Mass protest in Pristina ahead of former Kosovan president Thaci's trial

Mass protest in Pristina ahead of former Kosovan president Thaci's trial
Hashim Thaci and three other former KLA commanders are charged with committing war crimes during the independence war with Serbia in 1998-1999.
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje April 3, 2023

The Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) is set to begin its trial against Kosovo's former president and ex-guerilla leader Hashim Thaci and three other former commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), who are charged with war crimes committed during the independence war with Serbia in 1998-1999, on April 3.

The trial is one of the most significant war crimes trials in recent years. Thaci, as a former commander of the KLA, together with other former commanders - Kadri Veseli, Jakup Krasniqi and Rexhep Selimi - have been in custody in The Hague since November 2020.

The KLA war for Kosovo's independence from Serbia ended with Nato air strikes on Serbia in 1999. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but their relations are still strained as Belgrade does not recognise Kosovo as a state.

Thaci and the other accused are charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes, allegedly committed by members of the KLA against hundreds of civilians.

On April 2, thousands of people from Kosovo, Albania and other areas with Albanian populations, took to the streets in Pristina to support Thaci and other former KLA leaders who are currently on trial in The Hague, Kosovan broadcaster RTK reported.

The marchers said the freedom of Kosovo is thanks to the KLA's war, and they demanded justice for the Albanians who were killed during the war of 1998-1999, as well as clarification about the fate of the missing.

Police units were successful in maintaining order and public peace, and the participants dispersed peacefully at the end of the march.

The indictment against the four accused was confirmed on October 26, 2020, and has since been amended several times. The redacted version of the indictment was filed on February 27, 2023, and is currently the operative indictment in this case, Kosovo Specialist Chambers said on April 2.

The defendants are charged on the basis of individual criminal responsibility with six counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes, including persecution, imprisonment, other inhumane acts, torture, murder, enforced disappearance of persons, illegal and arbitrary arrest and detention, cruel treatment, torture and murder.

The indictment alleges that the crimes charged were committed from at least March 1998 through September 1999 in several locations across Kosovo, as well as in Kukes and Cahan in northern Albania. The crimes were allegedly part of a widespread and systematic attack against people suspected of being opposed to the KLA and were committed in the context of a non-international armed conflict in Kosovo.

The trial proceedings will begin with opening statements from the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (SPO), victims’ counsel and the four defence teams.

The defence teams' opening statements are scheduled to begin on April 4.

140 individuals have been admitted to participate in the proceedings as victims. This includes both individuals who were directly subjected to harm and individuals who indirectly suffered harm, such as those who were in a close relationship with a direct victim who was allegedly killed or injured.

The presentation of evidence in the trial, including the calling of witnesses by the SPO, will begin on April 11.

Thaci resigned as president of Kosovo on November 5, 2020, after the Kosovo Specialist Chambers confirmed the first indictment against him. On the same day he was sent to the detention centre in The Hague. The three other defendants were also arrested the same day. All the charges have been dismissed by the four KLA leaders.