THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Kosovo’s former prime minister must be retried on murder and torture charges related to the country’s 1998-99 war with Serbia, the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal ruled Wednesday, calling his acquittal two years ago “a miscarriage of justice.”
The original trial for Ramush Haradinaj and two former Kosovo Liberation Army comrades was marred by intimidation that left two prosecution witnesses too scared to testify, tribunal President Patrick Robinson said.
Actually, that trial left at least six witnesses dead. Others refused to testify, with some being held in contempt; others were caught lying to protect their families — and some protected witnesses had their identities revealed (once by an Albanian journalist and another time allegedly by an American deputy UN chief whose duties included getting drunk once a week with Haradinaj).
This is why there’s a Balkans saying, “He lies like an Albanian witness.”
As this American judge in Kosovo learned, witness intimidation is an Albanian “cultural norm.” To give readers a fuller picture of just what went on during the Haradinaj trial, I hope to soon do a follow-up post titled “Scenes from a Hague Trial.”
But for now, back to the news of the day:
“The trial chamber failed to appreciate the gravity of the threat that witness intimidation posted to the trial’s integrity,” Robinson said in ordering the first retrial in the tribunal’s 17-year history.
Pause. What could have suddenly caused the Tribunal to announce its first-ever retrial? Could it be the fact that the following day the other international court’s decision was due? That would be the decision by the UN’s International Court of Justice on the legality of separatists unilaterally seceding from democratic countries. It is to be an advisory opinion on the Kosovo land grab, which the rest of the 192 UN members have been awaiting before deciding whether to recognize an independent Kosovo. (”The rest” meaning all but the 69 who have so far recognized.)
While any semblance of legality points in Serbia’s favor, the U.S. and UK have been doing all in their power to pressure the ICJ and impress upon it what an Albanian-unfavorable decision could unleash throughout Europe and beyond. So given the extraordinary timing of the Haradinaj retrial announcement, perhaps the two UN-affiliated courts “talked” and came up with this exchange: Let’s “give” the Serbs something (Haradinaj) since we’re going to screw them on Thursday.
Or are we supposed to believe that by sheer coincidence on the day before the crucial ICJ ruling, the ICTY got to reflecting on just how improper a 2007 trial was, and had a bout of conscience over it? Enough to decide to have its first-ever retrial?
It’s just a theory, of course — and it relies on a negative outcome for Serbia and the world (which one hopes isn’t the ruling announced a few hours from now) — but if it’s accurate, there are at least two ironies in such an “exchange.” First: If, as we’re conditioned to think, the Serbs lost Kosovo “because of the 90s”/ “because of Milosevic”/ “because of war crimes,” convicting Haradinaj of war crimes would mean the Albanians should lose governing rights to Kosovo too. By tossing the Serbs a bone, the so-called international community is shooting itself in the foot. Well it would be, if double standards weren’t the rule in the Balkans.
The second irony is that Western pressure to rule against Serbia all boils down to giving the Albanians what they want so they don’t hurt us. But the “solution” (retrying Haradinaj) will only achieve the same unwanted result. As evidenced by the threat contained in the same AP report:
In a strongly worded statement, KLA veterans who fought under Haradinaj’s command in western Kosovo urged the tribunal to reverse its decision or risk destabilizing the region.
“If his detention continues, everything is clear: destabilization not only of Kosovo but of the entire Balkans,” veterans said in a statement sent to the AP.
Here is the rest of the AP article:
Haradinaj had been accused along with Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj of abusing Serbs or their supporters in 1998 as Kosovo battled for independence from Serbia, which it eventually declared in 2008.
Judges originally threw out all charges against Haradinaj and Balaj for lack of evidence, but convicted Brahimaj on charges of torture and sentenced him to six years. Appeals judges had later upheld Brahimaj’s sentence.
“Given the potential importance of these witnesses to the prosecution’s case, the error undermined the fairness of the proceedings and resulted in a miscarriage of justice,” Robinson said.
Robinson ordered Haradinaj, Balaj and Brahimaj retried on six counts of the original indictment alleging murder, cruel treatment and torture of prisoners at a KLA headquarters and prison in the town of Jablanica.
A date for the retrial has yet to be set, and it is unclear if the frightened witnesses would testify at the new hearings. Tribunal spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic said the first step will be to appoint a new panel of judges for the case.
Haradinaj’s lawyer Michael O’Reilly said he was “extremely surprised” by the decision.
“It is something we could not have foreseen, particularly in view of his unambiguous acquittal two years ago,” O’Reilly said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
Serbia’s deputy war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric hailed the court decision as a “big victory for Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz and his team in their struggle for the rights of the victims.”
Belgrade often accuses the court of bias because the vast majority of its suspects are Serbs.
Here we’ve arrived at another purpose Haradinaj’s retrial is to serve. First, please note the standard attribution to “Belgrade” (or, alternately, “Serbian claims”) when referring to documented and provable facts. Just count the Serbian defendants in comparison to Croatian, Albanian or Bosnian defendants. Then proceed to count actual convictions. Then compare the lengths of the sentences. Finally, recall that it wasn’t until a few years into the ICTY’s existence that it occurred to the court to try anyone other than Serbs. Indeed, prosecutors in the past have expressed the common understanding that the court had been set up to try, or at least focus on, Serbian war crimes.
As for the second purpose of the Haradinaj retrial, it will be a great way for the utterly appalling ICTY to claim “objectivity”: re-arrest a blatant killer initially released because he had killed or intimidated the would-be witnesses, in order to justify sentencing Serbian non-criminals.
Back to the AP article:
Haradinaj was working in western Europe as a nightclub bouncer and construction worker when he returned to Kosovo to fight for its independence in the 1998-99 uprising against Serbia, and rose to become one of its most prominent rebel commanders.
He was a Western ally who harbored NATO special forces as they chose targets for airstrikes in 1999 as the alliance bombed Serbia to end its crackdown on Kosovo.
Afterward, he was seen as a political leader prepared to bridge the divide between Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians and its Serb minority. He formed the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, a political party known as AAK, and was elected prime minister in December 2004.
Imagine. Our man to bridge the ethnic divide and create a “multi-ethnic Kosovo” is the same man who boarded a bus in 1998 seeking out two Albanians on it, because they were married to Serbian women. The two men were never seen or heard from again.
Back again to the rest of the article:
But he lasted just 100 days in office before quitting in March 2005 after learning of the indictment against him and surrendering to authorities in The Hague.
Haradinaj returned to head the opposition AAK after his acquittal [and indeed, was allowed to participate in politics during his trial], but the party has struggled to regain the support it had enjoyed during his time as Kosovo’s prime minister.
Haradinaj’s deputy, Blerim Shala, told The Associated Press that Wednesday’s ruling was “very bad for the AAK, for the citizens and for Kosovo itself.”
“We are extremely surprised with the decision,” he said, “especially since Haradinaj was previously acquitted of the charges by a unanimous decision.”
Wednesday’s decision came a day before the U.N.’s highest judicial organ, the International Court of Justice, is expected to issue a nonbinding advisory opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. […]
The Hague, 21 July (AKI) - The United Nations war crimes tribunal appeals panel on Wednesday ordered a partial retrial of former Kosovo prime minister Ramus Haradinaj and two of his aides for crimes against Serb, Roma and non-loyal Albanian civilians during Kosovo war for independence in 1998/99.
Haradinaj, 42, a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) that started a rebellion against Serbian rule in 1998, was acquitted by the court in April 2008 on all 37 counts for lack of evidence.
Another KLA commander, Idriz Balaj, was also acquitted, while Lah Brahimaj was sentenced to six years in jail. The appeals panel, chaired by the war crimes court president Patrick Robinson, however, ordered a retrial of all three indictees on six counts of the indictment, referring to murder, cruel and inhuman treatment and violation of laws of war.
Explaining Wednesday’s verdict, Robinson said the trial chamber hadn’t paid due attention to the intimidation of potential witnesses in Haradinaj’s trial, which had led to “failure of justice”.
At least six potential witnesses against Haradinaj had been killed, or died mysterious deaths before and during the trial.
Haradinaj was briefly prime minister of Kosovo, which was put under UN control in 1999 after NATO bombing pushed Serbian forces out of the province. He resigned in 2005 and surrendered to the court after his indictment was unveiled.
“I killed Serbian policemen, Serb civilians and disobedient Albanians,” Haradinaj admitted in memoir “The Stories About War and Freedom.”
The court ordered detention of all three indictees pending a retrial. Haradinaj had earlier said he would not attend today’s court session, but according to sources, he was arrested in Kosovo on 19 July and brought to the Hague.
Kosovo majority ethnic Albanians declared independence in 2008, but Serbia is fighting a diplomatic battle to retain the control over the province. On Serbia’s request, the International Court of Justice will render its opinion on the legality of Kosovo independence on Thursday.
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