War crimes tribunal acquits ex-KLA commander

The Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on Nov. 39 acquitted former Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) commanders Ramush Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Laji Brahimaj of all charges. Haradinaj (Kosova's former prime minister) was a commander of the KLA in the Dukagjin area of western Kosova; Balaj, a commander of a special operations unit known as the Black Eagles; and Brahimaj was deputy commander of the Dukagjin Operative Zone. In April 2008, the Trial Chamber originally acquitted Haradinaj of all charges, as was Balaj, but Brahimaj was convicted of mistreating a detainee and ordering the mistreatment of another, and was sentenced to six years. However, in July 2010, the ICTY Appeals Chamber reversed the judgments, finding that the Trial Chamber had failed to take sufficient steps to counter witness intimidation. The ICTY began the retrial in August 2011, with the prosecutor seeking a 20-year sentence for Haradinaj. However, the Trial Chamber rendered judgment in favor of the defendants, ordering for their immediate release.

<--break->Since its establishment in 1993, the ICTY has indicted 161 people for violations of humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001; of those indicted, the trials of 128 have concluded, with proceedings for 33 currently ongoing. On Nov. 23, the ICTY overturned the convictions of two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, for crimes against humanity and war crimes against Serb civilians committed during a 1995 military blitz. Ex-Yugoslav army chief Momcilo Perisic began his appeal before the ICTY last October in an attempt to overturn his conviction on crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the wars in Bosnia and Croatia. ( Perisic is the only Yugoslav officer to be convicted by the ICTY, although he was effectively fighting for Serbia.) Earlier that October, the ICTY opened the trial of Goran Hadzic, a former Croatian Serb leader, the last suspect remaining to be tried by the court.

From Jurist, Nov. 29. Used with permission.

See our last post on the ex-Yugoslavia.

  1. Kosova demands investigation into ex-UN prosecutor
    Kosova authorities called for an investigation into the work of former UN chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte for her role in bringing war crimes charges against former Kosova prime minister and Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) commander Ramush Haradinaj. Del Ponte, a Swiss lawyer, worked at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) from 1999-2008. Haradinaj, a Kosovar Albanian former guerrilla commander, was acquitted on crimes against humanity for the second time last week in a retrial at the ICTY. The ICTY judges ruled “that there was insufficient evidence to establish the existence of a joint criminal enterprise in relation to the commission of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war” by Haradinaj during the 1998-99 Kosova war with Serbia.

    Kosova’s government issued a statement claiming the charges were unfounded and accused del Ponte of abusing her power in bringing charges against Haradinaj. The Kosova government believes del Ponte’s actions were criminal and urged the secretary general of the tribunal, the UN and other international authorities to investigate her work. All but one of the Kosovar Albanians that were charged with war crimes during the Kosova war have had their convictions overturned. Kosova Prime Minister Hashim Thaci released a statement after the ruling calling it “just” and “the best proof that the Kosova Liberation Army engaged in a just war for freedom and did not commit the crimes for which we have been unfairly accused.”

    Haradinaj’s retrial began in August 2011. The appeals chamber of the ICTY reversed the acquittal in July 2010 and ordered a retrial for Haradinaj after finding the integrity of the original proceedings was compromised and the Trial Chamber failed to take sufficient steps to counter witness intimidation that permeated the trial. Haradinaj was first acquitted in 2008 when the Trial Chamber found insufficient evidence to establish a criminal enterprise. Del Ponte originally brought charges against Haradinaj and two KLA fighters in 2005 for 37 counts of war crimes including murder, persecution and rape. Del Ponte condemned many politicians of the former Yugoslavia, including Haradinaj, in her book The Hunt: Me and War Criminals that the Swiss government barred her from publicly promoting.

    From Jurist, Dec. 3. Used with permission.
  2. ICTY overturns ex-Yugo army chief war crimes conviction
    The appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Feb. 28 overturned the convictions of ex-Yugoslav army chief Momcilo Perisic for crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. The appeals chamber found that the court’s trial chamber had failed to apply the law correctly when it determined that “specific direction is not an element of aiding and abetting liability.” Because the lower court had erred in its interpretation of the law, the appeals chamber rendered its decision de novo and concluded the evidence against Perisic was not convincing “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The decision to overturn the conviction means that Perisic is once more free and that the ICTY has not convicted any Serbian official for war crimes committed in Bosnia and Croatia.

    From Jurist, Feb. 28. Used with permission.

  3. Yugoslav army general tried for spying for US

    Momcilo Perisic, former chief of staff of the Yugoslav army and deputy prime minister of Serbia, went on trial on Wednesday at the High Court in Belgrade for allegedly passing state secrets to the United States. Perisic, who is on trial alongside two other men, lieutenant-colonel Miodrag Sekulic and civilian Vladan Vlajkovic, has pleaded not guilty. The trial has been closed to the public, as the defense ministry and the Serbian army want the documents that were allegedly passed to the US to remain confidential. (BIRN, Nov. 2)

  4. French court refuses to extradite former Kosovo prime minister

    A French court on April 27 refused an extradition request for former Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, who is facing war crime charges in Serbia. The court released Haradinaj shortly thereafter, giving the parties five days to appeal. The Serbian government has stated the decision is unlawful and has recalled its ambassador in protest. Representatives of the former prime minister state that extradition would have led to an unfair and unbalanced trial. The request came after French police arrested Haradinaj in January on a Serbian arrest warrant, leading to the extradition request and Kosovo requesting the intervention of the European Union. (Jurist, April 27)