ICTY appeals chamber reverses acquittal of former Kosovo PM

[JURIST] The appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Wednesday reversed the acquittal [press release; judgment summary, PDF] of former Kosovo Albanian military leader Ramush Haradinaj [ICTY materials, PDF; JURIST news archive] and two others. In reversing the acquittal, the appeals chamber ordered a retrial, holding that the trial chamber had erred when it failed to grant the prosecution additional time to secure the testimony of two witnesses. Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj, who were all commanders in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], will now be tried again for crimes against humanity and violations of the laws of war. In explaining the severity of the trial chamber's error, the appeals court stated:

[I]t is clear that the Trial Chamber seriously erred in failing to take adequate measures to secure the testimony of certain witnesses. ... [T]he Trial Chamber failed to appreciate the gravity of the threat that witness intimidation posed to the trial's integrity. Some of these failures were in response to specific requests by the Prosecution, while in certain other cases the Trial Chamber should have acted proprio motu to facilitate witness testimony. For the reasons set out in the Judgement, the Appeals Chamber therefore has found that the Trial Chamber failed to take sufficient steps to counter the witness intimidation that permeated the trial. Given the potential importance of these witnesses to the Prosecution's case, the error undermined the fairness of the proceedings and resulted in a miscarriage of justice.
The appeals chamber went on to reject the other grounds upon which the prosecution had appealed, finding that the trial chamber had not erred in acquitting Balaj of aiding and abetting three murders and for rape, cruel treatment and torture. The date for the retrial has not been set [AP report].

Last July, the appeals chamber affirmed the conviction of Bajrush Morina [JURIST report] for interfering with a witness during the trial. In May 2008, ICTY Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz filed an appeal against the acquittals [JURIST report]. Brammertz asked that the case be retried before a different chamber of the tribunal, arguing that prosecution was not allowed the to present enough witnesses. Haradinaj was charged with 37 counts of war crimes [JURIST report], including murder, persecution and rape, but the ICTY acquitted him of all charges [JURIST report] in April 2008, citing a lack of evidence. Haradinaj was a senior commander of the KLA, the ethnic Albanian guerrilla force that opposed Slobodan Milosevic [JURIST news archive] during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war [BBC backgrounder]. Since the acquittal, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and other top officials have expressed concern that the decision could heighten tensions [JURIST report] in Kosovo and decrease the likelihood that fugitive war crimes suspects Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic [JURIST news archives] would be caught.

 

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