Kosovo finds itself in a political emergency. On November 5, a special tribunal in The Hague to investigate war crimes in Kosovo brought charges of war crimes against a number of the most prominent politicians of Europe’s youngest state, most notably President Hashim Thaci. In response, he announced that he would immediately resign, since he did not want to appear before the court as head of state.
In addition to Thaci, charges were brought against the chairman of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, Kadri Veseli, the former chairman of parliament Jakup Krasniqi, and the head of the faction of the largest party in the Kosovo parliament, “Self-determination” (“Vetëvendosje!”) Recep Selimi.
They were all high-ranking members of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which fought against the Serbian army during the 1998-99 war. They are accused of having committed war crimes or given the appropriate orders, including murder, torture, persecution and inhuman treatment of prisoners of war.
Announcing his resignation, Thaci promised to cooperate with the justice authorities. On the evening of the same day, four Kosovar politicians were detained in The Hague. They reject all accusations against them as unfounded.
Special tribunal created under pressure from the world community
The Special Tribunal for Kosovo was established in 2016 under pressure from the international community. It is formally part of the Kosovo justice authorities, but all positions in it are held exclusively by foreign judges and prosecutors – to ensure thataboutgreater independence in criminal prosecution. The tribunal should investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and forced displacements in Kosovo from the beginning of 1998 to the end of 2000.
Initially, President Thaci himself sought to get the Kosovar parliament to vote for the establishment of a special tribunal. However, the reason for this was not his personal interest in investigating crimes committed by members of the KLA during the war. Then the talk was about establishing mutual conditions for normalizing relations within the framework of the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, held under the auspices of the European Union. One of the conditions was a more targeted prosecution of the perpetrators of the crimes committed by the KLA.
Is Thaci involved in organ trafficking?
Dick Marty is the author of the report “Inhuman Treatment of Human Beings and Trafficking in Human Organs in Kosovo”
An important impetus for the creation of a special tribunal for Kosovo was the 2011 report of the Swiss prosecutor Dick Marty, in which Thaci and Veseli were on the list of those suspected of committing war crimes against Serbs, Roma and Albanians.
One of the report’s most serious accusations against Hashim Thaci was the accusation of involvement in the trafficking of human organs obtained from killed prisoners of war. Thaci categorically rejects this. However, no official charges have been brought against any of the suspects on this point, although the interrogation of about 200 people has not yet been completed.
Hashim Thaci was the political leader of the KLA, and after the war he became one of the largest politicians in Kosovo. He served as foreign minister, prime minister, and, finally, president of the youngest European state. He played a decisive role in the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, which began in 2005. In 2013, Thaci, together with then Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, signed the so-called Brussels Agreement to normalize relations between the two countries, although important parts of it still remain unfulfilled.
Military background is not comprehended in Kosovo society
The Thaci case reflects Kosovo’s difficulty in making sense of its military past. According to the official line of Pristina, the war of the Kosovo Liberation Army against the Serbian “oppressors” was conducted in a legitimate and clean manner, and war crimes took place only in isolated cases, outside the sphere of responsibility of the KLA. A real discussion about the extent to which the KLA was involved in war crimes is almost impossible, since those who raise this topic are branded as traitors. Conversely, those convicted of war crimes in Kosovo are often honored as heroes and receive important government posts.
Soldiers of the Kosovo Liberation Army, May 1999
However, Serbia, which denies its own war crimes, contributes to the fact that the military past is not discussed in Kosovo. Only recently, the former head of the Serbian Foreign Ministry, and now the chairman of the parliament, Ivica Dacic, indirectly spoke in favor of treating and punishing those Serbs who disclose war crimes against Albanians and show the places of mass graves of those killed.
Hashim Thaçi’s departure from the political scene in Kosovo is likely to cause a serious crisis in the country. After his resignation, the President of the Parliament, Vyosa Osmani, is acting as President. Parliament must elect a new head of state no later than six months later. Meanwhile, there is no clear alignment of forces in the Kosovo parliament; the government has only a small majority. Therefore, observers believe that the Kosovo government may soon disintegrate and early elections will be called.