Liberating Ramush Haradinaj: What consequences for Europe?

Blind justice or a miscarriage of justice?

, by Translated by Florent Banfi, Dumitru Drumea

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Liberating Ramush Haradinaj: What consequences for Europe?

On 3 April 2008 the International Court for the former Yugoslavia acquitted Ramush Haradinaj, former Prime Minister of Kosovo and general of the Liberation Army of Kosovo (KLA). Acquitted along with Haradinaj was Idriz Balaj, commander of a special unit of the KLA that stands accused of having organized the ethnic cleansing and torture of Serbs in Kosovo. In the third act of this trial, Lahi Brahimaj, a close family relative of Haradinaj, was sentenced to 6 years in prison.

The International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established in 1993, when, thanks to the American press, European and world public opinion became aware of the atrocities committed during the war in the Republic of Yugoslavia. It was established following Resolution 827 of the United Nations Security Council for a period of 17 years, and its mandate ends in 2010.

The court is charged with the unenviable task of ruling upon all crimes committed on the territory of former Yugoslavia. Some are challenging its jurisdiction over specific issues, others the objectivity of some of its judgments. Such was the case of acquittal of Ramush Haradinaj, after which some countries have called for independent reports to be made upon the Court and its activities, and research to be made to find evidence against the accused.

A miscarriage of justice?

The first of Mr. Haradinaj’s victims date back to 1998 (several months before Milosevic’s intervention in Kosovo). Under his orders executions were carried out of Kosovar Serbs, Albanians accused of collaboration with Belgrade, and many ethnic Roma. A total of 37 people were executed but this number omits the hundreds of missing persons who have never been found. This number also stands in conflict with the Serbian police estimate which puts the death count at 60 people. The prosecutor Carla Del Ponte demanded and won a sentence of 25 years in prison for Haradinaj for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Another participant of this trial, Idriz Balaj, nicknamed “Lieutenant” and known for having created the special unit “black eagles,” dealt primarily with the intimidation of Kosovar Serbs, forcing them to leave the region in order to establish control of the Liberation Army of Kosovo (KLA). Balaj was fully acquitted. Only Lahi Bahimaj, accused of kidnapping, torture and murder was sentenced, but only 6 years instead of the 25 requested by the prosecutor. In the end, only two charges were levelled against him: torture and inhumane treatment.

The press has played a key role in intimidating witnesses and often run stories that describe the strange deaths of people who testified against KLA guerrillas.

The final act of the court in The Hague was to claim that the accused were acquitted due to a lack of evidence. However at the same time the judges admitted that “the House had the clear impression that the trial was taking place in a dangerous climate and witnesses felt endangered.” The press has played a key role in intimidating witnesses and often run stories that describe the strange deaths of people who testified against KLA guerrillas. One such story is of Rom Kujtim Berisha, who died in a freak car accident in Montenegro in 2007.

What are the consequences for Kosovo?

How will we find other criminals like Radovan Karadzic or Ratko Mladic who are protected by Serbia after such a judgement from the ICTY? The resignation of Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica following Kosovo’s declaration of independence has prompted new elections. These elections will take place in a very friendly climate for the nationalistic candidates. The tense atmosphere in Kosovo between Serb and Kosovar populations has further increased following the acquittal, which was celebrated as a victory by Albanians. In addition, the acquitted are known to have close ties to current leaders. In other words, the feeling of insecurity among Serbs living in the north will continue to grow.

We still can hope that the new European Union mission in Kosovo, the publication of memoirs by Carla del Ponte and awareness in European public opinion of atrocities committed by both sides will one day bring justice to the families of all victims, be they Serb or Albanian and finally bring peace to the Balkans.

Image: picture of Ramush Haradinaj taken from the website of the United Nations

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