Kosovo President Hashim Thaci is insisting that he will sign legislation to abolish a special court set up to try former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) members for war and postwar crimes if parliament passes such a measure.
“The law on [the] special court is in place, but if the parliament votes otherwise, it will be my legal and constitutional duty to sign such legislation,” he said in a Wednesday interview with VOA’s Albanian Service.
It is unclear why Thaci, a former leader of the KLA, changed his position on the Hague-based special court, which was set up under Kosovo’s jurisdiction. The law, which required constitutional changes, was passed in 2015 amid pressure from the international community. As foreign minister at that time, Thaci supported the legislation and played a key role in having it passed.
Asked whether he was concerned he might be among those charged with war crimes, Thaci said he was “not afraid of justice.”
Equal treatment demanded
Echoing the opinions of those who see the establishment of the special court as unfair, the president warned that “Kosovo should not be discriminated [against] by the international community.”
“It must be treated the same way as other former Yugoslav states,” he said.
The motion to suspend the law was presented unexpectedly — late on December 22, just before the long Christmas holiday — by a group of 43 parliamentarians.
Alarmed at the surprise development, the U.S. ambassador, along with fellow Western ambassadors, immediately arrived at parliament in an effort to push back, urging Kosovo leaders to abandon the suspension by warning of serious consequences.
“The United States is deeply concerned by recent attempts of Kosovo lawmakers to abrogate the law on the Specialist Chambers,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a December 29 statement, referring to the special court by its official name. “We call on political leaders in the Republic of Kosovo to maintain their commitment to the work of the Chambers and to leave the authorities and jurisdiction of the court unchanged.”
A few days later, another statement by Quint NATO countries — an informal decision-making group consisting of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States — was even harsher.
‘Severe negative consequences’
“Anyone who supports [suspending the special court] will be rejecting Kosovo’s partnership with our countries,” it said, adding that if Kosovo continued on this path, it would have “severe negative consequences, including for Kosovo’s international and Euro-Atlantic integration.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on December 21 that “the pursuit of justice in the Balkans is not over” and that the U.S. “remains committed to supporting justice for the victims.”
The head of the EU’s office in Kosovo called the attempt “appalling” and “extremely damaging for Kosovo.”
The special court would hear cases of alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious crimes committed during and after the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo.
Kosovo’s parliament is in recess until next week, and it is unclear whether the motion will be put up for a vote.
This story originated in VOA’s Albanian Service.