Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Appeals judges this week rejected ex-Kosovo president Ramush Haradinaj’s request to be with his wife during the time she is expected to give birth to their third child.
Following an appeal by the prosecution, the appeals chamber overturned an earlier decision by trial judges and said their ruling was “so unreasonable as to constitute an abuse of its discretion”.
“The trial chamber considered that the provisional release of Haradinaj would add to the threatening atmosphere for witnesses and might encourage his supporters to engage in acts of intimidation,” wrote appeals judges in their December 16 decision.
Trial judges had earlier concluded that “the potential effect” of his provisional release “on the integrity of the proceedings would not be substantial”.
In their original decision, trial judges had considered the relatively short four-week duration of the provisional release, uncertainty about the start date of his partial retrial and the fact that Haradinaj has been in detention since his partial retrial was ordered last July.
However, appeals judges said these reasons do not “obviate…concerns regarding the potential for witness intimidation or the inherent risk to the integrity of the proceedings”.
Haradinaj, former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, was initially acquitted in 2008 of all 37 counts against him. One of his co-accused, Idriz Balaj, was also acquitted at that time, while a third co-accused, Lahi Brahimaj, was found guilty of cruel treatment and torture and sentenced to six years in prison.
However, prosecutors appealed against the acquittals, claiming that the trial had been “infected” by witness intimidation. As a result, they said they were unable to secure the testimony of two key witnesses.
Appeals judges subsequently ruled that all three accused should face a partial retrial on six counts of murder, cruel treatment and torture allegedly committed against Serb civilians and perceived collaborators during the late 1990s conflict in Kosovo.
The appeals chamber said that the trial judges “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”.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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