Kosovos’s Liberation Army Face Increased Scrutiny For War Crimes

On October 6, Kosovars went to the polls to re-build their government following the resignation of Prime Minister Ramush Haradinajt amid war crimes inquiries from his role in the Kosovo Liberation Army, otherwise known as the  KLA. However, that may have only been the tip of the iceberg. Since January, reportedly well over 100 additional former KLA members have been called to The Hague for questioning.

The specifics regarding the allegations and possible crimes that the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office is seeking answers to remains ambiguous. However, the increased activity of the investigations and statements made by some involved parties suggests that arrests are imminent. While that alone could be a critical hit to Kosovo, the allegations if proven would do significantly more damage.

In 2008, a former Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) published an account of her time on the Tribunal. In her book, Carla Del Ponte states that the KLA harvested organs from Serbian prisoners at detention sites in Albania. Del Ponte alleged that the KLA exploited these sites to facilitate organ trafficking before prior to the detainees disappearing. Though the Kosovar Revolution ended in 1999, the allegations extended into the post-conflict era; to December 2000.

Following Del Ponte’s revelations, the Council of Europe and the European Union commissioned an investigation into their validity and to determine if credible evidence existed whether war crimes, especially that of organ trafficking, had been conducted by elements within the KLA. Finalized in 2011 by Dick Marty, the Marty Report concluded: “numerous concrete and convergent indications confirm that some Serbians and some Albanian Kosovars were held prisoner in secret places of detention under KLA control in northern Albania and were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, before ultimately disappearing.” An EU task force followed up the Report concluding prosecutable evidence existed. The Report goes on to identify individuals, nine in total, alleged to be responsible.

As a direct result of the Marty Report, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers & Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, which is seated at The Hague, was created. The KSC – SPO operates under Kosovar law and focuses upon allegations and suspects connected to crimes “which allegedly occurred between 1 January 1998 and 31 December 2000”; the period covered by the Marty Report.

Many in Kosovo have voiced concern that the body is more political than judicial and discriminately targets Kosovars while ignoring atrocities conducted by Serbians, who have yet to face justice. There is some truth in that statement, as the KSC-SPO is essentially utilized as proof that both sides of the conflict are being investigated.

The Marty Report specifically states that “[t]he appalling crimes committed by Serbian forces,” significantly fueled the idea that war crimes had only been committed on “one side” of the conflict zone. The Report asserts that thinking is not accurate, “that serious crimes had been committed during the conflict in Kosovo, including trafficking in human organs,” and those crimes “had been committed by members of the “Kosovo Liberation Army” (KLA) militia against Serbian nationals who had remained in Kosovo at the end of the armed conflict and been taken prisoner.”

The nine named by the Marty Report includes elected members of Kosovo’s government along with some who are tied to party leadership. Among those named, who currently hold politically important positions are Kadri Veseli, the speaker of parliament, and most significantly Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci. As of now, only two of the nine named individuals have been summoned to The Hague for questioning. Sabit Geci, one of those two, was convicted in 2011 by EULEX for war crimes.

The Marty Report focused on a faction within the KLA known as the “Drenica Group”; so named due to its connection to the Drenica Valley region of Kosovo where the KLA was born. The Report calls the group little more than a “formidable power base in the organised criminal enterprises that were flourishing in Kosovo and Albania at the time.” President Thaci is named as having been the “Boss” of the group.

Though the “Drenica Group” has been alleged to have been involved in numerous forms of criminal activity during and after the Revolution, the Report focused upon the specific allegations made by Del Ponte; which included the gruesome charge of organ harvesting and trafficking. The Report states that “organs were removed from some prisoners” during the chaotic period that transpired between the end of conflict and international forces securing the region.

These allegations, if proven to be true, would be a significant development in the history of the Kosovar Revolution. Specifically, it would forever connect the Kosovars fight for freedom and liberty to the virulent pestilence of organized crime which exploited the opportunistic scenario of turning POW detention sites into factories of death for profit.

To engage in the dissection of human beings to harvest their organs, especially as a profitable commodity, places a group in alignment with the Nazis and ISIS. War in and of itself is an atrocity and a crime against humanity.

However, revolution is a special breed of conflict. It arises not for corporate, individual, or political greed and corruption, but as a result of it; from the very nature of man’s right and determination to be free.

Kosovo represents the final successful revolution of the 20th century, and, due to the political climate resulting from the War on Terror, could potentially be the last one held up as an example for future generations. To have its narrative forever entwined with convictions for such egregious allegations would be a devastating blow to the crucible of democratization and independence by determined spirit, sacrifice, and the human struggle to be free.

While the KSC – SPO takes steps to keep the identity of individuals involved in investigations confidential, that secrecy will not last forever. For those named in the Marty Report however, their identities are already attached to possible lines of inquiry. The most prominent, of course, being the seated President, Thaci.

An indictment levied against Thaci would be extremely damaging to multiple parties and facets of Kosovar governance. Thaci was in front of the Kosovo – Serbian dialogue, though as a result of the October 6 elections, the new Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, has stated that he will be assuming that role.

Then there is the United States interest in the matter. The United States has fully supported the KSC – SPO and its mission. Current and previous prosecutors of the body are from the United States. Additionally, in 2017, when Kosovo politicians were entertaining the idea of abolishing the KSC – SPO, the United States, along with the EU, essentially, seen to the demise of those discussions.

The United States is easily one of Kosovo’s most politically supportive and influential allies. That support and alliance has manifested itself in numerous ways. One such way is Thaci. Thaci is, undoubtedly and based upon all accounts, the United States’ choice for Kosovar governance. The Marty Report even states that Thaci “undoubtedly owed his personal elevation to having secured political and diplomatic endorsement from the United States”.

In November 2018, Thaci took an official visit to the United States and met with various Trump Administration officials, Congressmen, and even former President George Bush. On November 30, he delivered a speech to the Atlantic Council, a highly regarded think tank in Washington D.C., in which Thaci emphasized Kosovo will never forget the Serbian atrocities committed during the Kosovar Revolution but was never-the-less dedicated to a permanent solution with Serbia. Two weeks later, President Trump, with his appointment of Ambassador Richard Grenell, surprised everyone with his sudden interest.

Given the fact that the Specialist Chambers & Specialist Prosecutor’s Office was created in response to the Marty Report, it is inevitable that actions will be taken at some point regarding the conclusions which it made. As stated, the United States has had a substantial and obvious role in the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office; especially because for years there has been very little action taken regarding the individuals which the Report specifically names.

The inevitable question now lingers within the context of both the future of history and that of the United States interest in both Thaci and Kosovo. What happens if President Thaci is indicted?

Thaci, like many other party leaders and elected politicians, have roots in the KLA and are hailed as heroes in Kosovo. With Prime Minister Haradinajt, who has been twice acquitted of war crimes, having to resign due to these new lines of inquiry, would Kosovars accept the indictment of their President as the pursuit of justice?

However, the question must also be asked, what if the allegations are true? Would those same Kosovars, who died and bled for their sovereign freedom, be willing to accept such atrocities as part of their history without justice or consequence?

If an indictment is to come, all parties involved cannot permit that development to negatively influence or deflect from the critically important Kosovo – Serbian dialogue. Contemporaneously, allegations exist and the need for questions to be answered lies on both sides of the matter, yet moving forward with the dialogue should be seen in the same focus of justice as the ICTY and KSC – SPO are to be working toward.

The outcome of the work by the prosecutors and the courts is to secure justice for that which was committed during the heat of the Revolution. The dialogue is to secure justice for all of those who it was done for.

It should be noted that the Marty Report, itself, does not constitute material evidence that any crimes were committed or who the perpetrators are. The Marty Report is an independent analysis conducted before the creation of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers & Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, The Hague-based body currently interviewing former KLA members. While the Kosovo Specialist Chambers & Specialist Prosecutor’s Office is authorized to investigate, bring indictments, and prosecute allegations discussed within the Marty Report, the Report does not reflect any information discovered from the on-going investigation and questioning the body is currently conducting.

President Thaci has been both a critic and a vocal supporter of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers & Specialist Prosecutor’s Office. Thaci has supported its creation and mission as necessary. Thaci, as with the others mentioned in the Report, have continually and steadfastly denied the allegations which both pre-date and are included in the Marty Report. Consistent with his denials, Thaci has publically stated that he would surrender himself to questioning should he be asked.

An email request to Kosovo’s Office of Prime Minister for comment regarding this matter and the possible consequences from further developments went without response prior to the publication of this piece.