Kosovo civil society urges for more action in bringing war crimes perpetrators to justice.
By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 14/01/13
EULEX judges, in mixed panels, have delivered 23 verdicts in war crimes cases. [EULEX]
The acquittal of three high-ranking members of the Kosovo Liberation Army by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has prompted Amnesty International to reiterate its call for justice for all of the victims of the 1998-1999 Kosovo conflict and their relatives.
Supported by local human rights organisations, the groups are urging more action from courts and EULEX to investigate and prosecute war crimes committed in Kosovo.
Bekim Blakaj, executive director of the Humanitarian Law Centre in Pristina, told SETimes that processing war crimes cases in Kosovo falls under the jurisdiction of EULEX.
Therefore, he said, the process does not depend on politics, but rather the ability of prosecutors to provide sufficient evidence.
"The main problem prosecutors have is providing eyewitness testimony. The lack of proper implementation of the law on witness protection is an obstacle to faster processing of those cases," Blakaj said.
Blakaj said that local courts have a large number of materials prepared by tribunal which can serve in war crimes proceedings in Kosovo courts.
"Local institutions need to do more to address war crimes. [They] must first set up a special chamber in the court, which will deal only with the prosecution of war crimes, as well it is necessary for local judges to enhance their professional capabilities in order to be able to process these cases," Blakaj said.
Behxhet Shala, executive director of the Council for Defending Human Rights and Freedoms in Kosovo, said that more than 1,400 people are still unaccounted for since the end of the conflict in 1999, and no one is taking responsibility for finding out what happened to them.
According to the Humanitarian Law Fund, from January 1st 1998 to December 31st 2000, 2,077 Serbs and 574 people from non-Albanian and non-Serb communities were either killed or disappeared from the country.
But Blerim Krasniqi, EULEX spokesman, told SETimes that local prosecutors are investigating and prosecuting war crimes cases.
"EULEX does not divide the cases based on the ethnic background of the victims or the perpetrators. Currently, EULEX prosecutors are investigating 74 cases of war crimes. EULEX judges, in mixed panels, have delivered 23 verdicts in war crimes cases," Krasniqi said.
Local courts and local judges are not in a position to speed up the processing of war crimes cases, Blakaj said. In the war crimes courts, international judges lead the session, and a local judge is a member of the panel.
"[The fund] is not satisfied with the work of EULEX judges and prosecutors, who … prevent us from processing war crimes cases," Blakaj said.
But, Krasniqi said, the prosecution and adjudication of war crimes cases is a priority for EULEX as part of its executive mandate.
"The results achieved so far confirm this priority," Krasniqi said.