Kosovo war crimes prosecutor interviewed

Source: UNS, Jelena L. Petkovic
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Drita Hajdari (photo: Vladislav Cup via uns.org.rs)
Drita Hajdari (photo: Vladislav Cup via uns.org.rs)

Media blackout

Prosecutor Drita Hajdari believes “there was the media blackout about these war crimes for nearly twenty years”:

- I do not remember, I have not followed if any of your colleagues researched or wrote about the situation with regard to the war crimes until they were handed over to us. And even today, they are more focused on the statistics, they do not deal with the core issues. I do not see the media being willing to explain the citizens of Kosovo the necessity of prosecuting the war crimes, that a crime is a crime whoever committed it. I would like to stress this because support of the public and citizens is important and apart from the fact they should be informed, I believe they have certain information and can help.

UNMIK and EULEX missions with a large number of prosecutors failed to solve murders and abductions of journalists, and local prosecutors are expected now to redeem what the international ones failed to do.

And this should be done with only two prosecutors, says Drita Hajdari, a war crimes prosecutor Prosecutorat the Special Prosecutor Office of Kosovo, in an interview for the Dossier on kidnapped and murdered journalists and media workers. Prosecutor could not provide more details about the investigations related to kidnapping of the Radio Pristina journalist Ljubomir Knezevic and murder of Enver Maloku because, as she stressed, they were in progress. As for documents related to the investigation of kidnaping of Djuro Slavuj and Ranko Perenic, the Prosecutor’s Office has not yet received them from EULEX. Hajdari says that the Prosecutor’s Office did not have any information whatsoever about murders of Afrim Maliqi, KristGegaj, Momir Stokuca, Shefki Popova and Bardhyl Ajeti.

It results from a research of the Journalists’ Association of Serbia that there was either much interfering with investigations or that international prosecutors and investigative judges failed to put effort into solving these cases. The last murder of a journalist happened 13 years ago. How is it possible today to conduct an effective investigation and find out the truth about fates of the murdered and kidnapped journalists?

- Time is the biggest problem. Investigation of a war crime or any crime is not easy immediately after it occurred, but investigation of the events from about two decades ago is extremely difficult. It is difficult because the perpetrators have certainly done their best to destroy traces until now and they also did their best to influence witnesses. The witnesses have grown older, their memory faded and we cannot blame them for that. You may start from the fact that if a witness back in the 1990s was 60, he or she is 80 now and we cannot expect a clear memory and precise information from the people of that age. Perpetrators eventually die and grow old. I have never understood and I don’t understand even today why we, local prosecutors and judges, have not been entrusted with prosecuting war criminals since 2008, but international prosecutors and judges, the mission of UNMIK and EULEX, were. When the decision on termination of the EULEX operations was made in mid-2014, war criminals were transferred to the jurisdiction of local judiciary and prosecution. Since 2014, they have been “transferring” these cases to us little by little. One by one. One part has been transferred so far, but we still waiting for the majority to be transferred and hundreds of cases have been mentioned. In other words, the situation is unfortunately chaotic. In addition, the missions of rule of law of both UNMIK and EULEX had a large number of judges and prosecutors. If they failed to solve most cases, why is it now expected from the local prosecutors to redeem what the international prosecutors failed to do? From only two prosecutors.

So, only two prosecutors are working on the war crimes cases, including murdered and kidnapped journalists?

- The Special Prosecutor’s Office, which is solely in charge of war crimes, is working with an insufficient number of prosecutors. The only thing that could be done in this situation is to appoint two prosecutors for war crimes. My colleague and I have other cases, too, such as money laundering, terrorism, high-level corruption, and at the same time we are investigating war crimes, too. But when we finalize other cases, we will deal only with war crimes. Therefore I would like to say both to you and the public about the situation that we succeeded. Without pretending to criticize the international missions, I would like to tell the truth, what we inherited and what we can do now. I don’t want anyone to think that EULEX left the great situation and that we are not interested and we don’t want to work. On the contrary. My colleague and I have a strong will and desire to make up for what has not been done, but how and what we will do depends on the objective circumstances. What I would especially like to underline is the lack of legal cooperation with Serbia.

Why?

- Both UNMIK and EULEX could legally cooperate with Serbia, exchange information, witnesses, provide evidence. We do not have such an option. And now – my colleague and I will provide evidence, as much as it is possible, we will do everything to identify perpetrators, we will try to secure the evidence from the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), too, and the majority of perpetrators of Serbian nationality are in Serbia. We came in a situation in which we can prosecute only Albanians and this is met with resistance in the Kosovo society because they believe they are discriminated. The Serbian judiciary has identical problem because the Serbian war crimes prosecutor’s office has opened many cases for war crimes committed in Kosovo and they will not be able to finalize these cases without cooperation with the Kosovo criminal prosecution and judiciary institutions. Therefore, the legal cooperation is necessary. It is in the interest of justice and redressing of war crimes victims and their families. Families hope we would perform a miracle. I am referring here to the missing, too, because they went missing as a result of criminal offences. Families are waiting for their loved ones to be found and I believe this is impossible without cooperation. The worst is that this all boils down to the area of politics – Serbia has not recognized Kosovo and would not cooperate therefore. However, I believe that in such a situation we should apply a model that Serbia already applied with Bosnia and Croatia, the prosecutor’s offices should make an agreement on cooperation, and we should not wait for politicians. If we are to wait for them who knows for how many years the investigations would not move an inch from the standstill. Criminal are profiting from all this. Not only war crimes criminals, but all types of organized crime, corruption and terrorism criminals. They enjoy themselves. They cooperate fantastically, they do not face political problems and they do not know national barriers. This is one family that cooperates excellently.

Kidnapping of Ranko Perenic and Djuro Slavuj has never been investigated. The family Perenic has only recently received a paper from EULEX in which the prosecutor Maurizio Salustro concluded (as early as in 2013) that Perenic and Slavuj were abducted by KLA and they put a full stop there. Following their disappearance, the New York Times reporter Mike O’Connor went to the village of Bela Crkva near Orahovac where he saw the car in which Perenic and Slavuj left for their assignment and in the car there was a voice recorder they took with them. If EULEX had knowledge this was KLA and, on the other hand, a number of testimonies and publications that KLA wrote indicate that three different KLA formations, under the command of three different commanders came to the location where Perenic and Slavuj disappeared – why none of these commanders have been asked about this crime?

- As for both cases, EULEX dismissed the criminal charges and the cases have been archived. This is the information that I received while preparing for this interview. I have not seen dismissal of the criminal charges, it is possible that they said there was not enough evidence or something similar. But the fact that the criminal charges were dismissed does not mean that the case is closed forever. The Prosecutor’s Office can reopen the case. First we should wait for all the cases to be transferred by EULEX, because they are sending those that are archived, too.

But EULEX has officially left Kosovo.

- They said they dealt with scanning, translation and this is underway. We still expect hundreds and hundreds of cases to arrive. There are altogether about 900 war crimes that EULEX should pass over. As well as the cases of 2000 missing persons.

Speaking of the murder of Enver Maloku, the investigation has been repeatedly opened and closed. Has the case been reopened now and do you have knowledge of any facts?

- We do not comment cases that are under investigation. This is done for the reason of investigation and because we could interfere with the investigation by doing so.

The case of Ljubomir Knezevic is among the cases that you have received. Are you aware that the case was investigated in the Mitrovica Court in 2001? Lawyer of the victims’ families Stoja Djuricic linked disappearance of Knezevic with kidnapping of six Serbs in Gojbulje, suspecting that Gani Ymeri, KLA commander in the town of Vucitrn, ordered his abduction. Do you know anything more about it?

- I received the case of Ljubomir Knezevic on 5 October 2017. I cannot talk about names, suspects, but I can say that we are working on the case.

Investigation into the murder of journalist Sefki Popova is strange, to put it mildly. According to the available information, the investigating prosecutor has twice requested the intervention of police in order to gather evidence, but they failed to respond to these requests. Things, believed that could have been important for the investigation, were also taken from the Popova’s house and no one can answer today where they are. Do you see here the criminal offense of interference with justice and will you establish accountability of those who were negligent in performing their work?

- I was looking for information while preparing for this interview. We have nothing about the murder of Sefki Popov. It must be somewhere. UNMIK will hand us over their documents and perhaps it is somewhere in these files. I cannot rush with conclusions unless I check where the things are.

You filed indictments against ethnic Albanians and Serbs for war crimes. Have you faced problems because of that?

- It is a similar story everywhere where you had a war. We are in a situation to file indictments against persons who are considered to be heroes. Heroes because they took part in the war, defended their country, and charges against them are seen as an attack on the just liberation war. People should be explained that criminal prosecution and filing the indictments has nothing to do with the war in Kosovo, but with individuals who committed crimes. We need much effort to explain this, we need support of the media and civil society in making people understand that charges are not directed against KLA, but that the criminal responsibility is individual, that crimes were committed by individuals and criminals should be taken to justice and victims’ families redressed. I have noticed that victims and their families are mentioned in the context of some conferences and anniversaries and they are nearly forgotten in the concrete cases of war crimes. Defendants are always glorified and “felt sorry for”, they say that a political party or the liberation war is attacked by attacking them and victims are barely mentioned. However, this is not a problem only in Kosovo, but we prosecutors are professional, judges are also professional and we ignore political attacks and try to do our job fairly, as we are expected to do. There have been attacks on me, there are still attacks, they attacked me in the Kosovo parliament and mentioned my name, on the personal basis, they used everything they could, but it hurts for a moment, and then I say to myself – I am a professional, I cannot allow this to myself.

If you should choose an obstacle of all these that you believe is most difficult for investigation and prosecution of war crimes against journalists, what would be the biggest obstacle for you? Are these political circumstances, protection of witnesses… and what do you think how it should be overcome?

- Firstly, they talk about protection of witnesses, and I am asking – how can I protect a witness that I don’t have? How can I speak about witnesses that are missing? The worst is when they say “it is known” - please tell me what is known? Tell me where I should start from. A man was taken from the bus station, hospital, did anyone see that? I need evidence, witnesses. However, I see the lack of cooperation with Serbia as the obstacle number one.

Crime

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