Former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj will be returning to Kosovo, after the UN war crimes tribunal granted his request for provisional release.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 09/05/12
Former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj (right) was acquitted of all war crimes counts four years ago, before being retried on partial charges. [Reuters]
Prosecutors at The Hague are not appealing Tuesday's (May 8th) decision to grant former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj's release, which means he could return in the next day or so. The war crimes re-trial of he and two other former KLA fighters was already expected to take a giant step towards conclusion next month, following a separate, key decision by the UN tribunal.
The judges had decided to schedule the written closing statements in the case on June 11th, followed by final sessions on June 25th and 26th. Kosovo media reported that the judges agreed last week that whatever happens, the appearance of witnesses will not affect the trial schedule. That is significant because Haradinaj's 2008 acquittal was overturned on grounds of witness intimidation.
Tribunal spokesperson Nerma Jelacic said the retrial was ordered by the Appeals Chamber to enable prosecutors to call key witnesses whose testimonies had not been secured at trial level. "It was therefore important for the sake of fair proceedings that the re-trial happened, but that it be held in such a way as to guarantee the accused's right to an expeditious trial," Jelacic told SETimes.
Michael O'Reilly, the co-ordinator of Haradinaj's lawyers, says the re-trial "is now effectively over. One of Mr. Haradinaj's co-accused may wish to call one witness, a medical expert. But apart from that possibility, neither Mr. Haradinaj nor either of his co-accused will be calling witnesses, as was also the case in the original trial," O'Reilly told SETimes.
That leaves only written and oral closing submissions. "All of this will be complete by the end of June. It is not known when the court will deliver its verdict, but it seems quite possible now that it will not be until after the August break," O'Reilly added. The retrial began in August 2011.
The Kosovo newspaper Koha Ditore reported on May 3rd that the panel of tribunal judges will not invite as a witness this time Zoran Stiojovic, a former official of the Serb security service in Kosovo, because Haradinaj's co-defendants -- Idriz Balaj and Lahi Ibrahimaj -- do not want to invoke their right to question him. Stiojovic has testified before as a prosecution witness.
Haradinaj's party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, which celebrated its 12th anniversary last week, considers Haradinaj a hero who has chosen state and national interests over those of his family.
One of the most senior leaders of the now disbanded KLA during the 1998-1999 war, he was initially indicted in March 2005 while he was prime minister. He resigned and went to The Hague voluntarily to face the charges.
In 2008, Haradinaj was acquitted of all 37 counts of war crimes, including murder, rape and persecution.
But in August 2011, he and his co-defendants were the subjects of an unprecedented partial retrial, charged with committing "crimes through a joint criminal enterprise" in the Dukagjini area of western Kosovo.
The alleged crimes against local civilians included harassment, deportation or forcible transfer of civilians, imprisonment, torture, murders, rape, abduction and cruel treatment, according to The Hague's Justice Portal.