Hashim Thaçi has pleaded not guilty to all charges during his initial appearance at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) in The Hague, where he is facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Thaçi told the court that the indictment against him is “completely without basis,” while his defense counsel, David Hooper QC, added that not only did Thaçi deny the charges but that he “disputes the entire narrative of the indictment.”
During the pre-trial session, which lasted a little over one hour, a court officer read out the 10 charges against Thaçi. They include six counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes.
The indictment — which was published in redacted form by the KSC on Friday (November 6) — sets out details of various crimes allegedly committed by Thaçi and three other leading members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) between 1998 and 1999. Along with Jakup Krasniqi, Kadri Veseli and Rexhep Selimi, Thaçi is charged with various forms of criminal responsibility, including through a “joint criminal enterprise.”
Earlier on Monday, Krasniqi also entered a not guilty plea during his initial court appearance. Veseli and Selimi are scheduled to attend their initial appearances on Tuesday (November 10) and Wednesday (November 11) respectively.
Thaçi, who has always vigorously protested his innocence, resigned as president of Kosovo on Thursday (November 5) after the pre-trial judge confirmed the indictment against him. He was arrested by the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office the same day and transferred to the KSC’s Detention Facilities in The Hague.
During the session on Monday, Thaçi’s counsel argued that there had not been “adequate notice to the defense” of the proceedings and that this had hampered them in assembling a defense team. Hooper pointed out that members of the defense team were spread around the world, and that travel restrictions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as visa requirements for Kosovars presented additional challenges.
Hooper also read out testimonials of Thaçi from individuals including U.S. President Elect Joe Biden and former senior U.S. Senator Bob Dole that characterized Thaçi as a “man of integrity and honor,” a “voice of reason” and “the George Washington of Kosovo.”
The Specialist Prosecutor said that he does not believe the individuals would stand by those words once they have the chance to read about the crimes in the indictment that Thaçi allegedly committed.
The crimes that Thaçi, Veseli, Selimi and Krasniqi have been charged with are set out in a 66-page indictment; the publicly available version has been heavily redacted to remove any details that may potentially identify witnesses.
All four former KLA leaders are said by the Prosecution to be “individually criminally responsible” for 10 counts of serious crimes under international law during the “armed conflict” in Kosovo.
The indictment states that the crimes took place in various locations around Kosovo and parts of northern Albania between “at least” March 1998 and September 1999 as part of a “widespread or systematic attack against the civilian population of Opponents.”
This included “persons who were or were perceived to have been: (a) collaborating or associating with [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] forces or officials or state institutions or (b) otherwise not supporting the aims or means of the KLA and later the [Provisional Government of Kosovo], including persons associated with the [Democratic League of Kosovo] and persons of Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities.”
The six counts of crimes against humanity are: Persecution on political and/or ethnic grounds, Imprisonment, Other Inhumane Acts, Torture, Murder, and Enforced Disappearance of Persons.
The four counts of war crimes are: Illegal or Arbitrary Arrest and Detention, Cruel Treatment, Torture, and Murder.
In addition to allegedly participating in a joint criminal enterprise and aiding and abetting the crimes set out by the Prosecution, the indictment also claims that the four individuals are responsible as superiors for crimes committed by their subordinates.
The indictment states that they “knew or had reason to know that the crimes charged in this indictment were about to be committed or had been committed by their subordinates, and failed to take necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such crimes or to punish the perpetrators thereof.”
Now that the indictment has been confirmed by the pre-trial judge, the KSC has been urging survivors of the crimes who wish to be part of the proceedings to come forward through a victims participation program. Survivors can apply to participate through a “Victims’ Counsel” if they can demonstrate that they personally suffered harm, including physical, mental or material harm, as a direct result of alleged crimes contained in the confirmed indictment.
What are the Kosovo Specialist Chambers?
Physically located in The Hague in the Netherlands, the Specialist Chambers operate under Kosovo law, although they are funded by the EU and staffed by international personnel. They are attached to each level of Kosovo’s court system, but have a specific mandate to investigate certain crimes committed during the Kosovo war in the period from January 1, 1998, to December 31, 2000.
Their jurisdiction covers crimes against humanity and war crimes under international law, as well as crimes under Kosovo law that relate to the “Dick Marty” report — these are alleged crimes committed by members of the KLA during and in the immediate aftermath of the war in Kosovo.
The Specialist Chambers has been a constant topic of discussion and controversy in Kosovo for years, and has long loomed large over Kosovo politics.
The judicial mechanism was formed under intense international pressure, and required changes to the Constitution and new legislation. Deputies approved the legal changes in August 2015, months after initially rejecting them, but it took another two years to get the Chambers up and running.
Feature image: Screenshot of KSC proceedings.