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Comment: No Justice for Kosovo

Why are so many of those responsible for war crimes in Kosovo never brought to justice?
By Adriatik Kelmendi

Experience has taught us that war crimes in the Balkans tend to follow the plot of a Hollywood horror film.


The killings start. A killer is identified. He’s then killed or incarcerated.


However, in these movies, as in the Balkans, there is always a final scene when another character shows up who, the audience is left thinking, might continue to prey on the innocent.


This is an important device, both for keeping the audience on edge, and providing material for a sequel.


I wonder whether we in Kosovo are to witness a re-run of the Balkan horror movie?


Investigators have probed Kosovo and come up with five indictments. Four of those charged with war crimes are standing trial and the fifth has committed suicide.


If the former are found guilty - as is expected - will this draw a line under the war crimes issue in Kosovo. The answer is no. Because for every investigation completed, many more were never opened - and those who perpetrated crimes in the region remain free.


And for this, UNMIK, the UN body that runs Kosovo, must take some of the blame.


On January 12, 2001, the former special representative of the UN Secretary General, Bernard Kouchner, signed regulation 2001/1 preventing the trial in absentia of those accused of violating international humanitarian law.


The move is in line with The Hague tribunal’s statute.


But it means that suspects who never get caught can never be judged – irrespective of the weight of evidence against them.


In Kosovo, this covers a lot of people, because those accused of leading paramilitary and security forces against local civilians are now living in Serbia or Montenegro.


In some cases, we even know the addresses of these people.


The few still living in Kosovo are protected by living in Serb enclaves, where the Kosovo Police Service cannot reach them.


And there is a belief among representatives of the international community in Kosovo that a Serb tried in a local court, presided over by an Albanian judge, will not get a fair trial.


International chief prosecutor in Kosovo Michael Hartman said in an interview with the Financial Times, “Local judges believe that all Serbs are guilty.”


This belief appears to follow the fact that several Serbs were found guilty by local courts of war crimes and jailed - but then freed by international judges on appeal.


The appeal judges said the Serbs should be free because they did not get a fair trial and their guilt was not proven.


But many here believe the original prison sentences - which included terms of up to 20 years - must stand as the judges were legitimately appointed.


The fact that so many of these cases were overturned leads many here to think that there is a secret agreement between the international judges and Belgrade.


No one’s come up with any solid evidence for this, but there’s a deep suspicion that the decision to free these Serbs is part of a deal by the international community to encourage Belgrade to release ethnic Albanians being held in Serbian jails.


The local prosecutors office deals not just with allegations of war crimes by Serbs against ethnic Albanians, but also with the reverse.


Some of the latter - issued by Nebojsa Covic's Coordination Centre for Kosovo, based in Belgrade - include demands that Albanian suspects be extradited to Serbia, among them several former commanders of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.


International prosecutors are considering these cases, and I would say this is normal - except there is no reciprocity, which is not surprising since Belgrade doesn't even recognise the Kosovo courts and still maintains that the only legitimate judges are the former Serb ones who, they say, are “temporarily displaced” in Serb towns.


To illustrate this, there is the case of more than 40 Serb fugitives who escaped from Kosovo prisons.


Prosecutors here have evidence that they are hiding in Serbia.


The supposedly democratic government in Belgrade has so far not undertaken any arrest, trial or extradition of these men.


I do not know if Michael Steiner, the new UN representative in Kosovo, has ever brought up this issue during his many meetings with Belgrade officials.


If he hasn’t then he should, because the absence of justice is hampering the process of reconciliation in Kosovo.


Those who’ve suffered at the hands of Serbian forces and later from some vengeful Albanians know the dead cannot be brought back. But in order for them to turn a new chapter in their lives, they need to see the perpetrators of crimes against them punished.


The Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has herself said recently that the tribunal is helping reconciliation in the Balkans, so isn’t it time that it did more to bring this process about in Kosovo and spare us a sequel of the Balkan horror movie.


Adriatik Kelmendi is a political commentator for the Pristina-based daily newspaper Koha Ditore.