A new internationalized court held its first public session in The Hague on April 26th: the Kosovo Tribunal that deals with gruesome allegations about what happened after the ethnic Albanians took power in the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo in 1999. Dozens of Serbs are said to have been killed to “harvest” their organs like kidneys for transplantation, but there are no convictions for these allegations yet.
The Kosovo Specialist Chambers, as the new court is officially called, adds to other international and internationalized tribunals that have earned the Dutch city of The Hague the nickname of “legal capital of the world”. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which was opened in 1993 to deal with atrocities in the Balkans, was the first international war crimes tribunal since World War II. It was followed by inter alia the Special Court for Sierra Leone which conducted its trial against former president Charles Taylor of Liberia in Holland, and the appeals chamber of the UN Tribunal for Rwanda, that imposed a life sentence for genocide on former Rwandan prime minister Jean Kambanda in The Hague in 2000.
Last but not least, The Hague hosts the International Criminal Court, which, contrary to the aforementioned temporary institutions, is a permanent court - meant to last to judge those accused of the worst crimes of concern to humankind. Amongst several other “situations” the ICC prosecutor investigated the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007/2008. The process has not led to convictions because of problems with lack of evidence and witness tampering.
Similar problems occurred when the ICTY dealt earlier with problems in Kosovo: prosecutors complained that their witnesses were interfered with. Former Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, a former leader of the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK) that took power in 1999, was acquitted of war crimes.
Since then alleged crimes of the former UÇK leadership have been investigated for years by, among others, the Council of Europe and human rights organisations. The prosecutor of the new Kosovo Tribunal, which is financed by the European Union, the United States and four other countries, is meant to finally bring indictments against those most responsible.
The new tribunal works with strict security and confidentiality rules to avoid any risk of new witness tampering. There is no staff from Kosovo itself, only “internationals”. Chief prosecutor David Schwendiman has so far refused to answer all journalists’ questions about when he will bring his first indictment and who the suspect(s) will be. Speculation is rife about President Hashim Thaçi of Kosovo himself having to stand trial in The Hague.
The first public hearing of the court was about the rules of procedure and evidence. The new tribunal, which is so keen to avoid new witness tampering, is presided over by Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova from Bulgaria. In 2011, she was the presiding judge in the ICC’s confirmation of charges hearings in the Kenya cases.
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