By Alexandra Sandacz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – Ramush Haradinaj, a former guerrilla fighter in Kosovo and a former prime minister, was acquitted of war crimes. Haradinaj was charged with the torture and murder of Serb civilians and suspected collaborators while he was a commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army during its fight for independence in 1999.
According to court documents, detainees were “given very little food or water, were regularly beaten and subjected to other forms of physical mistreatment, and denied medical treatment for their injuries. A number of prisoners … died as a result of their injuries, or were executed on orders of the accused.”
Aleksandar Vulin, the head of the Serbian government office for Kosovo, commented, “An acquittal of Haradinaj by the ICTY would be a message that it is allowed to kill Serbs in Kosovo. How can we talk about the fate of missing persons, justice for those killed and return of those exiled, if a man who talk part in all this is set free?
In 2008, Ramush Haradinaj’s was initially acquitted of the suspected war crimes. However, his acquittal was overturned. The appeal judges determined that a retrial was necessary because of witness intimidation. Despite his retrial in 2010, Haradinaj and co-defendants, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj, were cleared of all charges.
Judge Bakone Moloto said that although there was evidence that the Serbs and their supporters were beaten at a KLA compound in Kosovo and at least one of them had died from their injuries, there was, however, no evidence of Haradinaj’s involvement in the attacks.
Mr Haradinaj’s lawyer, Ben Emmerson, stated, “With the consent of the people, he [Ramush Haradinaj] will soon be resuming his rightful position as the political leader of the country.” Subsequently, Haradinaj’s face appeared on billboards in Kosovo with the slogan, “the leader who keeps his word” and “forward with a clean slate”.
President Tomislav Nikolic of Serbia, claimed the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was “formed to try the Serbian people” for the wars of the 1990s. However, he continued, “Nobody will be convicted for the horrible crimes against Kosovo Serbs.”
In fact, Amnesty International expected that nearly 800 non-Albanians were detained and killed by Kosovo rebels during the 1990s, but few people suspected of such crimes were prosecuted in Kosovo.
The judges ordered Haradinaj and two of his associates to be released immediately. After spending almost four years in jail, Haradinaj returned to Kosovo and was welcomed by the prime minister and cheers by large crowds on the streets.
For further information, please see:
BBC News – Kosovo ex-PM Ramush Haradinaj cleared of war crimes – 29 November 2012
NBC News – Kosovo ex-premier Haradinaj cleared of war crimes again – 29 November 2012
The New York Times – War Crimes Court Frees Former Leader of Kosovo – 29 November 2012
The Guardian – Ramush Haradinaj awaits new verdict on Balkan war crimes charges – 25 November 2012