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Tribunal upholds witness tampering convictions of Kosovo war veterans

An EU-backed special tribunal affirmed most of the convictions of the first two men it found guilty of crimes relating to Kosovo’s war for independence in the late 1990s.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — A special tribunal created to prosecute crimes during Kosovo’s fight for independence upheld the convictions Thursday of two men for releasing the names of protected witnesses. 

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers reduced the sentence for Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj for witness intimidation and leaking confidential documents by three months but affirmed the convictions, while acquitting the pair of obstruction. 

“The protection of the witnesses from intimation and harm lies at the very foundation of any system of criminal justice,” Judge Michèle Picard said, reading out the judgment at The Hague-based court on Thursday.

Gucati was serving as the chair of the Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans Association, with Haradinaj as his deputy, when they obtained confidential documents from the court. During a series of press conferences in 2020, the pair revealed privileged material, including the personal details of protected witnesses in war crimes investigations. They also posted information on social media and provided it to journalists.

The men denied the charges against them and accused the court of being politically motivated and having no jurisdiction. They were convicted last May and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison and fined 100 euros ($105) each. Their sentence has now been reduced to 4 years and 3 months. 

The controversial court, which operates under Kosovo law but is supported by the European Union, is located in The Hague and staffed with international judges in an effort to thwart corruption. It has been criticized for its failure to safeguard witness identities and for prosecuting people seen as war heroes. 

Salih Mustafa, an ex-Kosovo Liberation Army commander, became the first person convicted by the court of war crimes when he was found guilty in December of mistreating prisoners in a makeshift detention facility during the war. 

The country’s former president, Hashim Thaci, is in custody in The Hague, facing charges of war crimes for atrocities committed during the conflict. Thaci and another former KLA member, Pjeter Shala, pleaded not guilty in 2020. Their trials are set to start in the coming weeks. 

Kosovo’s yearlong struggle for independence from Serbia left more than 10,000 people dead, mostly ethnic Albanians. The KLA was formed in the early 1990s to defend Kosovo Albanians against mistreatment by Serbians, who governed the region. The war began in 1998 and ended in 1999, following a controversial NATO bombing campaign. While the United Nations and many countries recognize Kosovo as an independent country, others, including Serbia, do not.

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Categories / Appeals, Criminal, Government, International

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