Former commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army Salih Mustafa waits for the start of his trial at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers court in The Hauge, Netherlands, 15 September 2021. The first trial started at the Hague-based court of the former commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army charged with four war crimes including murder and torture related to the Kosovo conflict between 1998 and 1999. EPA-EFE/ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN / POOL

Kosovo Ex-Guerrilla Convicted of War Crimes by Hague Court

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague sentenced former Kosovo Liberation Army unit commander Salih Mustafa to 26 years in prison for war crimes including arbitrary detention, torture and murder.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague found former Kosovo Liberation Army unit commander Salih Mustafa guilty on Friday of three war crime charges including the arbitrary detention and torture of at least six detainees, and the murder of one prisoner.

The verdict is the first war crimes judgment to be handed down by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers.

“In the name of the people of Kosovo in the reasons set out in the judgment… the panel finds you, Mr. Mustafa, guilty of count three, torture as a war crime as part of a joint criminal enterprise in its basic form… count one, arbitrary detention as a war crime as part of a joint criminal enterprise in its basic form… count four, murder as a war crime as part of a joint criminal enterprise,” said presiding judge Mappie Veldt-Foglia.

Mustafa was found “not guilty of the war crime of cruel treatment”, the judge added.

Mustafa, known during the 1998-99 conflict by his KLA nom de guerre Commander Cali, was sentenced to 26 years in prison “with credit for the time [already] served [in detention]”. He had pleaded not guilty.

The judges found that Mustafa personally participated in the torture of two detainees and that his failure to order the release of one prisoner directly led to their death.

Judge Veldt-Foglia explained on Friday that around April 19, 1999, Mustafa ordered the release of all detainees but two amid a Serbian offensive around Zllash/Zlash.

“Two specific detainees were not released by Mustafa’s BIA unit subordinates. One of them was seen by other detainees as unable to move, he later was found dead,” the judge said.

The judge explained there were three main causes of death: severe mistreatment inflicted by Mustafa’s subordinates for almost three weeks and denial of medical care, which were directly attributable to Mustafa, and gunshot wounds.

The judges did not exclude the possibility of the gunshots having been fired by the Serbs, but they attributed the death to Mustafa for failing to order the release of the victim or provide medical aid.

Mustafa’s defence had attempted to establish that he was not present at the KLA compound in Zllash/Zlash during the detention and torture of the civilians. However, the judges decided that “the evidence for the alibi was vague and inconsistent”.

Most prosecution witnesses in the trial testified anonymously under protective measures. Veldt-Foglia said that they testified despite “fear and intimidation” because “they are labelled in Kosovo as traitors”.

“They live in constant fear that something will happen to them and their families,” she added.

The Specialist Chambers are part of Kosovo’s judicial system but are located in the Netherlands and staffed by internationals, established under pressure from the country’s Western allies, who believe Kosovo’s own justice system is not robust enough to try KLA cases and protect witnesses from intimidation.

However, many Kosovo Albanians believe that the court is ethnically biased and denigrates the KLA’s just war against Serbian repression.

Before announcing the verdict, judge Veldt-Foglia said that the idea that the charges were “against the KLA and the people of Kosovo as a whole” was a misconception caused by misinterpretation of the term ‘joint criminal enterprise’ by certain Kosovo media outlets, commentators and politicians.

“At no point there was the KLA on trial, but Salih Mustafa,” Veldt-Foglia insisted.

The verdict can be appealed.

16/12/2022 - 10:52

16 December 2022 - 10:52

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