Hague trial should not start until 2022 say defence lawyers

Defence lawyers for Kosovo’s ex-president Hashim Thaci and three other Kosovo Liberation Army ex-guerrillas accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity argued that 18 months is needed to prepare for the start of the trial.

Defence lawyers told a status conference in the case against recently-resigned Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and three other former senior members of Kosovo Liberation Army at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague that the four men’s trial should not start until 2022.

David Hooper, lead counsel for Thaci, said that “I cannot see it taking place until June not of this summer but that after that… in a world without COVID-19”.

Hooper predicted that the pre-trial processes will last around 18 months.

Thaci, the KLA’s wartime political leader, is charged alongside Kadri Veseli, leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Kosovo and a co-founder of the KLA, and two other former KLA guerrillas turned politicians, Jakup Krasniqi and Rexhep Selimi. They have all pleaded not guilty.

Ben Emmerson, lead counsel for Veseli, also said he believes that a minimum of 18 months will be needed for the case to go to trial.

Emmerson said he is disappointed that the prosecution expects the trial will start soon because that means that the defence will not have time to go through the evidence and that the prosecution assumes “the defendants know everything about the allegations against them”.

David Young, lead counsel for Selimi, and Alagendra Venkateswari, lead counsel for Krasniqi, expressed agreement with the other defence lawyers’ suggested timeline.

All four defendants are charged with a series of war crimes and crimes against humanity including illegal detentions, torture, murder, enforced disappearances and persecution from at least March 1998 to September 1999.

The indictment alleges that they were part of a “joint criminal enterprise” that aimed to take control over Kosovo “by means including unlawfully intimidating, mistreating, committing violence against, and removing those deemed to be opponents”.

Most of the crimes in the indictment were committed at KLA detention centres in Kosovo and Albania.

Emmerson argued however that only “some individual crimes were committed by individual members of the KLA… They are not justifiable but they were minimal compared to the crimes committed” against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian population by Slobodan Milosevic’s troops and police.

“No joint criminal enterprise existed and no responsibility on crimes of individuals as the prosecution claims… the only joint enterprise was one to defend civilian population against crimes committed” by Serbian forces, Emmerson insisted.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers were set up to try crimes allegedly committed during and just after the Kosovo war from 1998 to 2000. They are part of Kosovo’s judicial system but located in the Netherlands and staffed by internationals.

They were set up under pressure from Kosovo’s Western allies, who feared that Kosovo’s justice system was not robust enough to try KLA cases and protect witnesses from interference.

The so-called ‘special court’ is widely resented by Kosovo Albanians who see it as an insult to the KLA’s war for liberation from Serbian rule.

18/11/2020 - 14:46

18 November 2020 - 14:46

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