Courtside: Limaj Case

By Chris Stephen in The Hague (TU 303, 03-07 March 2003)

Courtside: Limaj Case

By Chris Stephen in The Hague (TU 303, 03-07 March 2003)

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

Limaj is accused of responsibility for the execution of 11 prisoners, and the torture and beating of others, while in charge of a KLA prison camp during the Kosovo war. Haradin Bala and Isak Musliu are also named in the same indictment.

Limaj was supposed to have been arrested by NATO commandos, but days before his planned arrest, he flew out of Kosovo for a skiing trip to Slovenia. On hearing that he was wanted, however, he turned himself in to local police officers.

The Hague took no chances on his first appearance. Four blue-uniformed security guards surrounded him as he entered the court, with two remaining on each side during his short appearance. Another eight kept watch in the crowded press and public gallery.

Limaj, 32, appeared in court looking immaculate in a dark suit. But after this build-up, the opening was businesslike. He spoke at first only to confirm his name, nickname and date of birth.

Limaj was told he was being prosecuted for crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. The clerk then read out the eight specific charges. To each he replied “not guilty,” adding, for a charge of murder, “absolutely not guilty.”

Several times, as the accusations were read out, Limaj shook his head and frowned.

Prosecutors say the charges centre on his time as commandant of the prison set up at a key KLA base, Lapusnik, in Kosovo, in 1998.

They accuse him of responsibility - either direct or indirect - for the beatings and torture of prisoners, both ethnic Serbs and also ethnic Albanians.

They also allege that, when Serb forces re-took Lapusnik, the prisoners were marched away, divided into two groups, with one group of 11 men marched into a wood and shot.

Limaj was placed in detention for 120 days.

He is represented by London barrister Karim Khan, a highly-experienced war crimes lawyer who is co-author of the Archibold International Criminal Courts law guide.

The Limaj case has already caused controversy even before the trial opened.

Firstly, because of the failure of NATO in Kosovo to prevent Limaj leaving the protectorate on a scheduled flight days before his arrest.

And there was further trouble two weeks ago when one of the three men jointly accused with Limaj, Agim Murtezi, was released soon after his arrest when prosecutors admitted he had nothing to do with the charges.

In fact, Mr Murtezi was included on the indictment, and then arrested by NATO forces on February 17. Three days later, he pleaded not guilty to charges of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war.

But after complaints from the defence, the prosecutors admitted the mistake. Murtezi appears to have simply shared the same nickname, Murrizi, with a man wanted for war crimes charges.

He was released from detention by Judge Liu Daqun on February 28 and returned to Kosovo. However, as IWPR went to press this week, his name still appears on the copy of the indictment on the tribunal website.

Chris Stephen is the IWPR bureau chief in The Hague.

Support our journalists