Legal experts debate venue to retry war crimes cases

02/05/2013

Members of the National Liberation Army charged with war crimes during the Macedonian conflict in 2001 were given amnesty, and a venue is being sought for a retrial.

By Misko Taleski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 02/05/13

photo

National Liberation Army insurgents were charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in four cases in Macedonia. [AFP]

Analysts are divided on whether The Hague tribunal is the right venue to reopen four 2001 war crime cases against members of the Albanian National Liberation Army.

The tribunal declared itself incompetent in 2006 and returned the cases for trial in Macedonia, where the charged were subsequently amnestied, but the Council of Europe ruled in its latest human rights report that the amnesty is unacceptable. The United Macedonian Diaspora is now asking the Hague to retry the cases.

Members of the Albanian National Liberation Army, which transformed into the Democratic Union for Integration, are charged with kidnapping, torture and murder; depriving urban areas of water; and chain-of-command responsibility in those and other acts.

"Amnestying cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity is not in accordance with international law," Metodija Koloski, president of the United Macedonian Diaspora which sent the request to the tribunal in April, told SETimes.

Koloski said that not trying documented instances of war crimes sends a message of double standard; it undermines faith in international law and is a serious obstacle to Macedonia moving forward.

"The tribunal remains the only institution to secure justice and prevent a culture of impunity in Macedonia," Koloski said.

The tribunal is expected to cease work after 2015, but Koloski said there is hope the four cases can be tried by the temporary body that will inherit the tribunal's competencies.

The chances that tribunal will respond are very slim, according to Jagnula Kunovska, a Skopje-based attorney well versed in the tribunal's work.

"The tribunal will not respond because it finished its job by returning the cases to Macedonia. Legally, the [act of] amnesty marks the end of the story," Kunovska told SETimes.

The cases were amnestied in 2011 when the Democratic Union for Integration, which became a ruling coalition partner, forced a vote in parliament on an interpretation of the Law of Amnesty which ensued from the 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement.

The request to reopen the cases gained momentum after the Council of Europe issued its human rights report on Macedonia earlier this month, in which it criticised the law and the act of amnestying those who committed grave human rights violations.

The cases can be transferred to the International Criminal Court also located in The Hague or be tried in Sweden, according to Antonio Apostolski, a Skopje attorney who has done work at The Hague tribunal.

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"Sweden is the only European state whose national legislature allows the trying of war crimes committed by foreign citizens and outside its territory," Apostolski told SETimes.

But Koloski, and others, are optimistic the tribunal will answer the request.

"According to the tribunal's statute and practice, the tribunal can assume jurisdiction in these cases," Koloski said.

What legal venue should Macedonia seek to try the 2001 war crimes cases? Share your suggestions in the comments space.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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