Leading EU countries and the US have warned Kosovo of “severe consequences” if it walked away from a war crimes tribunal.
“We urge all Kosovo’s leaders … [to] honestly inform Kosovo’s citizens of the severe negative consequences, including for Kosovo’s international and Euro-Atlantic integration, if Kosovo continues on this path,” France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the US said on Thursday (4 January).
“The creation of the specialist chambers was the only way for Kosovo to demonstrate its commitment to … rule of law and to continue to receive international support,” they added.
The EU set up the Kosovo Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution (KRSJI) in The Hague to treat allegations that senior members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) were involved in harvesting and selling the organs of Serb prisoners during Serbia’s war with Kosovo in 1998 and 1999.
It started work in early 2017 and is to shortly issue its first indictments.
The ruling AAK party of Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj tried to overturn a 2015 law that underpins Kosovo’s cooperation with the tribunal in December.
It did not get enough votes, even though two other parties, the PDK and Nisma, were on its side, but the EU and US fear Haradinaj will renew the initiative in January.
The prime minister told press after a visit to the municipality of Gjakove in Kosovo on Thursday: “I was against it [the KSRJI] while in opposition and I’m against it now”.
His brother, Daut Haradinaj, an MP, went further, saying last week that the “first arrest for the special court” would “activate” former KLA guerrillas.
Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci, also wants to scrap the KRSJI, and caused a stir in December by pardoning five men who had been jailed in Kosovo for murdering the family of a Serb sympathiser.
Balkans media have speculated that Daut Haradinaj and Thaci, who are former KLA commanders, might be in line to face KSRJI cases.
Thursday’s EU and US statement followed one by the US embassy in Kosovo on 29 December.
The US had warned that abandoning KSRJI cooperation “would have profound negative consequences for Kosovo’s European future”.
“We are extremely disappointed at those who would sacrifice their country’s future and the unwavering support of the United States in favour of personal interests,” it said.
The KSRJI dispute opens a third confrontation between Kosovo and the EU.
An EU-brokered dialogue on Kosovo-Serb relations had agreed to create a new Association of Serb Municipalities (ASM) in Kosovo in 2015 to govern majority-Serb areas.
But Ramush Haradinaj said on Thursday he was “against the ASM”, which was never implemented due to claims it amounted to Kosovo’s de facto partition.
He has also declined to ratify a 2015 border accord with Montenegro on grounds Kosovo would unfairly lose 8,000 hectares of land.
The EU has promised to one day take in Kosovo even though five member states have not yet recognised its independence.
It has also promised to grant it visa-free travel.
But all that is conditional on implementing former agreements, as well as wider reforms.
“Kosovo leaders should do everything possible to meet the last requirements for visa liberalisation. They should not keep their own people hostage,” Nataliya Apostolova, the EU envoy to Kosovo, said on 29 December, referring to Kosovo’s U-turn on the Montenegro border.
The EU created the KRSJI after Dick Marty, a Swiss senator at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, made the KLA organ-trafficking allegations in a report in 2010 that named Thaci.
Serb war crimes were handled by a UN body, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), also in The Hague.
The ICTY ceased to exist on 31 December.
Another UN court, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), in The Hague, still exists, but it can only hear appeals on former ICTY cases.
Kosovar Albanian families of war victims have petitioned to change the KRSJI’s mandate so that it could also prosecute outstanding Serb war crime allegations in Kosovo.
The EU and US have ignored them, amid Kosovar concern that the KRSJI’s sole focus on the KLA would make Kosovo look like the guilty party in the conflict.
The war began when the late Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic tried to suppress Kosovo’s independence movement.
It claimed 13,000 victims, 12,000 of whom were ethnic Albanians. More than 1,700 people are still missing some 20 years after fighting ended.