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Move to Abolish Kosovo War Crimes Court Rattles US, Other Western Allies 

  • Keida Kostreci

FILE - Parliament Speaker Kadri Veseli, center, addresses Kosovo lawmakers during a debate, Aug. 3, 2015, on constitutional amendments that would allow the establishment of a special court to prosecute its top leaders and former guerrilla fighters for war war crimes in capital Pristina on Monday, Aug. 3, 2015.

The United States and other Western countries swiftly condemned a move in Kosovo to scrap a war crimes court, warning that if successful, it would hamper efforts for Euro-Atlantic integration.

“It will be considered by the United States as a stab in the back. Kosovo will be choosing isolation instead of cooperation, and I have to say we would hate to turn the clock back for Kosovo on progress when it has come so far,” U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Greg Delawie said Friday.

The United States has been a key ally and financial backer of Kosovo since it broke away from Serbia and then declared independence in 2008.

“Tonight could be Kosovo’s most dangerous night since the war,’’ British Ambassador Ruairi O’Connell said.

FILE - Kosovo's Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj talks during an interview with Reuters in Pristina, Kosovo, Oct. 16, 2017.
FILE - Kosovo's Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj talks during an interview with Reuters in Pristina, Kosovo, Oct. 16, 2017.

Lawmakers' petition

Both ambassadors were at Kosovo’s Parliament building Friday. They and other Western ambassadors met Saturday behind closed doors with Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj to discuss the issue, after 43 lawmakers moved to present a petition by former fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which seeks to amend the 2015 law that governs the court.

Haradinaj said Saturday that he would respect any decision by the parliament.

Isa Mustafa, Kosovo’s former prime minister and an opposition leader, said the proposal was “devastating for our state and very damaging for justice.”

Lawmakers from the governing coalition, which holds a majority, are pressing for a vote to abolish the court. The vote was scheduled for Friday, but it failed twice because of opposition from other parties.

Parliament speaker Kadri Veseli said lawmakers would continue to attempt to vote on the issue in the coming days. The body is now on recess, however, and this issue most likely will not be taken up until sometime in January.

Kosovo Specialist Chambers

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers court, based in The Hague, was set up as a result of U.S. and European pressure on Kosovo’s government to confront alleged war crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against ethnic Serbs.

Former fighters in Kosovo’s independence movement allegedly have collected more than 16,000 signatures for a petition on the law, seeking to extend its jurisdiction to include Serbs, their former adversaries in a war for independence.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi said on Twitter, “It’s important that everyone continues to be confident about Kosovo’s future and its democratic processes. Kosovo’s society and leadership remain fully committed to democracy, rule of law, reconciliation, dialogue and relations on an equal and fair basis.”

Thaçi, Haradinaj and Veseli are former KLA commanders.

Against abolishing court

On Saturday, U.S. Ambassador Delawie reiterated on Twitter calls not to abolish the court.

Critics of the court, including former KLA fighters, consider it to be discriminating against Albanians. They insist it would punish victims rather than perpetrators, referring to the Serbian campaign against Kosovo that killed about 10,000 Albanian civilians before NATO started airstrikes on Serbia that forced Belgrade to withdraw its troops in 1999.

Unwise move

But Daniel Serwer, a Balkans analyst and director of the Conflict Management Program, told VOA’s Albanian service Saturday that it would be very unwise to change the mandate of the court.

“Kosovo is a sovereign state, it’s a democracy, and parliamentarians can open any issue they want, but that doesn’t mean it’s wise to open those issues,” said Serwer, a senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

He maintains those who are pushing these moves are trying to escape accountability.

“If there are people who were responsible for any wrongdoing, they should be brought to justice,” Serwer said. “Just because you flew the flag of protecting human rights and protecting Albanians from an autocratic and brutal Serbian regime doesn’t mean that you never did anything wrong in the way that you conducted that fight.”

Court review

The court was expected to review accusations that KLA fighters were involved in killings, illegal detentions, persecution and abductions of Serbs, Roma and Kosovo Albanians suspected as collaborators with the Serbian regime during and after the 1998-99 conflict.

Serwer said the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, which closed its doors this month, brought to justice Serbs responsible for crimes, but he notes the Kosovo court would handle alleged wrongdoings that happened after the formal hostilities were over.

The separate U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague convicted some Serbian military commanders for actions against ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo during Belgrade’s intervention into the conflict.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 and is recognized by more than 110 countries, including most Western nations, though not by Serbia itself, Serbia’s key ally Russia, or China.

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