President Thaci warned on Wednesday evening that the publication of what are claimed to be files leaked from the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague to the Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans’ Organisation could harm indictees’ ability to defend themselves against war crime charges.
Publication of the files “could be used as a pretext to limit the rights of the accused during the criminal procedures, be it by restricting their freedom of movement or by restricting them the right to question fully and comprehensively witnesses against them”, Thaci told Kosovo TV channel T7.
The Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans’ Organisation claims to have received three anonymously-delivered batches of leaked court documents this month, and has urged Kosovo media to publish them without disclosing witnesses’ names.
But Thaci said the alleged leaking of prosecution documents was “deeply concerning” and underlined “why the location of these institutions was decided to be outside Kosovo”.
The Kosovo Specialist Chambers are expected to try former KLA guerrillas indicted by the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office for crimes committed during and after the war from 1998 to 2000, including murder, torture and illegal detentions.
They are both are part of Kosovo’s justice system but are located in the Netherlands and staffed by internationals. They were set up under pressure from Kosovo’s Western allies, who feared that Kosovo’s justice system was not robust enough to try KLA cases and protect witnesses from interference.
“If confirmed that the leaked classified information is authentic, I expect relevant authorities from these institutions to carry out criminal investigations and bring to justice persons responsible, whoever they may be,” Thaci said.
Thaci, who is the former political leader of the KLA, is among those who could face trial. An indictment accusing him of various crimes is currently awaiting confirmation, but he denies any wrongdoing.
The head of KLA War Veterans’ Organisation, Hysni Gucati, has said the documents should be published to show that the Hague court is biased against Kosovo Albanians.
The lawyer for the War Veterans’ Organisation, Tome Gashi, also argued on Wednesday that publishing leaked communications between the Specialist Chambers and Serbian institutions would be legal as long as the identities of witnesses are not compromised.
“I do not believe that it is a crime to make public communications between Serbia and the Specialist Chambers,” Gashi told T7.
But Thaci said on Wednesday that the War Veterans’ Organisation was “misusing its public position against the Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office”.
The Specialist Prosecutor’s Office had also claimed that the War Veterans’ Organisation has been acting against the interests of justice.
Experts have warned that the leaks could seriously undermine the work of the Hague prosecutors and court.
Mark Ellis, executive director of the London-based International Bar Association, told Radio Free Europe on Thursday, that “this is a clear intimidation and attack on the court, the process, the fair trial”.
“If you are in an environment where groups or individuals offer information on the names and addresses of witnesses, then the whole process, in essence, collapses,” Ellis said.
Protecting witnesses from intimidation has been a key problem in the past at KLA members’ trial in The Hague and in Kosovo.
Ellis said that the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office should make it clear it will take action against those who make the information public and ensure “this does not happen again”.
So far Kosovo media has not published any of the documents, but Albanian TV station Top Channel has threatened to do so.