The Trial Chamber that will conduct the partial re-trial of the former KLA commanders considers there is no risk that the two accused might abscond, but has decided not to grant provisional release pending trial to Ramush Haradinaj and Lahi Brahimaj out of concern for the safety of witnesses and victims

Ramush Haradinaj, Idriz Baljaj and Lahi Brahimaj in the courtroomRamush Haradinaj, Idriz Baljaj and Lahi Brahimaj in the courtroom

The Trial Chamber which will conduct the partial re-trial of the former KLA members indicted for crimes on Kosovo in 1998 rejected today the defense motions for the provisionally release of the accused Ramush Haradinaj and Lahi Brahimaj pending trial. The Trial Chamber concluded that there was no risk that the accused might not return to The Hague for the trial but found nevertheless that their release might have a negative impact on the safety of the victims, witnesses and other persons.

The judges accept the defense’s argument that there is no danger of Haradinaj personally influencing witnesses. Nevertheless, in the judges’ opinion, the media attention following Haradinaj’s release would have a negative impact on ‘the already prevalent intimidating atmosphere’. The Trial Chamber finds that the problem of witness intimidation in Kosovo ‘is still rife’. The trial had from the start proceeded in ‘an unprecedented atmosphere of widespread and very serious intimidation of witnesses’. This was highlighted both by the Trial Chamber and the Appeals Chamber in their judgments in the case against the former KLA commanders.

Unlike Haradinaj, the judges were not convinced that Lahi Brahimaj wouldn’t pose a threat to the witnesses if granted provisional release. In their decision, the judges note that former KLA member Shefqet Kabashi and another protected witness earlier refused to give evidence as prosecution witnesses. The judges also note that the witnesses’ situation during the re-trial would be ‘very delicate’.

In its judgment in April 2008, the Trial Chamber acquitted Ramush Haradinaj and Idriz Balaj on all counts in the indictment for crimes against Albanian, Serb and Roma civilians in Kosovo in 1998. Lahi Brahimaj was sentenced to six years for crimes in the KLA prison camp in Jablanica. In July 2010, however, the Appeals Chamber quashed the acquittal on six counts related to murder, cruel treatment and illegal detention of civilians in the Jablanica camp.

The reason for the partial re-trial, the Appeals Chamber stated in its judgment, was a ‘serious error’ committed by the Trial Chamber when it ordered the prosecution to rest its case before examining the two witnesses. In their statements to the OTP, the two witnesses said what they knew about the involvement of the accused in crimes in the Jablanica camp but then refused to repeat their claims in court. Kabashi openly stated he didn’t want to testify because witnesses were killed on Kosovo and he feared for his own safety.

Haradinaj and Brahimaj have been in the UN Detention Unit in The Hague since July 2010, when the Appeals Chamber handed down its judgment. Idriz Balaj is in prison in Kosovo where he is serving a sentence for other war crimes.