Archive for the ‘War Crimes’ Category

‘Compelling evidence’ for Kosovo Liberation Army crimes
Eva Wutke
Deutsche Welle | 29.07.2014

The EU’s Special Investigative Task Force said it has evidence to file an indictment against former senior officials of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army. They are accused of violating international humanitarian law.


In a statement made on Tuesday (29.07.2014), the European Union Special Investigative Task Force (SITF) announced its findings on the alleged crimes committed by members of ethnic-Albanian rebel organization Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which sought Kosovo’s separation from Serb territories in the 1990s. According to the SITF’s chief prosecutor, Clint Williamson (pictured), some of the KLA’s senior officials committed crimes against humanity and war crimes following the end of the Kosovo War in 1999.

The SITF says it found evidence "that certain elements of the KLA intentionally targeted the minority populations with acts of persecution that included unlawful killings, abductions, enforced disappearances, illegal detentions in camps in Kosovo and Albania, sexual violence, other forms of inhumane treatment, forced displacements of individuals from their homes and communities, and desecration and destruction of churches and other religious sites."

Williamson underlined that the victims of these crimes were mainly Serbs, Roma and other minorities, but also Kosovo Albanians who were labeled as either collaborators with the Serbs or political opponents of the KLA leadership.

‘Intense’ investigation

The SITF was set up by the European Union in September 2011 to conduct a full-scale criminal investigation into the allegations contained in the report of Council of Europe Rapporteur Dick Marty, who claimed he had information about former KLA officials harvesting and trafficking human organs.

Many people were mistreated by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the SITF found

"Over the past two and a half years, the SITF has conducted an intense, detailed investigation into the allegations in the Marty Report," wrote Williamson the statement. "This investigation has involved interviews of hundreds of witnesses in countries throughout Europe and elsewhere. It has involved the review of thousands of pages of documents compiled by numerous organizations and individuals that were engaged in Kosovo during and after the period of our investigative focus."

He added that the investigation has been a "challenging exercise" but was nevertheless convinced that it has been "the most comprehensive investigation ever done of crimes perpetrated in the period after the war ended in Kosovo in June 1999."

Planned indictments

In its press release, the SITF claims it can file an indictment against KLA individuals once "an appropriate judicial mechanism is established to host a fully independent, impartial and transparent trial that ensures the highest standards of security for witnesses and for criminal proceedings."

No names of the alleged perpetrators have been released at this stage. According to the SITF spokesman, the organization is not yet in a position to file an indictment and no individuals will be named before then.

The SITF is optimistic about the outcome of the planned judicial proceedings as it believes it holds strong evidence, the spokesman told DW. Also, based on the level of cooperation displayed by Kosovo so far, the organization is confident that anyone who is indicted will surrender voluntarily and submit to the judicial process.

Williamson thanked the European Union, its member states and international partners for their ongoing efforts in setting up a court for the proceedings.


Senior Guerrilla Leaders Tied to Acts of Persecution After Civil War
NYT | JULY 29, 2014

PARIS — A special European Union prosecutor said Tuesday that senior members of the Kosovo Liberation Army engaged in a campaign of persecution against ethnic Serbs after the 1998-99 Kosovo war, and said evidence suggested that the armed group had targeted a number of individuals after the war to harvest and sell their organs.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Feb. 17, 2008, almost a decade after NATO bombs helped eject the former Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic from Kosovo, ending a brutal civil war against the ethnic Albanian majority. But regional reconciliation has been hampered by accusations that senior members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, known by its initials K.L.A., have not been held fully accountable for suspected war crimes.

A European Union task force was set up in September 2011 under the leadership of Clint Williamson, an American diplomat who served as the war crimes envoy in the administrations of George W. Bush and President Obama. The task force was created after a Council of Europe report accused Kosovo’s prime minister, Hashim Thaci, the former commander of the K.L.A. of having led a “mafialike” group that smuggled human organs, weapons and heroin during and after the war. Mr. Thaci has strenuously rejected those accusations and the Kosovo government at the time called them “despicable.”

While refusing to describe whether Kosovo’s current political leadership was potentially implicated in war crimes, Mr. Williamson said at a news conference on Tuesday in Brussels that the suspects included “individuals at the most senior levels of the K.L.A.”

He said senior officials of the guerrilla group had intentionally targeted minority populations with acts of persecution that included “unlawful killings, abductions, enforced disappearances, illegal detentions in camps in Kosovo and Albania, sexual violence, other forms of inhumane treatment, forced displacements of individuals from their homes and communities, and desecration and destruction of churches and other religious sites.”

Mr. Williamson added that the practice of removing organs for transplant had occurred on a limited scale and that evidence suggested that a “handful” of individuals were killed for the purpose of extracting and trafficking their organs. But he said there was currently insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone for the crimes, adding that the investigation had been tainted by witness intimidation in Kosovo.

"If even one person was subjected to such practice that is a terrible tragedy,” he said, referring to the accusations of organ trafficking. “The fact that it occurred on a small scale does not lessen the savagery of the crime.”

He said the persecution resulted in the ethnic cleansing of minority Serb and Roma communities from parts of the country. It also targeted ethnic Albanians who were political enemies of K.L.A. leaders, he said.

Mr. Williamson’s statements are a blow to Kosovo, a poor country that has been struggling to find international legitimacy since it declared independence with the support of the United States and a majority of European Union countries. His conclusions will most likely be welcomed by Serbia, which has long argued that international justice has unfairly focused on Serbs suspected of war crimes at the expense of those who targeted Serbs during the war and its aftermath.

On Tuesday, the Kosovo government said it was determined to cooperate with the investigation. Petrit Selimi, the deputy foreign minister, said Mr. Williamson’s statements offered no new elements. “Kosovo’s war for liberty was a just cause supported by the free world, while individuals who may have allegedly engaged in unlawful behavior under the umbrella of a guerrilla army must face justice,” he said in an emailed statement.

The possible indictment of K.L.A. leaders comes more than a decade after the alleged war crimes occurred. There is no statute of limitations for war crimes under international law, a fact that has fueled several efforts to document crimes in Syria’s continuing war, including seven successive reports by a United Nations commission of inquiry.

Mr. Williamson said a special tribunal was expected to be established early next year, with the goal of trying alleged war crimes committed in the immediate aftermath of the Kosovo war. Crimes committed during the war have been tried in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, where Mr. Williamson was once a prosecutor.

The new court is likely to face challenges. Past investigations of reports of organ trafficking in Kosovo have been undermined by witnesses’ fears of testifying in a small country where clan ties run deep and former members of the K.L.A. are still feted as heroes.

Former leaders of the K.L.A. occupy high posts in the government, and the extent to which they will cooperate with investigations remains unclear.


Signs of organ harvesting found in Kosovo conflict | Jul 30, 2014

An EU-led inquiry prompted by a 2011 report by a Swiss politician has found “compelling indications” that Kosovo Albanian guerrillas extracted body organs from Serb captives during the 1998-99 war and sold them.

But the practice was not widespread and there was not enough evidence for a trial, according to the lead investigator.

After a three-year investigation, the EU-led task force said there was, however, enough evidence to prosecute former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) for war crimes against the ethnic Serb and Roma populations of Kosovo during the conflict.

The investigation was prompted by a 2011 report by Council of Europe member Dick Marty which accused senior KLA commanders of involvement in the smuggling of Serb prisoners into northern Albania and the removal of their organs for sale.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, himself a former KLA leader who was named in Marty’s report, has dismissed the accusations as an attempt to tarnish the Kosovo Albanian fight for independence.

Thaci, accused by Marty of heading a “mafia-style organisation”, lived in Switzerland between 1994 and 1998 and was given political asylum.

US prosecutor John Clint Williamson, who led the investigation, said there was no evidence of widespread organ harvesting, but that the crime had occurred a number of times.

“There are compelling indications that this practice did occur on a very limited scale and that a small number of individuals were killed for the purpose of extracting and trafficking their organs,” he told journalists on Tuesday.

Other crimes perpetrated by senior KLA members, such as unlawful killings and forced disappearances, amounted to the ethnic cleansing of large portions of the Serb and Roma populations, and there was enough evidence to prosecute, Williamson said.

Marty, interviewed on Swiss public television RTS on Tuesday, said he regretted that it had taken so long for people to take note of his report.

“The international community could have brought this to light years ago,” he said.

Dark cloud

The task force will file its indictment against former KLA leaders for war crimes once an ad hoc tribunal has been set up by the European Union and Kosovo, something Williamson said would happen next year. He did not name the people likely to be indicted.

Prime Minister Thaci said in a statement the government would continue cooperating with the task force.

“The government of the Republic of Kosovo appreciates the completion of ambassador Williamson’s work, which is an important step to determine potential individual responsibility and gives an end to the claims of the unfounded charges.”

Serbia’s counter-insurgency campaign of 1998 and 1999 eventually drew in NATO, which bombed for 78 days to drive out Serbian forces behind the killings of Kosovo Albanian civilians. Around 10,000 Albanians and just over 2,000 Serbs are believed to have been killed during and immediately after the war.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but the EU still plays a guiding role in policing and justice, particularly cases of war crimes.

Efforts to investigate alleged war crimes committed by the guerrillas have run up against widespread intimidation in a small country where clan loyalties run deep and former KLA rebels are revered as heroes.

Williamson condemned what he called “active efforts” to undermine the investigation.

“As long as a few powerful people continue to thwart investigations into their own criminality, the people of Kosovo as a whole pay the price as this leaves a dark cloud over the country.”