Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Haradinaj Asks for Provisional Release

Lawyers argue for and against allowing former Kosovo prime minister to await his war crimes trial at home.
By Goran Jungvirth

War crimes suspect and former Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj’s request for provisional release was debated in The Hague tribunal this week.


Haradinaj, who surrendered to the tribunal in March 2004, is facing 37 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war. Prosecutors allege that he, as one of the Kosovo Liberation Army's most influential leaders, participated in a brutal campaign to abduct, torture and murder dozens of Serbs, Roma and Albanians in 1998.


However, prosecution and defence alike do not expect proceedings against the KLA leader turned politician to begin until 2007.


At the hearing, the prosecution outlined a series of reasons why it opposes provisional release, which would allow the suspect to live in his community until such time as the trial begins.


Prosecutor Dermot Groome argued that witness intimidation was a serious problem in Kosovo. He cited the 2004 trial of the accused's brother Daut Haradinaj and four others, in which they were found guilty of murder, as an example. He presented the court with an IWPR report which detailed the deaths of some ten potential witnesses and innocent passers-by during the course of the trial.


The prosecution also highlighted a recent United Nations report on the scaling-down of security measures on Kosovo's border – which they believe would make it easy for the accused to escape if he so wished.


Uncertainty over the future status of the UN protectorate should also be taken into consideration, the prosecutor argued.


The area is currently being governed by the UN Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, but there are no guarantees that this will still be the case in 2007, when the Haradinaj case is expected to come to trial. If not, the responsibility for ensuring that the suspect returns to The Hague would pass to local security forces – which, the prosecution argues, cannot be trusted to deliver their “war hero” to the tribunal.


UNMIK representative Lawrence Rosin gave the tribunal guarantees that it will follow Haradinaj’s movements if he is provisionally released, and monitor the conditions of his release for any violations. If any occur, he told the court, the suspect would be arrested and returned to the tribunal’s detention centre without fail.


“UNMIK is responsible for Kosovo’s provisional government and has the power to demand and enforce the tribunal's demands,” said Rosin, adding that the current security situation in Kosovo is at its most stable since 1999.


When asked what might happen if the UN body was no longer in control of the protectorate in 2007, Rosin said, “Maybe the mandate to govern Kosovo will be given to some other international organisation.”


The prosecution has challenged previous applications for provisional release on the grounds that the accused has a good relationship with many senior UNMIK figures which may complicate their attempts to force him to return to The Hague when needed.


In response, defence lawyer Ben Emmerson told the court that Haradinaj was considered by the international community to be a stabilising force in Kosovo, and had a good record of cooperation with the tribunal.


Haradinaj had resigned as prime minister when the indictment against him was made public, the lawyer argued, and had travelled to The Hague to face the charges at the first opportunity. There was nothing to suggest, he said, that this good record of behaviour would not continue while on provisional release.


The defence team also pointed out that Haradinaj has already been granted provisional leave – to attend a family funeral – and had complied with all the court’s conditions.


Haradinaj himself told the court that he had respect for the tribunal and for the rule of law.


“This will continue,” he said. “I’ve never influenced on any court trial or witness. On the contrary, when I found myself in that position I always stood for the enforcement of public peace and safety.”


The tribunal will now deliberate the application for provisional release. A judgement will be announced in due course.


Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR contributor in Zagreb.