Kosovo’s Specialist Chambers announced the arrest and transfer to The Hague of accused war criminal Salih Mustafa on Thursday. Mustafa is the first person arrested and third to be indicted by the office.
Established in 2015, the chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office are charged with investigating and trying people accused of committing war crimes during the Kosovo War. The office notified the chambers of their intent to initiate proceedings in February 2020. The chambers began reviewing indictments shortly thereafter.
A former commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), Mustafa has been indicted on charges of murder, torture, arbitrary detention and cruel treatment. After the war, he served in the intelligence branch of the Kosovo Security Force and most recently in the civil staff office in the defense ministry.
While Mustafa is the chambers’ first arrest, he is not their first indictment. Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, a former leader of the KLA, was indicted for alleged involvement with nearly 100 murders. Thaci has not been arrested as the pretrial judge has yet to decide whether to proceed with the case.
Mustafa’s arrest has come under criticism by the Association of Former Kosovo Liberation Army Fighters, a war veterans’ association. As former rebel commanders continue to dominate politics in Kosovo, the issue of war crimes remains highly sensitive. For this reason, the chambers are based in The Hague to provide some protection from intimidation tactics.
These concerns have been proven valid. On three separate occasions, the association has received confidential information from the office’s investigations. Some of the files contain the personal information of protected witnesses. The association has offered the files to journalists, who refused to publish them and reported the incidents. In retaliation for Mustafa’s arrest, they have threatened to publicly release the files.