THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Appeals judges at a European Union-backed court on Thursday upheld most of the convictions of two leaders of a Kosovo war veterans’ association who were found guilty last year of witness intimidation and obstructing justice.
The appeals panel of the Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers overturned one conviction of Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj but upheld four others. Their original sentences of four and a half years were reduced by three months.
In the ruling Thursday, judges said that it is “fundamental to the fulfilment of the Specialist Chambers' mission that individuals who come to give evidence, often about traumatic or difficult experiences, may do so without fear.”
Gucati, who was chairman of the Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans Association, and Haradinaj, his deputy, were arrested in September 2020 for revealing case information, including the identities of hundreds of witnesses and potential witnesses.
Acting Special Prosecutor Alex Whiting welcomed the ruling, which he said “reinforces the rule of law in Kosovo and sends a clear message to anyone involved in witness intimidation, retaliation against witnesses and obstruction of justice.”
The special court is investigating alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity linked to the actions of the KLA during the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo.
Prosecutors have indicted several people, including former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, on charges of murder, torture and persecution. All have denied the charges. The trial of Thaci and other defendants is scheduled to begin March 1.
Witness intimidation has been a major problem in international prosecutions of crimes committed during Kosovo’s fight to break away from Serbia.
Whiting said his office “takes these crimes extremely seriously and will continue to investigate and to prosecute anyone and everyone involved in every instance.”
The Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Whiting's linked prosecutor’s office were established following a 2011 report by the Council of Europe. The human rights organization’s report included allegations that Kosovo Liberation Army fighters trafficked human organs taken from prisoners, slain Serbs and fellow ethnic Albanians.
The court, established in The Hague in part as a response to fears for the safety of witnesses, is part of the Kosovo legal system.