Friday

19th Aug 2022

Interview

Kosovo PM attacks 'mono-ethnic' EU justice

  • Ramush Haradinaj: ICTY twice acquitted him of alleged torture and murder of Serbs and Serb collaborators in Kosovo detention camps (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Letting Serb war crime suspects go free while pursuing Kosovar ones only is bad for Western Balkans reconciliation, Kosovo's outgoing prime minister has said.

"I'm in favour of justice for all victims, not differentiating them by their ethnicity. I'm against selective justice," Ramush Haradinaj told EUobserver in an interview.

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"It's a mono-ethnic court and it's not good for the other victims," he added, referring to the Kosovo Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution (KRSJI), an EU-sponsored tribunal in The Hague.

The EU created the KRSJI in 2016 to look into allegations that top commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a guerrilla force, were guilty of atrocities against Serbs in Kosovo's war of independence.

It began work just as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), also in The Hague, which had focused on Serb atrocities, wound up its mandate at the end of 2017.

But for Haradinaj, the ICTY had failed to punish several Serbs who had committed "many massacres, many war crimes ... against Albanian civilians".

"I can mention the massacres of Meja, Krusha e Madhe, of Kralan, of Lubenic, of Poklek, Izbicé, of Raçak, Qyshk, and Podujevë ... hundred of massacres by the Serbian army, police, and paramilitary forces, against civilians all around Kosovo," he said.

Haradinaj, a former KLA commander, resigned from his job in July after the new EU-backed tribunal stigmatised him as a suspect.

"For a prime minister to be a suspect in a court and to run the government is very difficult for our country, for the credibility of our state," he told this website.

But the fact the KRSJI had hauled him in for questions over allegations which the ICTY had already twice rejected, in 2008 and 2012, indicated there was something fishy in The Hague, he added.

"It doesn't look like rule of law ... it's a political prosecution," he said.

"I link this to my position on different issues, such as the land swap," he added, referring to plans, which Haradinaj had opposed but which were supported in some international quarters, to exchange an ethnic Serb enclave in Kosovo for an Albanian one in Serbia in the name of peace between the two sides.

The outgoing PM contrasted Kosovar attitudes to the war compared to Serb ones 20 years after the violence, which claimed some 11,000 ethnic Albanian and 2,000 Serb lives.

Former KLA leaders, such as himself, had fully complied with the ICTY and KRSJI processes, while Serbia still sheltered fugitives, Haradinaj said.

"Belgrade has denied a lot of what happened in the past ... It would be critical for Serbia to start apologising to Kosovar people for the suffering it caused," he added.

The KRSJI and its constituent parts, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) and Specialist Prosecutor's Office, are, legally speaking, Kosovar institutions under Kosovar law.

The EU put them in The Hague and stuffed them with international judges to prevent witness intimidation and to guarantee due process.

But Kosovar MPs could still vote to change the nature of its work or its location if they dared to defy EU plans.

For her part, a spokeswoman for the KSC told this website that its mandate was "not linked to any ethnic group or community".

In theory, "the KSC has jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, war crimes and other crimes, that allegedly occurred between 1 January 1998 and 31 December 2000, that were committed or commenced in Kosovo and where the victim or the perpetrator are from Kosovo or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia," she said.

But under its current mandate, "the crimes have to be related to those reported in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly report from 2011, she added, referring to a pan-European human rights watchdog in Strasbourg.

And that 2011 report, written by a Swiss senator called Dick Marty, looked at allegations of KLA crimes only.

Dangerous idea

Returning to the land-swap project, Haradinaj warned that trying to change borders along ethnic lines "would be a call to going back to the tragedies of the past".

"This idea is extremely dangerous for Kosovo and for the stability of the whole Western Balkans region," the former guerrilla chief said.

Ethnic Serb municipalities in Kosovo should be able to form associations "to accommodate the expectations of the Kosovar Serb minority", Haradinaj said, referring to an alternative peace formula.

But the ethnic Serb clubs should not have "legislative and executive powers", he added, otherwise Kosovo risked becoming a second Bosnia, a federation that was fractured along ethnic lines, he also warned.

Haradinaj spoke to EUobserver after France recently caused shock by vetoing the start of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania in October.

It did so on grounds the EU enlargement process ought to be reformed before it took any more big steps in the Western Balkans.

But for many in the region it was a sign the EU was putting the brakes on enlargement due to internal politics.

Zagreb summit

And for Kosovo's outgoing prime minister, it was "of huge importance" that France lifted its veto by the time that EU and Western Balkans leaders met at a special summit in Croatia in May.

"If we, the leaders of our countries, do not deliver and do not bring results back home for our citizens, then the agenda of European euro-Atlantic integration would become much more difficult," Haradinaj said.

"The enthusiasm of citizens [to join the EU] would decrease, I'm afraid," he added.

Kosovo lagged far behind Serbia on the road to EU membership, but European leaders in Zagreb ought, at least, to let its people travel to the EU just as freely as everybody else does in the region, Haradinaj also said.

"It's critical to achieve the right of visa-free movement to the EU for our isolated citizens, the only ones in the whole Western Balkans [who still required EU travel permits]," he said.

"We have fulfilled all the criteria and benchmarks for visa liberalisation for quite some time already and now we're just waiting for the EU decision," Haradinaj said.

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