Zivanovic: Measures against former KLA leaders in The Hague are correct, they can affect greater trust in the court's work

Source: Kosovo Online

Lawyer Zoran Zivanovic believes that the measures imposed by the Specialist Chambers of Kosovo in The Hague, restricting all communication except with lawyers for Hashim Thaci and two other accused former KLA leaders, due to their influence on witnesses through intermediaries, are the only correct procedure that could be undertaken, and he says that such actions by the court can enhance greater trust in its work.

"In my opinion, these measures contribute somewhat to greater trust in the work of the court and should be viewed in the context of other measures that have been taken. In October and November, three individuals from Kosovo were arrested at the behest of the Specialist Chambers for obstructing the work of the court or abusing contact with protected witnesses whom they allegedly influenced improperly, seeking to provide suitable testimony, or possibly refusing to testify. The Specialist Chambers of Kosovo have a prior bad experience inherited from the Hague Tribunal, where abuses of influence on witnesses—revealing their identity and exerting pressure on these people—were widely used. In the cases of Haradinaj and Limaj before the Hague Tribunal, which were significant cases, acquittals were precisely handed down because a number of witnesses who had previously given statements incriminating the defendants suddenly changed their testimony at the main trial and no longer incriminated them, leaving the prosecution without evidence," Zivanovic says for Kosovo Online.

He recalls that some witnesses in those proceedings were also liquidated.

"A clear conclusion could be drawn that those who refused to change their statements were eliminated in this manner, while others protected themselves, changed their statements, or refused to testify. Only in those cases before the Hague Tribunal, five people, who allegedly influenced witnesses, were accused, and they received very mild sentences. One was acquitted, one was sentenced to three months in prison, and one to a fine," reminds the lawyer.

However, as he points out, the Specialist Chambers made a significant turnaround.

"The turnaround occurred when Nasim Haradinaj and another accused were tried precisely for violating the ban on influencing witnesses. For this reason, they were sentenced to four and a half years in prison. This is a significant and drastic sentence, but it was necessary because the Specialist Chambers realized that only with such penalties could they somehow prevent the influencing of witnesses," Zivanovic says.

He notes that it is difficult to predict what will happen to protected witnesses who were attempted to be influenced in the case of Thaci and other former KLA leaders.

"I think additional protection measures will be applied to them and members of their families, which can vary. They may be relocated from Kosovo, their identity may be changed, and they may be placed in another country, not only while testifying but also afterward. However, these witnesses may change their minds and decide not to testify. We don't know the specific situations or identities, and even if we did, it would not be appropriate for us to reveal them. This does not necessarily mean that these measures will lead to the witnesses not appearing and testifying as they did in the previous proceedings, surely incriminating some of the accused, which is why pressure is being exerted on them," Zivanovic says.

All participants in the proceedings, the lawyer emphasizes, are obligated to safeguard confidential information, including the identities of protected witnesses.

"The identity of protected witnesses must be disclosed to the defense. This is essential because the person testifying and incriminating someone cannot remain unknown, as the accused could face a severe penalty. The defense is made aware of this. When I say the defense, I mean the defense counsel and the entire defense team, as well as the accused. That's why this measure prohibiting communication between the accused in Thaci's group and certain individuals has been introduced—to prevent the disclosure of the identity of protected witnesses and any suggestions they might offer," Zivanovic explains.