In the close of 2012, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (hereafter referred to as the ICTY), acquitted the former political leader of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj of the charges of war crimes. In the first ever retrial at the ICTY, Haradinaj was released on lack of evidence, leading to public outcry of corruption and bias towards the former leader, who had previously been referred to as a “gangster in uniform” by Carla de Ponte, the lead prosecutor of the first trial.
Background: The foundation of Ramush Haradinaj’s political career
Born in 1968 and raised in a small village in the former Serbian province of Kosovo, Haradinaj began his military career as a drafted member of the Yugoslav People’s Army in the Kosovo War. Upon the end of the war, Haradinaj illegally emigrated to Switzerland in 1989 and, during his time abroad, where joined a precursor organization of Kosovo Liberation Army, the main purpose of which it was to render Kosovo independent of Yugoslavian Rule. What began mainly as an underground movement evolved into a militant surge, making use of guerrilla tactics to achieve the independence of Kosovo by any means necessary; Haradinaj returned to Kosovo in 1998 to help lead the freedom fight.
Although Haradinaj gained prestige for his defence of his village against government forces, in the year of Haradinaj’s return, 40 people of Albanian and Serbian Ethnicity were found murdered with strong evidence of torture tied to their deaths. Though no legal actions were initially taken against Haradinaj, there was a strong international outcry with accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Despite suspicions that Haradinaj was most likely behind the mass murders, he advanced in his military career by becoming the deputy commander of the Kosovo Protection Corps, the successor of the UCK, and gained acclaim for restoring peace in Kosovo. In 2000, he created his own political party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo and, through the creation of a party coalition, became Prime Minister of Kosovo under President Rugova in 2004. Just months into his new political career, Ramush Haradinaj was indicted by the ICTY for war crimes linked to the torture and murder of the aforementioned 39 victims. However, due to lack of sufficient evidence (potentially facilitated by the murder of key witnesses), Haradinaj was acquitted in 2008.
The retrial: A second go
Towards the end of 2011, Haradinaj was called back to the ICTY on the same charges, despite the fact that no ground-breaking discoveries had been made in the case against him. Upon his release in 2008, accusations could be heard, that witness intimidation had taken place, which led to the 2008 acquittal being overturned by the appeal’s chamber of the ICTY. The second trial began in 2011 with different judges but ended almost identically to the original trial; Haradinaj was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
The Response: Haradinaj’s innocence or bias within the ICTY?
Several news outlets and non-governmental organizations have expressed doubts about the innocence of Ramush Haradinaj. For instance, the Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia program, John Dalhuisen, stated that the “verdict raises the question of, if…the three former high-ranking KLA members are not guilty, who then committed those crimes? Is anybody ever going to be brought to justice?” He is effectively asking: if a major leader of the Kosovo liberation initiative can not be held accountable for atrocities committed under his command, how can anyone else be held responsible? Another piece of evidence, which people say may point to Haradinaj being guilty of the crimes, was his immediate resignation as Prime Minister after his first summoning to The Hague. Many have wondered why Haradinaj would be so swift to renounce his title, which he worked decades to achieve, if he was indeed innocent of the crimes he was accused of. Further criticism concerned the lack of proper investigation into the murder of the first trial’s key witness, Tahir Zemaj, during the attempt to build a solid case again Haradinaj.
Perhaps the most poignant opinion comes from the government of Serbia, which claims that the ICTY is heavily biased. This is primarily evidenced by the fact that, during the aftermath of the Balkan War, in comparison, far more Serbians were found guilty of war crimes by the ICTY than Kosovars. Whilst it is clear that those found guilty deserved such a verdict, there is a high belief that indicted Kosovars should have received the same judgements. This relates to something that the executive director of The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, David Harland, labels as “Selective Justice.” Harland supports the belief shared amongst many, that the courts of The Hague tend to favour charging politicians as innocent, if they are supported by Western governments. This could potentially be true in the case of Haradinaj, who received medical help from Western powers during the war. Even though the judges were changed in the second trial, the neutrality of the ICTY is heavily questioned. This case has acted as a further catalyst for the questioning of the legitimacy of international organizations and courts. There is hope that in the following months, reforms within the court will be attempted, to insure that something like this does not reoccur.