Since they could not prevent the human rights violations in Kosovo, the staff of the KVM Human Rights Office decided the best thing to do was to “witness and reliably and impartially document the events,” Sandra Mitchell says, testifying as the first prosecution witness at the trial of six Serb officials

Sandra Mitchell, witness in the trial of the six former Serbian political, miltary and police officialsSandra Mitchell, witness in the trial of the six former Serbian political, miltary and police officials

The first witness to take the stand at the Kosovo trial was Sandra Mitchell, a US lawyer who was the director of the Human Rights Office of the Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) in late 1998 and early 1999. At the beginning of her testimony, the defense counsel representing the six accused objected to the intention of the prosecutor to tender into evidence KVM reports drafted on the basis of statements made by victims and witnesses of human rights violations in Kosovo from October 1998 to June 1999. According to the defense counsel, those are “anonymous testimonies of alleged victims” gathered by anonymous researchers, whose skill and impartiality could not be vouched for.

The judges decided to first hear Sandra Mitchell’s testimony and to leave the decision on the admissibility of the reports tendered by the prosecution after the end of the examination-in-chief and cross-examination.

When asked about the purpose of gathering the documentation about human rights violations, Sandra Mitchell replied that since they could not prevent the crimes, “the best thing we could do was to witness and document reliably and impartially the events, in order for the documents to be used by this court”.

Until 20 March 1999, when the KVM withdrew from Kosovo, Sandra Mitchell’s office collected 750 reports on serious human rights violations. After the withdrawal, Mitchell and her staff went to the refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia, where they gathered about 2,700 statements from the refugees who claimed to be either victims or witnesses of crimes.

In her brief examination-in-chief, Mitchell spoke only about the methodology of taking statements, the procedure, the verification and the training given to the staff gathering the evidence of human rights violations. The prosecutor tried to ask questions about the reasons the refugees questioned in Albania and Macedonia had given for leaving Kosovo, but the Chamber sustained the objection made by Dragoljub Ojdanic’s defense counsel that the witness had been asked to present her opinion, even though she is not testifying as an expert.

Sandra Mitchell’s testimony will continue tomorrow afternoon. The next witness should be Goran Stoparic, former member of the Scorpions unit.