UN urges witness protection program in Kosovo

[JURIST] The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] on Friday called for Kosovo to institute an independent witness protection program [press briefing transcript]. Spokesperson Rupert Colville made the comment in reaction to the recent death of Agim Zogaj [B92 report], a major witness for the prosecution against senior Kosovo politician and parliamentarian Fatmir Limaj. Limaj, a former member of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), is awaiting trial on charges of war crimes stemming from the 1998-99 Kosovo war with Serbia [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Zogaj, known as Witness X, was a KLA member under Limaj's direct command during the alleged Klecka massacre [Centre for Peace in the Balkans backgrounder]. Although authorities are still investigating, Zogaj's death has been tentatively ruled a suicide.

While the exact reasons behind his apparent suicide are difficult to ascertain, this case adds to our longstanding concerns about witness protection in Kosovo. We call for an effective and independent witness and victim protection system inside Kosovo to be put in place. Only an effective and well-resourced witness and victim protection system in Kosovo will help render justice to the victims and end impunity regarding past violations.
Since Zogaj's death, at least one witness has decided not to testify [B92 report]. The European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) [official website] has not commented on how severely this affects their case against Limaj and nine others, nor if it will delay the trial, which was expected to begin this month.

An EU judge in September placed Limaj under house arrest for one month [JURIST report] while awaiting trial, acting on a request by EULEX prosecutors. Limaj allegedly ordered two captured Serb policemen and executed and tortured another Serbian captive in 1999. Limaj is also under investigation for embezzling funds while serving as transport minister. Limaj and the KLA, despite allegations of human rights violations, are viewed as liberators by many ethnic Albanians. In 2005, Limaj was acquitted of similar charges by a war crimes tribunal in The Hague because of insufficient evidence. EULEX has been investigating war crimes [JURIST report] since December 2008. Kosovo controversially seceded from Serbia [JURIST report] in February 2008, and its new constitution went into effect [JURIST report] later that year.

 

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