Nasim Haradinaj (L), a leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) veterans' association, appears in court before the Kosovo Specialist Chambers on charges of obstruction and intimidation for allegedly revealing names of protected witnesses who testified before the special war crimes court, in The Hague, The Netherlands, 07 October 2021. EPA-EFE/PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW / POOL

Hague Court Reduces Kosovo War Veterans’ Leaders’ Sentences

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers rejected former war veterans’ organisation leaders Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj’s appeals against their convictions for obstructing justice and intimidating witnesses but reduced their sentences by three months.

The appeals panel at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague on Thursday upheld the convictions of the former leader and deputy leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans’ Organisation, Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj, but reduced their sentences by three months.

The court upheld the original verdict’s finding that Gucati and Haradinaj were guilty of obstruction of justice, intimidation and the unauthorised revelation of court information and personal information about protected witnesses in war crimes cases.

However, they were cleared on appeal of obstructing officials in the course of their duty, which led to the sentence reduction.

Presiding judge Michele Picard said the court decided to impose “a sentence of four years and three months’ imprisonment including the time spent in detention” since the two men were arrested in September 2020.

“Mr. Gucati and Mr. Haradinaj are to remain in detention at the Specialist Chambers in The Hague until the finalisation of the necessary measures for the transfer to the state they will serve their sentence,” judge Picard added.

Acting specialist prosecutor Alex Whiting said in a statement that he welcomes the judgment because it “reinforces the rule of law in Kosovo and sends a clear message to anyone involved in witness intimidation, retaliation against witnesses and obstruction of justice”.

Gucati and Haradinaj were originally convicted in May 2022 after the judges concluded that they had the intent to reveal protected information.

The two men were prosecuted after they received batches of legal documents leaked from the Specialist Chambers, which contained confidential information about protected witnesses in cases against KLA ex-guerrillas, including names and personal information.

The boxes of court documents were left in the hallway of the offices of the KLA War Veterans’ Organisation in September 2020.

Gucati and Haradinaj then held press conferences to publicise the leaked files and urged media in Kosovo to publish extracts from them.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers were set up to try former KLA fighters for wartime and post-war crimes from 1998 to 2000, including murder, torture and illegal detentions. Witness protection has been a key concern for the so-called ‘Special Court’ after incidents of witness-tampering at previous trials of KLA commanders.

After Wednesday’s verdict was handed down, the acting leader of the KLA War Veterans’ Organisation, Faton Klinaku, told media that “this Special Court is a political court”.

“We have not recognised and will not recognise this court. We will hinder it from functioning in any way we can because it does not prosecute war crimes but prosecutes Albanians,” Klinaku said.

Gucati and Haradinaj are the first people to have been convicted by the Specialist Chambers, which is preparing to begin high-profile war crimes trials of former KLA commanders in the coming weeks.

02/02/2023 - 16:58

02 February 2023 - 16:58

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