Former Kosovo president Hashim Thaci will be on trial at a Hague war crimes tribunal starting Monday.
He is accused of leading a campaign of murder and torture during the 1998-1999 independence war with Serbia.
Thaci, who denies the charges, allegedly targeted perceived enemies of the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), including Serbs and Roma, as the rebels sought to take over.
According to prosecutors, Thaci, who was known as “Snake” during the war, is jointly responsible for over 100 murders committed by the KLA, ranging from executions to the deaths of mistreated detainees. The trial of Thaci, along with three other men, starts at 0700 GMT and will involve opening statements from the prosecution and victim lawyers. Defence lawyers will speak from Tuesday.
Each defendant faces six counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes, including murder, torture, forced disappearances, persecution, and cruel treatment. The other defendants are former KLA spokesman Jakup Krasniqi, Thaci’s closest political ally Kadri Veseli, and key KLA figure Rexhep Selimi.
Thaci pleaded not guilty at a 2020 hearing. He had already resigned as president and handed himself in to the EU-funded Kosovo Specialist Chambers in the Netherlands after he was charged. The indictment accuses Thaci and his co-defendants of being “part of a widespread and systematic attack against persons suspected of being opposed to the KLA”.
Human Rights Watch said the trial highlights the “ongoing need for justice” nearly a quarter of a century after the war ended. The trial offers a chance for victims to learn what happened and highlights the pervasive impunity that still hangs over the Kosovo conflict.
Thaci’s rebel KLA fought Serb forces for the independence of the southern province in a bitter conflict that claimed over 13,000 lives. A NATO air campaign eventually forced the Serbs to withdraw.
After retiring from the KLA, Thaci entered politics, with then US Vice President Joe Biden hailing him as the “George Washington of Kosovo.” Rebel leaders of the KLA went on to dominate political life in Kosovo.
The Kosovo Specialist Chambers was established in 2015 after a 2010 Council of Europe report linked Thaci to organised crime during and after the war. In the years since, he has also faced accusations of corruption, clientelism, and cynical politicking that blighted Kosovo’s first decade of independence.
The high-security court operates under Kosovo law but is based in the Netherlands to shield witnesses from intimidation in Kosovo. The tribunal convicted former KLA commander Salih Mustafa in December and sentenced him to 26 years in jail for running a makeshift torture centre. It has also jailed two Kosovo ex-rebels, Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj, for intimidating witnesses.