The new chief prosecutor of an international effort to bring to justice those responsible for atrocities during Kosovo's battle for independence pledged Thursday to carry out his investigations "without fear or favor."
David Schwendiman, a former U.S. federal prosecutor who has also worked in Bosnia and Afghanistan, told reporters he is "aware of the political sensitivity of what I am doing," but stressed "I will be guided only by the facts and the law."
Schwendiman was speaking at his first press conference since his appointment Sept. 1 as lead prosecutor at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, a separate branch of the Kosovo courts that will have its headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands.
Schwendiman is investigating allegations made in a 2010 Council of Europe report that senior members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), including current Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, ran detention centers where civilian captives including Serbs were killed and their organs sold on the black market during Kosovo's 1998-99 war for independence from Serbia. Thaci denies the claims.
While the Council of Europe named suspects it alleged were involved in such atrocities, Schwendiman said he would not identify suspects until he was ready to file charges.
"You will know when someone is accused when an indictment or charging document accusing them is made public," he said.
The court's registrar, Fidelma Donlon, said it aims to begin "judicial activity" in the first half of next year. That will likely involve judges adopting rules to govern how trials will be run.
Key to the new court's success will be its ability to protect witnesses willing to testify. United Nations attempts to prosecute former KLA fighters for crimes including murder and torture were largely unsuccessful because of what judges called widespread intimidation of witnesses.
Donlon said the court would "implement the highest standards of protection" for witnesses and others involved in trials.
"This is something we take very seriously," she said.