President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi, and Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) leader Kadri Veseli have both been charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague.
The Specialist Prosecutor’s Office announced on Wednesday that it filed charges against Thaçi, Veseli and others — who have not been named — to the Kosovo Specialist Chambers two months ago, on April 24. However in a statement to the media it explained that it has decided to make the news public now due to a “secret campaign” to obstruct justice by Thaçi and Veseli.
According to the 10-count indictment, Thaçi, Veseli and others are alleged to have committed “a range of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture.” The Specialist Prosecutor’s Office added that the alleged crimes “involve hundreds of known victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities and include political opponents.”
In total, they stand accused of being criminally responsible for “nearly 100 murders.”
Although it has long been rumored that both Thaçi and Veseli could face charges after they were named in the Council of Europe’s 2011 “Dick Marty Report” that underpinned the formation of the Specialist Chambers, it is the first time that the two former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) leaders have formally been named in court proceedings.
The charges are currently being considered by a Kosovo Specialist Chambers pre-trial judge, who will rule whether to confirm them.
In its press release on Wednesday, the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office emphasized that the charges are only “an accusation,” however, it adds that they are the result of a “lengthy investigation” and a belief that it “can prove all the charges beyond reasonable doubt.”
The development comes at a delicate time, both in terms of internal governance and international relations.
Kosovo’s new coalition government, headed by LDK’s Avdullah Hoti, has only been in place for three weeks, having replaced the newly elected government headed by Vetëvendosje’s Albin Kurti after a successful no-confidence motion. The Hoti administration formed in controversial circumstances after Kosovo’s Constitutional Court backed a decree by Thaçi that allowed a new government to be formed without elections.
Kosovo’s President was due to meet Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić at the White House in Washington on June 27 to re-initiate talks between the two neighbors. A stuttering dialogue process has been facilitated by the EU for a decade, but the U.S. has shown increasing urgency to be involved under Donald Trump’s presidency, heightening transatlantic tensions.
Trump’s Special Envoy for Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue Richard Grenell tweeted on Wednesday evening that Thaçi had pulled out of the scheduled meeting and would be replaced by PM Hoti.
We look forward to Saturday’s discussions which will be led by President Vucic and Prime Minister Hoti. https://t.co/j7KhhfbQX1
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) June 24, 2020
President Thaçi has yet to make a public statement, but Veseli gave a press conference on Wednesday evening in which he suggested the Specialist Prosecutor’s announcement was “politically motivated”; he pointed to the timing of the announcement, just days before Thaçi’s planned White House visit.
The PDK leader repeated previous denials of having been involved in war crimes, and made a fresh defense of the KLA. He also told reporters that there is no base for the accusations of having obstructed the work of the court.
In December 2018, PDK deputies were amongst those who attempted a last-ditch repeal of the Specialist Chambers legislation, however it proved unsuccessful amidst a strong international backlash. A subsequent attempt the following month also failed.
However, in the short announcement made by the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, it was unclear whether the allegations of interference referred to this historical maneuvering, and the Office declined to provide further information when asked.
Former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj published a statement on social media in support of Thaçi and Veseli, and said the KLA had fought a “clean fight.” Haradinaj has his own personal experience with the court, having resigned as prime minister in July 2019 after being called in for questioning by the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office.
In an interview for KTV’s Desku show, Vetëvendosje’s Glauk Konjufca said that from the perspective of Kosovo’s statehood, the Specialist Prosector’s Office announcement was damaging. “At the moment we receive this news as a state, Thaçi holds the highest position in the state and naturally this is damaging for every process in Kosovo,” he said.
At the time of publishing, there had been no public statements from key international partners regarding the indictment of Kosovo’s president.
A sensitive topic
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.
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.
Accusations against former KLA members have always been a sensitive subject.
Only a few weeks ago, Vetëvendosje leader and then Prime Minister Albin Kurti dismissed his adviser, Shkëlzen Gashi, after he spoke publicly about alleged war crimes committed by members of the KLA and the need to address them.
Most political parties, and many citizens, are skeptical of the Specialist Chambers, considering it an unfair imposition since it only addresses alleged crimes committed by Kosovar Albanians and not those committed by Slobodan Milošević’s regime.
However humanitarian voices in the field of transitional justice and missing persons, such as the Humanitarian Law Center, welcomed the formation of the judicial mechanism, saying it was a sign of the country’s maturity to deal with its painful past.K
Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.