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Netherlands: Special Tribunal for Alleged Kosovo War Crimes

(Jan. 27, 2016) The Government of the Netherlands announced on January 15, 2016, that it will establish a special court in The Hague to “try serious crimes allegedly committed in 1999-2000 by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army [KLA] against ethnic minorities and political opponents” in the aftermath of the Kosovo War of 1998-1999 between Serbia and Kosovo. (Kosovo Court to Be Established in The Hague, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (Jan. 15, 2016).) The KLA members, who were mostly ethnic Albanians, fought for the separation of Kosovo from Serbia in the war; many members of the disbanded force are said to be now playing an active role in governing Kosovo. (Constance Johnson, Kosovo: New War Crimes Court Approved, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Aug. 7, 2015).)

The Government of Kosovo had approved the creation of the court on August 3, 2015, through an amendment to the country’s Constitution and adoption of legislation on the court and on funding the costs of defendants in need; the European Union will provide funding for the special court. (Id.) The official name of the court is the Kosovo Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution. Scheduled to begin operating in 2016, it will eventually be housed in an extension being built in the former Europol building in The Hague. (Kosovo Court to Be Established in The Hague, supra.) A panel of international judges will try the cases; prosecutors from outside Kosovo will also be selected. (Johnson, supra; Taylor Gillan, Kosovo War Crimes Court to Be Established in The Hague, PAPER CHASE (Jan. 17, 2016).)

The issue of the trial of the former KLA members on charges of war crimes is a sensitive one in Kosovo, because some elements of the public in Kosovo may view possible suspects as freedom fighters, while witnesses in the country may feel threatened there. This is the reason, according to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that trying the cases outside Kosovo was considered; the Hague was chosen as the site for the special court after consultations between the EU and the Kosovan and Dutch authorities. (Kosovo Court to Be Established in The Hague, supra.) Major challenges for the court, therefore, “will be to secure witness protection and to obtain the cooperation of all Kosovo’s institutions in areas ranging from evidence gathering to police and judicial assistance.” (Marija Ristic, Ivana Nikolic, & Petrit Collaku, Kosovo’s New War Court: Major Challenges Ahead, BALKAN TRANSNATIONAL JUSTICE (Aug. 2015).)

Other Related Tribunals

The new court “will join several other courts in The Hague, including the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [ICTY], which tried war crimes suspects from the wars that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia, in which some 130,000 died in a series of conflicts that lasted most of the 1990s.” (Thomas Escritt, Special Kosovo War Crimes Court to Be Set up in The Hague, REUTERS (Jan. 15, 2016).) Although the ICTY has prosecuted some Kosovo War criminal suspects, the relations between Serbia and Kosovo have remained strained. (Gillan, supra.) The ICTY, established in 1993, has heard cases that chiefly dealt with alleged crimes committed by Serbs and Bosnian Serbs, but it “has investigated and brought charges against persons from every ethnic background” and secured convictions “against Croats, as well as both Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians for crimes committed against Serbs and others.” (About the ICTY, United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia website (last visited Jan. 27, 2016).)

Most recently, on January 21, 2016, the Basic Court of Mitrovica in Kosovo, comprised of a panel of international judges under the auspices of the European Union justice mission (EULEX) in the country, found Oliver Ivanovic, the former head of a Serb paramilitary group, guilty of committing war crimes against ethnic Albanian civilians. The court sentenced the Serb politician to nine years of imprisonment; he is under house arrest pending an appeal. (Justin Cosgrove, Serb Politician Sentenced to 9 Years for War Crimes, PAPER CHASE (Jan. 21, 2016); Verdict in Oliver Ivanovic Case Pronounced, EULEX website (Jan. 21, 2016).) The court acquitted four other Serbs who had been charged with Ivanovic. Ivanovic was arrested in January 2014 for murdering and torturing the Albanians during the 1999 Kosovo War of independence. (Cosgrove, supra.)