On April 4th, 2023, the Hague saw the opening of the trial against former Kosovar President Hashim Thaci and three other prominent leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), who are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Against the commencement of the trial, a protest demonstration (called the ‘March for Justice’) was held on Monday in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. The march was attended by hundreds of people, including former KLA fighters and numerous relatives of the four defendants. In addition to Thaci, former leaders and commanders Kadri Veselj, Jakup Krasniqi and Rexhep Seljimi will be tried by the Special Tribunal set up at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The rally, accompanied by national-patriotic chants and music of Albanian irredentism, reached the government building displaying placards, banners and chanting slogans in support of the four former Kosovo Liberation Army cadres who ended up in the dock.
The armed conflict that ended in 1999 in that region of the former Yugoslavia saw a variety of guerrilla groups. The Albanian independence militia of the Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës (the KLA has been on the UN list of terrorist organisations since 1998) fought against the Serbian forces of then-President Slobodan Milosevic, who was also accused of crimes against humanity by the Hague Special Tribunal. In that case – raised against the former Serbian president to hold him accountable for the ethnic cleansing operations ordered against Muslims in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo – the trial ended in 2006 (before the verdict) due to his death.
Kosovo (conflict file here to find out more) is a small Balkan state (less than 2 million inhabitants with an Albanian majority), established in 2008 following the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia with a unilateral declaration of independence. Still protected by NATO (as well as supported by the European Union), in 2015 it had approved in Parliament the establishment of an ICC Special Tribunal to try war crimes alleged against former members of the KLA. Former Kosovar President Thaci (in the Kosovo Liberation Army he was responsible for financial means, armaments and the training of recruits in Albania) and former parliamentary number one Veselj (during the war, he was head of the counter-intelligence service), were arrested in September 2020 in Pristina together with Seljimi (spokesman of the KLA) and Krasniqi (among the founders of the organisation, as well as chief of staff and its commander).
Since then, the four defendants have been among the nine detainees in the UN special prison in Scheveningen, located on the outskirts of the Dutch city of The Hague. A penitentiary, this one at the ICC, with modern cells, recreational and sports activities, training workshops, medical care considered to be state-of-the-art, conjugal visits with a ‘love room’, and the possibility of frequent phone calls. The charges against Thaci, Veselj, Krasniqi and Seljimi include murder, torture, abduction, inhuman treatment and other crimes. During the conflict at the end of the 1990s, the KLA was also attributed with trafficking in human organs (transplanted to Serbs, including civilians) and drugs (with alleged connections to the narco-trade). All, to finance their separatist war.
Cover image: former Kosovar president and former KLA officer for finance, armaments and recruiting, Hashim Thaci (© Northfoto/Shutterstock.com)