A protected witness claims the former Kosovo prime minister was directly involved in torture and murder while serving as a KLA commander.
By Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 28/11/11
Former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj at their initial appearance at The Hague tribunal. [Reuters]
A protected witness known only as "witness 81", testified last week in The Hague tribunal that former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj tortured and executed Serb and Roma captives in the Jablanica camp in 1998.
Witness 81, who describes himself as a former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) member, said Haradinaj beat a Serb and two Roma, while Balaj cut off their ears and Brahimaj continued to beat them with a baseball bat.
After the torture, the witness alleged, Haradinaj told Balaj and Brahimaj to "take them to Drenica" -- a coded order to kill the prisoners.
"They took them to a building which served as a hospital and 15 minutes later brought them out dead," he said.
Brahimaj, the witness added, showed him other prisoners in the basement of a house. "There were two young Roma, one Serb, two women and two elderly men ... they were bound, not in the best condition and had bruises."
No other witness so far has provided such damning testimony against Haradinaj and the two co-accused former KLA subordinates.
"Even one witness who was a direct observer of the events for which Haradinaj, Balaj and Brahimaj are accused of may be sufficient to reverse the earlier verdict the court issued," Association of Serbian Journalists' President Ljiljana Smailovic told SETimes.
The fact that the prosecutors chose to bring the witness to trial indicates that they consider his testimony very credible, she said.
Sonja Biserko, president of the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, told SETimes that the ICTY appears determined to get to the bottom of the case.
"By repeating the trial and bringing witnesses, the tribunal has shown it is doing all it can to establish the truth. The continuation of this trial will show whether Witness 81 has proof for his claims or he is unreliable as Haradinaj's defense claims," she told SETimes.
Haradinaj's counsel, Ben Emerson, discounted the testimony, saying the witness made up the allegations.
"[He] was never a member of the KLA and was not in Jablanica," Emerson said. He pointed out discrepancies in statements made by the witness at different times.
"Perhaps I made mistakes but that is because I was afraid. You specified my family name here, I am still fearful and it is normal that I make mistakes," the witness replied.
Witness intimidation was the reason why the tribunal's appeals chamber – for the first time in the court's history -- ordered a retrial on six out of the 37 counts faced by Haradinaj.
In the first trial, which ended in April 2008, Haradinaj and Balaj were acquitted for lack of evidence while Brahimaj was sentenced to a six-year prison term. Numerous witnesses refused to testify out of fear for their personal safety.
The retrial began on August 18th, but a key witness, Shefqet Kabashi, again declined to testify. He was charged with contempt of court.
Kabashi has since appeared before the tribunal and said he could not remember his earlier statements. He added that "he is lucky to still be alive".