A judge at the Kosovo Specialist Court in The Hague has rejected the request of the defence of former Kosovo president Hashim Thaçi, awaiting trial for war crime charges, to expedite the testimonies of eight international diplomats.
Pre-Trial Judge Nicollas Guillou rejected the request, recalling that the “Thaci Defence is not precluded from making submissions with regard to the witnesses to the relevant trial panel, if it so chooses”.
Thaci’s defence n early November said it wanted several former senior international officials to testify, including Wesley Clark, the commander of NATO forces for Europe during the Kosovo war, Bernard Kouchner, the former head of the UN interim administration in Kosovo, and William Walker, head of the OSCE mission in Kosovo during the war.
The defence requested a “unique investigative opportunity” to take these testimonies before the trial actually starts, in order to avoid losing the chance to call them during the proceedings.
“All eight witnesses are of advanced age – ranging from 77 to 87… and of varying degrees of health,” Thaçi’s lawyer, Gregory Kehoe, said in his motion of request.
He added that there was “a real risk that their evidence ‘may not be available subsequently at trial, or at least by the time that the prosecution closes its case, and the defence case begins, either through death of the individual due to old age or incapacity”.
Thaci’s and Veseli’s lawyers have mentioned the examples of “ormer US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who died this year aged 84, and former US diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, who died in 2010 aged 69, as potential witnesses who cannot now testify in the trial.
Thaci and his three co-accused, former parliament speakers Kadri Veseli and Jakup Krasniqi and MP Rexhep Selimi, face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, for crimes including illegal detentions, torture, murder, enforced disappearances and persecution.
The crimes were allegedly committed from at least March 1998 to September 1999. All four have pleaded not guilty. They have all been in detention since they were arrested in November 2020.
Pre-trial judge Guillou has also repeatedly rejected requests for the defendants to be released from custody, citing suspicions that they could abscond.
He has said that he “is not persuaded that the advanced age and varying degree of health of the Witnesses and the anticipated length of time before the defence case is likely to be heard constitute, at this stage, a reason to believe that the evidence of the Witnesses may otherwise become unavailable”.
Earlier in November Guillou told a status conference that he aims “to pass the case to the judges’ panel before the end of the year”.
The Kosovo Specialist Chambers was 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 are 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 cases concerning the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, 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.