Former KLA commanders face war crimes charges

04/12/2013

EULEX charged a group of 15 former senior Kosovo Liberation Army commanders with war crimes.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 04/12/13

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Former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander Sylejman Selimi is among 15 former senior KLA commanders arrested by EULEX on war crimes charges. [Laura Hasani/SETimes]

Fifteen former senior KLA commanders now facing war crimes charges for alleged actions against civilians in the Likovac/Likoc detention centre in 1998 are among the most senior officials charged by EULEX.

EULEX brought the charges in November, accusing the suspects of murder, torture and mistreatment of prisoners.

"[J]ustice needs to be done, and needs to be seen to be done, especially for any society that wants to claim its place among the community of nations," Bernd Borchardt, head of EULEX in Pristina, said.

The arrests were carried out per EULEX's executive mandate to prosecute war crimes in Kosovo while the local judiciary continues to strengthen its ability to deal with such cases.

Analysts said EULEX's engagement in this and other cases provides the grounds for reconciliation and gives the Kosovo judiciary time to gain the necessary capacity to prosecute war crimes independently.

"[EULEX] will gradually reduce as Kosovo's rule of law institutions develop and take on more and more of the responsibilities in these areas," the mission said in a statement. Following the latest arrests, EULEX officials said investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating war crimes remains a priority.

"Many of the witnesses, particularly women who witnessed rape, have become willing to speak out and we should support them," Irina Gurdeljevic, EULEX spokesperson, told SETimes.

Analysts said EULEX has shown it has an enormous footprint in prosecuting war crimes cases in Kosovo and it is important for Kosovo institutions to follow up with the same pace once the mission leaves.

"It is very important that Kosovo judges and prosecutors start to take ownership in the war crimes cases. This is important not only to demonstrate an independent judiciary in Kosovo, but also to allow Kosovo people to deal with their past," Ramadan Ilazi, the executive director of Kosovo Peace Institute, told SETimes.

While EULEX jurisdiction extends only within Kosovo, and Kosovo law prohibits in absentia trials, the mission has seized on the opportunity to share information and assist Serbia's war crimes prosecutor to interview witnesses from Kosovo for suspects who are in Serbia.

"Achieving justice is a precondition for reconciliation and then for the development of the Kosovo society," Adrian Arifaj, political commentator for the Kosovo daily JNK, told SETimes.

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Some legal analysts, however, have been critical of the international missions in Kosovo -- EULEX as well as UNMIK -- on their approach to war crimes cases.

They should ensure quality work that includes factual and fair charges to avoid situations which may be perceived as undermining the judicial efficiency, said Tome Gashi, a Pristina lawyer who defended senior former Kosovo Liberation Army commanders in war crimes cases.

"The cases in which I was a defence attorney were almost all won easily and my clients were proclaimed innocent," Gashi told SETimes.

What should EULEX and the Kosovo judiciary do to more efficiently process war crimes cases? Share your opinion in the comments space.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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