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When liberators face prosecutions

Sep 21, 2021

By Staff Writer

The trial of Salih Mustafa, a Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander and Kosovan politician, commenced on Wednesday, with Mostafa criticising the court’s motivations.

The trial, scheduled to sit between September and October, is taking place at The Hague. Mustafa and other KLA officials, including former President Hashim Thaci and KLA spy chief Kadri Beseli, are facing charges of torture and arbitrary killings over their roles in the Kosovan independence struggle in the late 1990s.

Thaci, in September, lost a preliminary case questioning the court’s legitimacy and his presumption of innocence.

Formed as per a Council of Europe investigating crimes committed during the Kosovan independence struggle, the so-called Kosovo Special Chamars has accused Mostafa of being involved in the torture of 6 Kosovans and the death of another, who the KLA imprisoned for allegedly collaborating with Serbia.

Mustafa was allowed, by judges, to leave the court soon after the start of proceedings, leaving victims astonished and angered. Chief Prosecutor Jack Smith stated that the trial responded to the crimes allegedly committed and was not aimed at delegitimising the country’s independence struggle.

Around 16 victims will testify in the case, which most Kosovans oppose. It is scheduled to last until mid-October; however, many say it will take years to complete.

Speaking to Radio Islam International, Zeenath Adam, an International Relations Strategist and deputy director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, pointed out the contentiousness of the trial and the pressure placed by Europe for its initiation and the venue change.” This was a special court that was supposed to have been set up in Kosovo itself to try members of the KLA, but because of Western fresher, this was moved to The Hague, and it’s now been internationalised.”

Ms Adam also alluded to the contentiousness of the trial and the fact that individuals such as Mostafa and Thaci are widely popular in Kosovo, especially since they were key protagonists in the country’s independence struggle from Serbia.

Ms Adam also pointed out that Mr Thaci, the head of the KLA, resigned as president in 2020 and subsequently voluntarily availed himself to the court. She argued that this was possibly a means of increasing Kosovan demands for absolute independence,” What he has done instead was to step down as president, and this was a bold move on his part. Indeed, as a politician, it takes a leadership role to say, well, you know if I am accused of these things, I will stand up in court and defend myself, but I will not bring down the country as a result… He has been a powerful Western partner, so he wants to cooperate as much as possible with the tribunal… some analysts in the Balkans are saying is that this actually may be a move towards complete independence of the Balkan state.”

Kosovo, a predominantly ethnically Albanian country, gained its independence from Serbia in 2008. Like many in the Balkans, the independence struggle led to the deaths of over 13000, mainly Albanians. Serbian forces were accused of a large majority of the crimes, and many remain on the run, and many others were not prosecuted despite much evidence linking them to crimes.

The trials of individuals such as Mostafa and Thaci raise questions over justice and liberation, especially in contexts of wars and independence struggles, wherein many supposed collaborators are extrajudicially executed.

This has also been a question raised in South Africa, especially around the tactic of necklacing and how alleged crimes should be adjudicated years later. Where alleged collaborators, did the offence of collaboration justify such brutal acts, and what would the result of such been were possible collaborators not intimidated by these often-brutal punishments?

Judicial romantics argue that since independence struggles are principled, their means should be principled and that the ends cannot justify the means. However, questions over the extent of these crimes in independence struggles have been raised. War is often brutal, and so-called ‘foot soldiers’ are not entirely under the control of their commanders in such struggles.

Moreover, questions about nation-building, transitional justice, and justice are almost always a form of ‘victors justice’ in such instances. This is especially the case in Kosovo, wherein most countries, including South Africa, Serbia, and Russia, are still not recognised as independent nations.

Thus, it can be pressured by Europe to be highly politicised domestically, impede real justice, and maybe be instrumentalised to raise questions over the independence struggle itself.

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