Key witness in Haradinaj trial sentenced

19/09/2011

"By sentencing Shefqet Kabashi, The Hague has ... sent a clear message to all other witnesses," Kosovo analyst Ramadan Ilazi told SETimes.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 19/09/11

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“The Hague has shown its integrity as a justice institution,” Kosovo analyst Ramadan Ilazi told SETimes. [Reuters]

The UN war crimes tribunal sentenced Shefqet Kabashi, the main witness in the trial against former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and his associates, to two months in jail for contempt on Friday (September 16th).

On August 26th, Kabashi pleaded guilty to charges of knowingly and willfully interfering with the tribunal's administration of justice by refusing or failing to answer questions as a witness in the case on two occasions, in June and November 2007, about crimes committed at the KLA headquarters and the prison in Jablanica/Jabllanicë.

"By sentencing Shefqet Kabashi, The Hague has shown its integrity as a justice institution, but it also sent a clear message to all other witnesses," Kosovo analyst Ramadan Ilazi told SETimes. He added that Kosovo should create a Court and Prosecutor's Office for the war crimes as soon as possible and "testify its commitment to justice and that the state institutions of Kosovo function beyond the wishes of the commanders of the last war".

Judicial expert Roland Gjoni, a former UNMIK employee in Kosovo, notes that the ICTY has handled several contempt cases.

"However, the Kabashi case is special because he was considered a key witness by the prosecution and his refusal to testify was a key factor in ordering the retrial," he told SETimes. Gjoni notes that "allegations [Kabashi] was intimidated were not confirmed."

"Therefore, his retrial testimony has served more to the defence than the prosecution," Gjoni told SETimes.

The court took into consideration Kabashi's family situation "and the fact that, according to medical documentation, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which worsens in a prison environment."

The court assessed both Kabashi's apology and guilty plea "as genuine", but noted that he "had failed to come before the tribunal to face the charges against him for more than four years". First charged in June 2007, he was arrested last month by Dutch authorities and transferred to the tribunal's custody.

In part, Haradinaj's retrial was ordered after considering "that the Trial Chamber had erred in failing to secure Kabashi's testimony, and that of one other witness, thereby depriving the prosecution of vital support for its case." Haradinaj and co-defendants Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj are being re-tried on six counts related to "torture and murder of prisoners in the KLA-run camp".

The tribunal rejected claims that witnesses who testified in the Haradinaj et al. trial have been killed.

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"None ... was in the Tribunal's protection programme, nor were any of them under protection measures ordered by the Tribunal in the Haradinaj et al. case. Some of the alleged killings took place before the ICTY had started its investigations in Kosovo against Ramush Haradinaj and his co-defendants. Furthermore, some persons ... were reportedly named as witnesses in a trial before a court in Pristina, in which the ICTY had no involvement," it said.

The tribunal noted that Kujtim Berisha was "the only person ... who was planned to be called as a witness in the Haradinaj et al. trial." He died in a 2007 car accident in Podgorica. Montenegrin investigators found no evidence "that the accident was staged".

Ilazi says critics of the tribunal should remember "it was the pressure of this court towards Serbia ... which brought behind bars the authors of Srebrenica massacre and the authors of many other massacres."

"The sooner the citizens and the states of the Balkans co-operate with The Hague ... the sooner we will be able to move ahead as a society," he told SETimes.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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