Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Defence lawyers for ex-Kosovo premier Ramush Haradinaj this week challenged the account of a protected witness who testified about the defendant’s treatment of a rival army during the late 1990s conflict in Kosovo.
Haradinaj, former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, is being retried at The Hague tribunal on six counts of murder, torture and cruel treatment after being acquitted of all 37 counts against him in 2008.
All of the current charges concern the KLA headquarters in Jablanica, which prosecutors say was used to beat, torture and imprison those who were or perceived to be Serbian collaborators, regardless of their ethnicity.
The indictment also alleges that Haradinaj participated in a joint criminal enterprise by “excluding all rivals to KLA forces, such as the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo (FARK)… in order to provide his soldiers with the ability to dominate the area and persecute civilians”.
The partial retrial was ordered after appeal judges found that the original trial had “failed to appreciate the gravity of the threat of witness intimidation posed to the trial’s integrity” and placed too much emphasis “on ensuring that the prosecution took no more than its pre-allotted time to present its case… irrespective of the possibility of securing potentially important testimony”.
They ruled that Haradinaj and one of his co-defendants, Idriz Balaj, should be retried on six counts of murder, cruel treatment and torture, while a third co-accused, Lahi Brahimaj, should retried on four of those counts.
This week’s witness, known only by the number 77, was a FARK soldier during the summer of 1998. He told prosecutors that Haradinaj “sent word” that a FARK brigade “shouldn’t dare to enter further in Kosovo”.
The witness said he obtained this information from his commander, and further stated that there were meetings attended by Haradinaj and FARK commanders to discuss the situation, but he was not present at any of them.
However, after one of the meetings, he said he was told that “orders were given for us to go back to Albania and not enter further into Kosovo”.
Sometime after this, the witness said that Haradinaj and other KLA soldiers entered the facility that FARK soldiers were using as barracks and “demanded that facility be vacated in twenty or thirty minutes”.
This didn’t end up happening, and instead an agreement was reached, the witness said.
“Do you know what kind of agreement was reached?” prosecuting lawyer Daniela Kravetz asked.
“I told you that I only know that all the officers returned to the barracks and that’s it,” the witness responded. “I don’t know any more about the agreement because I was not there.”
During the cross-examination, Haradinaj’s lawyer, Ben Emmerson, contended that the witness was misinformed about the nature of the dispute between the two sides. In reality, Emmerson said, the KLA wanted the FARK forces to be distributed in “village defence units” whereas FARK commanders wanted their men to remain together.
“I don’t believe so, I don’t know,” responded the witness, when asked to comment on this proposition.
“You have no idea what the issues were between the two leaderships,” Emmerson remarked a bit later.
“I’m speaking only about what I heard from my superiors,” the witness said. “I said I was never present in meetings.”
Emmerson pointed to the testimony of an unnamed senior FARK commander from the original trial, who testified that the dispute was over the distribution of FARK soldiers, and not about keeping them out of Kosovo altogether.
“I’m inviting you to re-examine you recollection,” Emmerson said.
“That was what I heard from senior commanders, but as far as I know they didn’t agree to be placed … under the command of the KLA,” the witness said.
“So you did know that this was the source of the disagreement—why did say that you didn’t know that?” Emmerson asked.
“I wasn’t asked that question,” the witness said.
“Are you trying to create a picture of conflict between the two forces that is different than reality?” Emmerson asked.
“No, I’m not trying to do that,” the witness said, adding that he hadn’t understood the question clearly.
“I am going to suggest that you’ve come here with an agenda to discredit Mr Haradinaj,” Emmerson said. “What’s your response to that?”
“I’ve not come here to discredit anyone,” the witness said. “I’m simply recounting here what I know. I’m not here to seek revenge, I’m here to seek justice.”
“Do you understand that you’ve given a solemn declaration?” Emmerson asked.
“Of course, that’s why I’m here,” the witness said. “I won’t speak any word I haven’t heard said.”
The witness remarked, however, that it was his impression at the time that Haradinaj was being “disruptive”.
Emmerson then produced testimony from an unnamed senior FARK commander who testified during the first trial and who was present in one of the meetings between the two forces.
According to the transcripts Emmerson read aloud in court, this commander described Haradinaj as “constructive” and “moderate”.
“The witness is deliberately giving the chamber a misleading impression of what he was told, given we have it from the horse’s mouth what the truth was,” Emmerson said.
The witness explained he received his information from the top FARK commander at the time, Tahir Zemaj.
Emmerson said that it was this very commander who partnered with Haradinaj to create “joint brigades” between the two armies.
“How can you possibly have been unaware that an integration was taking place, and that Zemaj agreed with [Haradinaj] to create joint brigades?” Emmerson asked. “How could you not have known that if you were a soldier in one of these brigades?”
“I told you I was just a foot soldier,” the witness replied.
After showing the witness documents establishing the joint brigades, Emmerson asked if the witness accepted that his impression of the armies remaining two separate forces was wrong.
“No, I do not accept that it was wrong,” the witness maintained. “To this day, I continue to think that things were as I thought they were.”
Due to scheduling issues with the remaining witnesses, the trial will not resume until October 25.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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