The Hague / AFP
The new prosecutor for a special tribunal set up to try crimes arising out of the late 1990s Kosovo conflict pledged on Thursday there would be “no unnecessary delays” in bringing charges.
As court officials gave their first ever press conference, David Schwendiman vowed he would investigate cases “without fear or favour” but stressed “there is more to do, more to come” before he can make any decisions about bringing formal charges. “My message is that no-one should doubt that this is a very serious undertaking. It is happening,” he added. Speculation is rife about the future of Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci, the former political leader of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which led a fight by the majority ethnic Albanian territory for declare independence from Serbia.
The tribunal, funded by an EU budget of 29.1 million euros for its first year, is being set up to investigate and eventually prosecute allegations made an explosive 2010 report which fingered Thaci for alleged war crimes.
Court officials said Thursday the aim was to be able to start “judicial activities” in The Hague within the first half of 2017 as they recruit 100 court staff and an independent panel selects a roster of judges. The 2010 Council of Europe report accused Thaci of heading a mafia-style network involved in assassinations, unlawful detentions and even trafficking captives’ organs during and after the war as the guerrillas fought for independence from Serbia. Thaci has strongly denied the charges, telling AFP earlier this year “we have nothing to hide” and has vowed to cooperate with the tribunal.
The officially-named “Kosovo Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution” is being established under Kosovan law, but situated in The Hague to protect witnesses in what are highly sensitive cases.
Made up of international judges, it will try serious crimes allegedly committed from 1998-2000 by the KLA against ethnic minorities and political opponents. Schwendiman refused to be drawn on how many people were being investigated and who could figure among those eventually charged.
“I’m not going to tell you exactly who. I’m not going to mention whether there is or isn’t anyone who is on and off the table,” he stressed. Appointed earlier this month, his role was not to vindicate the report “but to determine whether evidence exists that can be used in a courtroom, sufficient so that I’m comfortable charging anyone.”
But he stressed he would not have accepted the job “unless I believed there was a case to answer.” A former US prosecutor, and an international prosecutor in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Schwendiman said he knew “how painful and difficult investigating and prosecuting mass atrocity is. “I am aware of the political sensitivity of what I am doing,” he said, insisting he would only be guided by the facts and the law and not by any “political or diplomatic” consequences.