By Polly Johnson
Senior Desk Officer, Europe
THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) sentenced a man this week for refusing to testify against former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who was charged with crimes against humanity for his actions while in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during its conflict with Serbian forces in 1998-1999.
Shefqet Kabashi pleaded guilty on August 26 to two counts of contempt of court for his failure to testify in Haradinaj’s original trial in June 2007. Coincidentally, only four days before pleading guilty on August 17, Kabashi refused to testify once again in Haradinaj’s present retrial. The retrial had been scheduled for the sole purpose of obtaining Kabashi’s testimony. He gave no reasons for his current decision not to testify, though some Serbian media sources have reported witnesses being intimated and even murdered to prevent the dissemination of evidence. ICTY has denied those reports.
In handing down the ruling at The Hague, Judge Alphons Orie said that Kabashi had “deprived the trial chamber of the evidence relevant for an effective ascertainment of truth” in Haradinaj’s trial.
Kabashi served as a KLA guard during the 1998-1999 period, when Haradinaj, along with his subordinates Idriz Bala and Lahi Brahimaj, allegedly committed multiple crimes against Roma, Serb and Albanian civilians in the village of Jablanica in western Kosovo. Haradinaj subsequently garnered acclaim in Kosovo and served as the country’s prime minster until his 2005 indictment by ICTY.
When Kabashi refused to testify on June 5, 2007, in Haradinaj’s first trial, witness intimidation was cited as a possible motive. In the judge’s recent ruling on Kabashi’s refusal to testify in the re-trial, the judge discounted the defense’s claims of Kabashi’s frustration and war experience as motives for his actions. However, the ruling cited post-traumatic stress disorder made worse in a prison environment as a mitigating factor.
Haradinaj was acquitted in 2008 on charges including murder, rape, torture, abduction, cruel treatment, imprisonment, and forced deportation. The appellate court partially reversed his acquittal, calling for a retrial because of the original trial’s failure to obtain testimony from Kabashi and other witnesses.
For more information, please see:
Monsters & Critics – Unwilling witness in Haradinaj trial gets two months for contempt – 16 September 2011
Radio Netherlands – ICTY: Kabashi in contempt – 16 September 2011
UN News Centre – UN war crimes tribunal jails Kosovo witness who refused to testify – 16 September 2011
UPI – War crimes witness pleads to contempt – 26 August 2011