The Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague. Photo: Blerta Begisholli/BIRN.

Witnesses Tell Kosovo War Crimes Court of ‘Anarchic’ Violence in 1999

Witnesses at the war crimes trial of Kosovo’s former President Hashim Thaci and three co-defendants in The Hague described an “anarchic situation” of arson, violence and kidnappings.

The war crimes and crimes against humanity trial of former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and three co-defendants at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague heard four witnesses testify this week about alleged violent crimes committed during and just after the 1998-99 Kosovo war.

Claude Cahn, the 50th prosecution witness in the trial, testified on Monday about human rights abuses against the Roma community that he witnessed while he was employed by the European Roma Rights Centre, ERRC in July 1999, just after the war, in the wake of Serbian forces’ withdrawal from Kosovo.

Cahn described the situation as “anarchic” and told the court that he met people who were “stressed, shocked and traumatised”.

“It was a violent situation, for example we saw armed men, driving around the neighbourhood, there were people seeking protection. So the regime had changed,” said Cahn, who is now a human rights officer at the office of UN human rights commissioner, UNHCR.

He testified that Kosovo Albanians and members of the Roma community had different opinions about the involvement of the Roma people in the war.

He said that Roma people told the ERRC that “the Serbian police came to the Roma neighbourhood… They took us away at gunpoint… or they told the Roma men to bury the corpses [of murdered Kosovo Albanians]”.

However, Kosovo Albanians had a different explanation of what happened, he insisted: “The Albanians said that the Roma did the dirty work of the Serbs.”

Three other witnesses who testified in the trial between Monday and Wednesday this week spoke about their personal experiences during the war.

The 49th witness testified anonymously in closed session before Cahn on Monday. According to the prosecution, the protected witness testified about the alleged murder of a victim after being detained by Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA members in the guerrilla force’s Llap Operational Zone.

The 51st witness, who testified on Tuesday, also in a closed session, talked about the alleged arrest of his brother by KLA members, according to the prosecution. His brother disappeared and his remains were never found.

The 52nd witness, who testified on Wednesday, was also protected and testified in a closed session. According to the prosecution, the witness is a Kosovo Albanian spoke about his alleged arrest and detention by KLA members in or around August 1998.

Defendants Hashim Thaci, Jakup Krasniqi, Kadri Veseli and Rexhep Selimi were all wartime KLA leaders and subsequently became leading politicians in post-war Kosovo.

They are accused of having individual and command responsibility for crimes committed against prisoners held at KLA detention facilities in Kosovo and neighbouring Albania, including 102 murders.

The crimes were allegedly committed between at least March 1998 and September 1999, during and just after the war with Serbian forces. The defendants have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

On Wednesday, the prosecution and defence argued about the admission into evidence of some court documents allegedly made available by the Serbian authorities.

The defence accused the prosecution of not conducting an independent investigation into the authenticity of the evidence because it could have been fabricated by Serbia.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers were set up in 2015 to try former KLA guerrillas for wartime and post-war crimes. The court was established in The Hague by the Kosovo parliament, acting under pressure from Kosovo’s Western allies, who believed that Kosovo’s own justice system was not robust enough to try KLA cases and protect witnesses from intimidation.

21/03/2024 - 13:29

21 March 2024 - 13:29

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