A special war crimes court is to be established in The Hague to address serious crimes potentially committed by ethnic Albanian rebels during and in the immediate aftermath of the Kosovo War of 1999-2000, the Dutch foreign ministry said on January 15.
The court was established following pressure from Kosovo's Western backers, the EU and US, and will handle war crimes allegedly committed by ex-guerrillas from the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against ethnic minorities and political opponents.
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 Dutch foreign ministry said in a statement that this is a sensitive issue in Kosovo, as possible suspects may be seen by parts of Kosovan society as freedom fighters, and witnesses may feel threatened in Kosovo. The ministry explained that was the reason why these cases will be tried outside the country. The request for the court to be located in the Netherlands came from the European Union.
The court is officially called the Kosovo Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution, and is expected to begin operations during the course of this year. The premises will be located in the former Europol building, once an extension has been built for a courtroom. The court will be paid for by EU funds.
The new court will be made up of international judges and will be established under Kosovan law. Convicted persons will not serve their sentences in the Netherlands.
The governments of the Netherlands and Kosovo have already concluded a seat agreement which sets out the arrangements that apply to the court, but which still have to be approved by the parliaments in each country.
Kosovo's parliament opened the way for the establishment of the tribunal in August last year, by approving Amendment 24 to the constitution, despite protests from the opposition.
In September, Kosovo’s Constitutional Court declared inadmissible the request of opposition parties to void the constitutional changes. The opposition said at the time that the decision was scandalous.
Allegations that members of the former KLA 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.
According to some reports, around 10,000 people died in the conflict, with about 1,700 still missing.