Kosovo’s parliament rejects establishment of war crimes special court

By bne IntelliNews June 29, 2015

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Kosovo’s lawmakers failed to adopt the constitutional amendment on June 26 that would allow the establishment of a special court for war crimes committed by ex-guerrillas from the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the parliament said.

The motion was backed by 75 deputies in the 125-seat parliament, while seven were against and two abstained, but this was short of the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution.

The KLA was an ethnic Albanian paramilitary organisation that sought the separation of Kosovo from the Serbia-led Federation that emerged after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, backed by Western nations.

“The establishment of the Special Court undermines and violates the sovereignty of Kosovo and we must oppose any instrument that violates the sovereignty of the country,” MP Valdete Bajrami, from the opposition nationalist Initiative for Kosovo party, was quoted as saying before the vote.

The United States is "deeply disappointed" by the June 26 vote, the Associated Press, quoting a statement from the US embassy in Pristina, reported on June 27. It also added that the US won't block Russia's attempts to establish a UN tribunal to investigate allegations that Kosovo's ethnic Albanian wartime leaders killed hundreds of Serbs civilians.

The initial green light for the creation of a special court to try those suspected of war crimes committed by ethnic Albanian ex-guerrillas during and after the 1998-1999 battle for independence was given by Kosovo’s constitutional court on April 15, 2015.

Kosovan President Atifete Jahjaga said in April that the constitutional court’s ruling was a “step towards the fulfillment of the international obligations of the Republic of Kosovo”. At the time, Jahjaga said the court would focus on individuals and individual actions and would not be a trial of the collective efforts of Kosovans for liberation and freedom.

Kosovo’s foreign minister and former guerrilla commander Hashim Thaci was also in favour of the establishment of a special court.

“I invite you to act and to vote in accordance with the interests of our state and the future of our country and not to be burdened by electoral politics. There is no force that could harm the KLA war, but at the same time there is no force that could undermine our international orientation,” Thaci said during the debate on June 26. 

On June 28, news outlet Orainfo quoted Thaci as saying that the formation of the Special Court by Kosovo should be seen as a diplomatic move, as Kosovo expects to see advancements in the process of European integration and to receive a recommendation for EU visa liberalisation.

The European Commission adopted the proposal for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Kosovo on April 30. The agreement, which is expected to come into effect in 2016, is an important step in Kosovo’s path to eventual EU membership.

Previously, the EU Office in Kosovo has called for the creation of the special court to be made a priority in Kosovo. “The provision of a dispassionate environment where an independent and impartial judicial process can take place is the only way of addressing serious allegations,” said a statement from the EU's office.

The special court for war crimes was supposed to operate within Kosovo's existing judicial system.

The allegations that members of the former KLA had committed crimes against Serbs, Roma and “disloyal” Albanians after the withdrawal of Serbian military and police forces from Kosovo in 1999 stem from a 2010 report by Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty.

The 2010 report accused members of the KLA of crimes including abductions, summary executions and organ harvesting.

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