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Kosovo Defendant Runs for Parliament

Hague prosecutors and Serbs in the region are concerned at Ramush Haradinaj’s election plans.
By Aleksandar Roknić

Prosecutors fear that a decision to allow Ramush Haradinaj, currently on trial for war crimes in The Hague, to run for parliament in Kosovo will be accompanied by an upsurge in threats to witnesses in the case against him.

Serbs in Kosovo also expressed consternation at the decision, which they said reflected underlying western sympathies for the ethnic Albanian former guerrilla leader and politician, who served as Kosovo’s prime minister before handing himself over to The Hague in 2005.

Last week, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, said it had no objection to Haradinaj running in the November election.

Haradinaj, one of the commanders in the Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas in their battles with Serbian government forces in 1997-99, is currently detained in The Hague and standing trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, charged with 17 counts of crimes against humanity.

But he remains popular in Kosovo, where former guerrillas dominate the government, and he heads the election list of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, a party he founded in 2000.

“We think that participation by Haradinaj would make the witness situation worse,” Olga Kavran, spokeswoman for tribunal prosecutors, told IWPR. “We have 14 subpoenas for witnesses to appear before the court, and at least 10 of those people have said that they have received threats, both directed at them and at their families, linked to their testimony. Several days ago, the tribunal ordered us to start an investigation into a witness who refused to be present at the court.”

Prosecutors allege that Haradinaj’s forces persecuted civilians and maintained a torture chamber at KLA headquarters in Jablanica between March and September 1998. According to the indictment, KLA forces under his command, “harassed, beat or otherwise drove Serbian civilian and Roma civilians out of… villages, and killed those civilians that remained behind or had refused to abandon their homes”. It said other attacks also targeted Serb and Roma civilians, as well as ethnic Albanians seen as collaborators.

The indictment says that at the end of August 1998, Serbian forces temporarily recaptured an area where they found the remains of at least 39 people, several of whom had been identified Serb, Roma and Albanian civilians who disappeared in the Dukagjin area while Haradinaj’s forces held sway there.

UNMIK spokesman Alexander Ivanko said the international community could not stop Haradinaj taking part, and was “just respecting the Kosovo constitution” which allows trial defendants considerable freedom of action.

“The constitution says that people sentenced by the tribunal can’t take part in elections, and neither can people who are indicted and refuse to cooperate with the tribunal,” he said. “A person is innocent till proven guilty. Haradinaj was charged, he voluntarily surrendered to the tribunal and he cooperates, so the Kosovo constitution allows him to participate in the elections.”

This is not the first time a defendant at The Hague has run for public office. Former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, who was on for trial for war crimes until he died in custody in the Netherlands last year, headed the party list for his Socialist Party of Serbia in 2003 and 2004.

Another Serbian defendant, Vojislav Seselj, ran for parliament while in custody, and his Serbian Radical Party emerged with the biggest share of the vote in elections earlier this year.

However, the tribunal restricted public appearances by the two men since their actions broke the terms of custody rules – something it has so far refused to do for Haradinaj.

Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs condemned the international community’s refusal to curb Haradinaj’s election ambitions as hypocritical. They alleged that Britain and the United States, both of which regarded Haradinaj as a friend before his indictment in 2005, were blocking efforts to stop his political campaign.

“Without the permission of these countries, this would not be possible,” said Marko Jaksic, head of the Serb National Council of Northern Kosovo.

“Over the last 20 years, the international community has had a policy of double standards in the Balkans. One standard applies to Kosovo Albanians and another to Kosovo Serbs.”

“This approach is widening the divide between Kosovo’s Albanians and Serbs.”

Aleksandar Roknic is a regular IWPR contributor in Belgrade.

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