war and draw out judicial facts which would support Serbia’s absurd theory that Kosovars were the aggressors and the KLA was a terrorist organization.

What is Thaci really afraid of?

Many have criticized president Thaci for his contradictory speech about the Special Court, both during the debate after his speech, and in the following days.

Publicist Veton Surroi dedicated a whole article to criticizing Thaci for blaming the international community for his own political failures. Surroi further alluded that Thaci was not serious in his accusations against the US and the EU, before going on to ironically suggest that perhaps Thaci should also blame the Americans for the failures of Kosovo’s national football team or the fact that the new Opera and Ballet House has not been constructed.

However, Surroi, who is known for his criticism of Thaci, was not the only one to do so. Journalist and director of Klan Kosova Television, Baton Haxhiu, who has often been a supporter of Thaci told the president during a debate on Monday that he is disappointed with his “odd” speech. Haxhiu went on to ask the president whether his speech was motivated by fears that he may be on the list of indictees which has been compiled by the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office.

Thaci did not answer this question concretely, but went on to suggest that the Special Court will unjustly prosecute former KLA members based on claims which were published in 2010 by Swiss Council of Europe deputy, Dick Marty, in the report titled Inhuman treatment of people and illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo.” The Marty Report claimed that Thaci is the main protagonist and the leader of an organized criminal group comprised of former KLA members and current politicians in Kosovo which have committed organ trafficking.

Thaci threatened to sue Marty over the report before backing down, claiming that the Swiss diplomat had diplomatic immunity. However, the report has been influential and helped lead to the establishment of the Special Court.

Now, Thaci claims that this court has much higher levels of cooperation with Serbia and the war crimes department in Belgrade than with Kosovo.“Its cooperation with Kosovo is minimal, bordering on nonexistent,” Thaci said on Monday. “There is minimal procedural cooperation. Authorities in Belgrade claim that they know which Albanians of Kosovo will be accused of war crimes and when.”

He went on to suggest that the court which he worked so hard to establish was ethnically motivated and will work against Albanians. “We must say what we know in the correct way, and what we know and is correct is that the Special Court will only deal with crimes allegedly committed by former KLA members — no Serb will be accused.”

It remains to be seen whether this is “the Snake’s” only engagement with the Special Court.

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

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