Hashim Thaçi, who was previously the Prime Minister three times and once the Foreign Minister of his country, does not have to account for his actions in The Hague alone. He is accompanied to the Netherlands by former Kosovo Speaker Kadri Veseli, who was the head of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK) secret service prior to his legislative career. The organization known as SHIK did not cease to exist after the war, but remained in the service of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, founded by a group of veterans, and its activities were not regulated by any law or supervised by a state body. The names of SHIK and Veseli are associated with the murder of dozens, but perhaps hundreds, of Kosovo Serbs and Albanians; this accusation in the Kosovo parliament it was formulated by oppositionists years ago.
Together with the two political cannons, one of UÇK’s renowned commanders, Rexhep Selimi, who bore code 10 in the years of the guerrilla war, set out for the airport on Thursday. He later became a Member of Parliament, and an anecdote is circulating about him wanting to command jersey number 10 from one of his (non-guerrilla) MPs in a friendly football game for members of the legislature because that number is reserved for him, so to speak.
The atmosphere in Pristina became tense on Wednesday after units of the European Union Police Mission (Eulex), in cooperation with the local police, arrested former UÇK spokesman Jakup Krasniqi, who, like Veseli, had been president of Kosovo’s legislation for years. The political elite in Kosovo was shocked by the events; one of them told the press that “they must be celebrating in Belgrade now”.
This is the Hague Judicial Forum not to be confused with the International Criminal Court, set up by the UN Security Council in 1993 to investigate crimes committed during the wars that accompanied the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. The ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia), the prosecution of the court, which has received high media attention over the past decade, was headed by a legendary Swiss jurist, Carla del Ponte, who had already brought another head of state, Slobodan Milošević, to justice for war crimes in 2001.
The genesis of the Kosovo Special Tribunal and the Special Prosecutor’s Office there began when a report in the European Council on Human Rights in Europe, marked by the name of a Swiss politician, exploded like a bomb in late 2010. The material, compiled by Dick Marty, spread out the dirt of the former Kosovo Albanian guerrilla army, which was generally sympathetic to the Western world, with astonishing rawness. Namely, just as the case of Kosovo began to take hold, gaining its independence seemed to free itself from both the oppression of Serbs and international control.
Marty made no less to the international plenary than that: some leaders of Kosovo Albanian guerrillas were intertwined with organized crime, which until then had only leaked from intelligence and police reports. sometimes a to the press. What was new, however, was that the guerrillas were also said to be trading in the organs (!) Of Serbs and collaborating Albanians who had been held hostage in the fighting, which raised the eyebrows of even the most resigned cynics. In addition, Marty named Kosovo’s then prime minister, former political leader of the UÇK, in peace talks in 1999 and had good relations with a number of Western leaders as a round pretzel in charge. This prime minister was called Hashim Thaçi, who was mentioned by many only as a war nickname: Snake, that is, the Snake.
Western powers in support of Kosovo’s independence, notably the United States, Britain and Germany, could not remain indifferent to such serious allegations. They thought they would have to act before Russia, which was extremely opposed to Kosovo’s independence, would take the matter to the UN and forge political capital out of it. It was no big secret that in 1999 the above three countries helped the guerrillas with weapons and training in their fight against the Serbs, moreover, as a politician, Thaçi was notoriously a man of the Americans, and there was not much request from Washington that he would have rejected.
In the eyes of Western politicians, the best solution seemed to be for Kosovo to formally set up a special institution itself to investigate the allegations in the Marty report. It is also the crimes that have been swept under the rug in the decades or two since the war, including the systematic killing and intimidation of political opponents, the followers of Ibrahim Rugova.
Kosovo politicians, especially former veterans, were very upset about the idea, but in the end, as a result of Thaçi’s personal action, the Pristina legislature voted the necessary law in 2015 for a second run. It provided for the establishment of a Kosovo tribunal that would operate outside the country – also in The Hague. It has also become clear that Kosovo-born people will only be accused, witnesses or interpreters in this tribunal.
At the request of the Americans, Thaçi himself argued most in favor of the establishment of this tribunal and prosecutor’s office, which now faces extremely serious charges against him. The resignation and voluntary departure of the 52-year-old Kosovo Albanian politician is in line with The Hague, which has already been set as an example by the majority of UÇK veterans. Ramush Haradinaj, who was the guerrilla commander who defended the Serbs most stubbornly, became prime minister twice since the war and resigned both times when he was accused of war crimes. The ICTY has already acquitted him; true because of the impossibility of proving with intimidated witnesses. But he announced he was ready to face any further charges before the special tribunal.
This behavior is in stark contrast to what was usually witnessed by Serbian defendants, who preferred to travel to The Hague only as a result of significant international pressure. Former Bosnian Serbian President Radovan Karadzic has been hiding from justice for more than a decade, until 2008 he was arrested by Serbian police. For the killing of at least 7,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica Bosnian Serb general General Ratko Mladić is in charge until 2011.
In the light of the above, international criminal justice has often been accused of grinding its mills slowly, bringing defendants to justice only decades after the crimes were committed. That may be true, but the last quarter of a century has shown that Justitia will sooner or later catch up with everyone, and under the weight of war crimes charges, even top state leaders will have to report on what happened.
(Cover image: Hashim Thaçi holds a press conference after his resignation in Pristina on November 5, 2020. Photo: Armend Nimani / AFP)