PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) – Kosovo lawmakers have approved a law to set up a special war crimes court paving the way for indictments to be filed against top wartime leaders and current politicians.
The overnight vote was the last hurdle for creating the legal body, which will have international judges and prosecutors try ethnic Albanian guerrillas for the alleged killing of civilian detainees, most of them Serbs immediately after the war ended in 1999.
The assembly voted 73-1 in favor of the law despite an opposition boycott. On Monday, the assembly amended the constitution so that the court could be created.
The vote follows pressure from Kosovo’s Western backers, the U.S. and European Union countries, after a similar vote in June failed to pass the legislation.
The U.S. then warned its Kosovo it won’t stop Serbia’s ally, Russia, to bring up the issue at the U.N. Security Council if Pristina fails to make legal provision for the court to be formed.
Once the court is created, indictments can be filed and court proceedings held in a European country, most likely the Netherlands, to avoid witness intimidation and ensure a credible judicial process. Kosovo’s weak justice system is prone to meddling from top politicians.
The indictments are sealed, but diplomats have about 10 names that could be singled out, some of them senior wartime leaders.
In 2010, a Council of Europe report claimed that leaders of the now disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, including former Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Serbs, Roma and ethnic Albanians suspected of collaborating with Serbs. Thaci denies the claims.
The report also said there were cases in which some of the captives were killed for their organs to be sold on the international black market. A U.S. prosecutor who investigated the claims said there wasn’t enough evidence to file indictments on those particular allegations though he didn’t rule out that proof might surface.
Clint Williamson, who led the task force set up to investigate the allegations made in the 2010 report, has said the task force has collected compelling evidence that the KLA leadership sanctioned crimes that included “unlawful killings, abductions, enforced disappearances (and) illegal detentions in camps in Kosovo and Albania.”
Williamson said these crimes were done in an organized fashion and also targeted ethnic Albanian political opponents of the KLA.
The crimes are believed to have happened in the chaotic days of the summer of 1999 as Serb forces withdrew from Kosovo and NATO troops gradually moved in, following a 78-day bombing campaign against Serb forces.
The period left a brief power vacuum that enabled the alleged organized persecution of non-Albanian minorities and political opponents.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia has vowed never to recognize the move.