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Kosovo MPs, pundits oppose law on financial support for war crimes defendants

Excerpt from report by Kosovo Albanian privately-owned newspaper Koha Ditore on 23 June 2015. Report by Fitim Gashi: "Government To Fund Defence of Special Court's Defendants"

The government run by Prime Minister Isa Mustafa will create for the first time ever a fund to provide financial support for the defendants, regardless of whether they are found guilty or not. Namely, together with a draft law on the specialized chambers and the office of the specialized prosecutor, the Kosovo Government has drafted a bill on the legal and financial support for potential defendants who appear in the trials of the specialized chambers of the special court [to try war crimes allegedly committed by the former Kosovo Liberation Army, UCK].

The draft law does not specify the types of the offence that will be covered as part of the assistance package, nor does it say what will happen in the event of the accused being declared guilty. Moreover, the government has not revealed the amount of financial support to be provided under that law. Members of the Kosovo Assembly, representatives of the Humanitarian Law Fund, and criminal law experts have disputed the bill.

On the day the Kosovo Assembly voted in favour of the special court on 23 April 2014, PDK [Democratic Party of Kosovo] Deputy Arsim Bajrami, who at that time was a member of the Assembly's commission on legislation, proposed this bill. Just two days later, the government which was run by Prime Minister Thaci, approved the proposal, but it could not be voted through as the Kosovo Assembly was dissolved in the meantime. Bajrami suggested the law would only provide assistance to those accused in connection with the UCK war.

But now the government run by Isa Mustafa - although his fellow colleagues opposed the law at that time - has not changed a single word in the bill. The bill which was already approved by the government, envisages different forms of support for the potential defendants, including their family members, who may be tried by the special court.

"The aim of the law is to provide legal protection and financial support to potential defendants in the court processes and the procedures linked to the alleged crimes which will be dealt with by the special court," reads article one of the draft law on legal protection and financial support of potential defendants to be tried in the specialized chambers.

"Dispositions of the law will apply to every person accused of alleged crimes to be dealt with in the court processes of the special court, including legal protection for the defendants and financial support for the defendants and their family members, including the travel expenses linked to the court procedures," reads article two.

According to the law, all those accused will be entitled to request compensation for the defence and hire independent, experienced, and competent lawyers, who will be paid from the Kosovo budget. [passage omitted]

Asked to say why there has not been a distinction between the criminal offences, Justice Minister Hajredin Kuci suggested asking Arsim Bajrami, because as he put it, "Bajrami was the sponsor of the law in the previous mandate." This newspaper could not reach Arsim Bajrami, who now is the minister of education. Government spokesperson Arban Abrashi also declined to say anything on the matter to this newspaper.

Unnecessary Budget Burden

But, the Kosovo Assembly members do not agree with the contents of the draft law. LDK [Democratic League of Kosovo] Deputy Vjosa Osmani argues that the budget obligations should only be considered in cases when the defendants are found innocent, and all defendants.

"I think it would be reasonable if Kosovo took over such budget obligations only for people who are declared innocent - that is, the expenses for their cases could be covered at the conclusion of a trial, if an accused person is declared innocent," Osmani said.

In her view, the way it is envisaged to defend the potential defendants under the law is irrational. "This does not seem to be reasonable at all because if a defendant is declared guilty, the state should not cover the trial expenses. Indirectly, the Kosovo institutions are assuming the responsibility by taking care of the cases that would be considered completely individual," Osmani said.

Representatives of the [Belgrade-based] Humanitarian Law Fund in Kosovo are also against the idea of providing financial support to the defendants through the law. Bekim Blakaj, head of the Kosovo office has told this newspaper that the defendants should be guaranteed protection in other forms, but they should not be a burden on the country's budget.

"The government should not cover the expenses to defend those accused of serious crimes. The government should not cover the expenses of their families either," Blakaj said.

He suggested the Kosovo Government allocate more funds for the war crimes victims and not for the potential perpetrators of those crimes. "Every potential defendant will have a defence (a lawyer) who will be appointed by the court in the event of a defendant not being able to hire one on his own," he said. [passage omitted]

Penal rights Professor Ismet Salihu considers the draft law initiated by the Kosovo Government as very sensitive and ambiguous. "This law will provide help even for those who might have committed through the law war crimes. This is a very problematic and delicate issue. There could be assistance for the cases that took place during the war, but this should not also apply the postwar crimes," Salihu said. [passage omitted]

[Source: By Koha Ditore, Pristina, Albania, 23Jun15 (via BBC Monitoring, 02Jul15)]

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The Question of Kosovo
small logoThis document has been published on 03Aug15 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.