Announced in January, a criminal tribunal in The Hague will be launched later this year to try serious crimes committed during the 1999 Kosovo war. In an unprecedented move which challenges the long-held belief that international tribunals only administer one-sided accountability, the prosecution will focus exclusively on the victors: the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), many of whose leaders now occupy high-ranking positions in the country’s political establishment.
The court, titled the Kosovo Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution, will be housed in a secret location until an extension is built at the former Europol building only metres away from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Overcoming the long shadow cast by that predecessor will be its first task.
Despite the recent well-publicized conviction of Bosnian Serb politician Radovan Karadži´c for war crimes, the ICTY has been criticized for perceived failings to deliver justice to perpetrators of torture and genocide during the Yugoslav wars. Not least was the failure to prosecute former KLA leader and prime minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, whose trial at the new tribunal has yet to be confirmed.
Distancing the court from the ICTY will also be critical to supporting the ongoing reconciliation effort between Kosovo and Serbia, following Kosovo’s independence in 2008. After lengthy talks regarding Kosovo’s integration, the European Union will oversee all costs, while the judiciary will comprise only internationals.
Promoting reconciliation while administering justice is the challenge of any international tribunal, but in this case, the stakes could not be higher.
Concerns exist about a possible backlash against the Muslim ethnic Albanian population. Its timing suggests that, while the court aims to deliver justice, it also serves as an extension of ongoing EU security efforts.