What is behind Pristina's decision to file the first indictment for war crimes in absentia?

Goran Petronijević, Dejan Vasić i Nebojša Vlajić
Source: N1, Kosovo online

The first indictment in absentia for a war crime, which the Special Prosecutor's Office of Kosovo brought in the Basic Court in Pristina against a Serbian military reservist, and for alleged sexual violence during the war in Kosovo, Kosovo Online interlocutors warn, is another dangerous move by Pristina, pressure on the displaced to give up their return, but also additional intimidation of Kosovo Serbs.

Our interlocutors emphasize that it is almost certain that there will be hundreds of such indictments in the coming period and warn of the danger of serious violations of human and all other rights of the Serbs.

Lawyer Goran Petronijevic tells Kosovo Online that for the authorities in Pristina, the mechanism of trial in absentia "will serve as another kind of continuation of the policy of intimidation and expulsion of the Serbs from Kosovo and preventing the return of those who escaped."

"On the other hand, I expect that in some foreseeable period, judging by their statements that Croatia is their role model in relation to their behavior towards the Serbs, they will do the same thing that Croatia is doing, which is a very serious violation of the principle of punishment, i.e. abuse of court procedures and abuse of warrants. This means that all those people they mark as potential culprits, who are on warrants, will not be allowed to leave Serbia. In a word, they will make Serbia a ghetto," Petronijevic warns.

He indicates that the Kosovo judicial authorities can theoretically indict in absentia any member of the Serbian security forces who was on any duty in the territory of Kosovo and Metohija during 1998-99.

Petronijevic also states that Pristina needs such indictments in absentia because they have been admitted to Europol and because in the future they will try to become a member of Interpol.

"That will mean that as a member of Interpol, Pristina can issue warrants and searches for certain persons. Interpol treats ordinary police searches in a completely different way, especially when it comes to the Kosovo Police, given the unresolved political issues and the indictments that have been confirmed by the court. A prosecutor's indictment means one degree of probability that a certain criminal offense was committed by a certain person, and a confirmed indictment means an even higher degree of probability. It is a degree of probability that even Interpol will not be able to ignore," Petronijevic explains.

He has no doubt that bringing the first indictment in absentia by the Kosovo judiciary is an extremely dangerous thing.

"This has turned on a serious red light, this is an alarm to our negotiating team regarding the acceptance of possible conditions that Serbia does not oppose the admission of Kosovo to other international organizations except the United Nations. What Pristina is doing now is preparing for the completion of the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, expelling the Serbs, preventing their return, and imprisoning within the borders of Serbia a large number of people who will be labeled as accused and later accused in those proceedings," Petronijevic says.

Lawyer Dejan Vasic tells Kosovo Online that he cannot assess how a move in the judiciary will be politically reflected, but he expects that in the coming period, there will be "hundreds of such indictments".

"Kosovo received a new Criminal Procedure Law in February, which provides for trial in absentia. This institute is not something new, and whether Kosovo will use this mechanism to accuse and condemn war crimes and possible perpetrators of those war crimes will remain to be seen in the future," Vasic says.

He has no doubt that "the first indictment that was filed suggests that there will be more cases like this in the coming period."

"We will not be involved in those proceedings, because that will be done by colleagues appointed by the court ex officio, we will not know who the accused are or that the trial is ongoing, nor will the accused know that," Vasic says.

And Attorney Nebojsa Vlajic believes that conducting trials without the presence of the defendant in cases of accusations of such serious crimes is extremely dangerous.

"It is necessary for the authority that wants to conduct the trial to do everything to inform the person it intends to judge in absentia. The least it is obliged to do is to inform and call the defendant. I am not sure that the authorities in Kosovo have done that. The defendant is called first, and if he does not respond, then they acquire the right to apply the trial in absentia. But judging someone in absentia and not informing him about it beforehand is a violation of human rights," Vlajic explains.

He adds that this also confirms the existence of secret indictments, although the Kosovo authorities have denied it until now.

"Then how did this case “appear”, other than from some such case, which until now has been conducted secretly? This is very dangerous because now they can accuse anyone and judge them however they want because there is no one to oppose it. They will, of course, appoint an ex officio lawyer, but the question is who and how much he will defend," our interlocutor says.

When asked if this was a continuation of the policy of ethnic cleansing and persecution of the Serbs from Kosovo, Vlajic answers the following,
"I don't know if it is part of that policy, but it definitely won't contribute to reconciliation between nations."

The Special Prosecutor's Office of Kosovo announced yesterday that "the defendant D.R. as a Serbian military reservist, during the war in Kosovo, violating the rules of international humanitarian law, during a wide and systematic attack by Serbian military, police, and paramilitary forces, on the civilian Albanian population throughout the territory of Kosovo, knowing of the existence of such an attack, with the use of violence and other inhumane actions, committed sexual violence against a woman of Albanian nationality, who suffered physical injuries as well as severe permanent psychological trauma".

The defendant D.R. had, the statement added, committed the crime of "War crime against the civilian population" from Article 142 of the Criminal Code of Yugoslavia, currently incriminated as a crime against humanity from Article 143, paragraph 1, from paragraph 1.7 Criminal Code of Kosovo.