A dark cloud hangs over Kosovo
The serious allegations made against Kosovo’s current prime minister and former political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), Hashim Thaci, by the Council of Europe’s special rapporteur, Dick Marty, have raised profound questions about the role of the international community in Kosovo prior to, during and since the NATO-led bombing campaign in 1999. In particular, Marty’s assertion that the interests of stability were placed before those of justice further undermines the already discredited claim that intervention was based upon humanitarian principles. By providing de facto impunity from criminal investigation, the international community has further undermined efforts to strengthen the rule of law in Kosovo; the prime motivation for the deployment of EULEX. When it debates Marty’s report on January 25th, the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly (PACE) will therefore have a vital opportunity and obligation to provide greater momentum to an in-depth and unhindered investigation into the alleged crimes and their perpetrators.
Having previously led a Council of Europe investigation into extraordinary rendition and alleged CIA secret detention centres in Europe, Marty’s latest report, entitled “Inhuman treatment of people and illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo”, was adopted by PACE’s committee on legal affairs and human rights in mid-December. Aside from the allegations of “disappearances, organ trafficking, corruption and collusion between organised criminal groups and political circles in Kosovo”, one of the most damning indictments is Marty’s assertion that “the international organisations in place in Kosovo favoured a pragmatic political approach, taking the view that they needed to promote short-term stability at any price, thereby sacrificing some important principles of justice”. The international community’s complicity in down-playing and even ignoring suspected crimes by the KLA demonstrates the paucity of their supposed humanitarian concerns, particularly when contrasted with the grand statements of Blair, Kouchner et al.
The Kosovo government’s response has revolved around denial and accusations of racism. Thaci has vowed to publicly reveal the names of those who had co-operated with Marty, threatened to sue the Council of Europe’s rapporteur and compared the report to Nazi propaganda; an assertion that caused considerable dismay in Marty’s native Switzerland. The Kosovo Liberation Army’s Veterans Association, meanwhile, launched an “aggressive smear campaign” against a respected journalist, Halil Matoshi, who accused certain individuals of wanting to “police a ‘patriotic anarchy’” by labelling people either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ patriots. Reporters Without Borders called on the Kosovo government to condemn the remarks, insisting that “the guilty silence must end at once. The entire political class has a duty to respond to these indirect but real threats.” Such a climate of fear and intimidation bodes ill for the prospects of justice being served any time soon.
Indeed, another Council of Europe report, entitled “The protection of witnesses as a cornerstone for justice and reconciliation in the Balkans”, is set to shed further light on the challenges facing any potential criminal investigation. The report’s author, Jean Charles Gardetto, notes a lack of effective witness protection and talks of cases where “many potential witnesses in Kosovo claim to be perceived as traitors if they testify” and “witnesses who are on the point of testifying [are] being assassinated”. Such witness intimidation, as Gardetto notes, makes the role of the international community even more vital in order to ensure that the investigation and prosecution of cases remain free from political and other forms of interference.
By adopting Marty’s report on January 25th, the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly can provide additional impetus to an international investigation into, and possible prosecution of, alleged crimes in Kosovo and Albania. The EU will have a key role to play in conducting and ensuring full co-operation with such an inquiry. Should Albania and Kosovo refuse to co-operate, then the EU should employ the very conditionality that has worked so effectively with respect to ensuring Serbia’s full co-operation with the ICTY. Political pragmatism must no longer be placed before the principles of justice. A failure to credibly investigate all alleged crimes will only further impede the process of reconciliation and the prospects of achieving a sustainable political settlement between Serbia and Kosovo. It will also leave Kosovo tangled up in a web of organized crime and corruption, and devoid of the international recognition that it so desperately seeks.
Ian Bancroft is the co-founder of TransConflict and a regular columnist for The Guardian on Western Balkan affairs.