Thursday, April 03, 2008

Serbian Officials: Scandalous mockery of justice

BELGRADE -- PM Vojislav Koštunica says the Hague verdict in the Haradinaj case is a "dark decision".

The Hague Tribunal's acquittal of former KLA leader Ramush Haradinai fully testifies that this court "does not exist to mete justice", the prime minister said.

"It is clear that in question is a court which has been set up to officially declare innocent those who committed crimes, like Haradinai," Koštunica told Tanjug.

"Apart from Haradinai's crimes against the Serbs in Kosovo, this represents a new major crime and Serbia is stating this publicly and unequivocally."

"This decision of the Hague Tribunal represents a mockery of justice and a mockery of the innocent victims who suffered at the hands of Haradinai," Koštunica said in a strongly worded statement this afternoon in Belgrade.

Earlier today, President Boris Tadić said that should the UN court in The Hague, ICTY, decide to set Haradinaj and two other defendants, accused of the most serious crimes, free, it would constitute for a "great injustice and degrading of the credibility of the court".

"Such a verdict would not see justice done and it would not encourage Serbs and other non-Albanians to expect a safe and peaceful life in Kosovo", Tadić was quoted.

He also said that "Haradinaj's place is in prison, not at large".

Tadić reminded that former Chief Hague Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte told him that prosecution witnesses in the case were intimidated and even murdered, in order to keep silent about Haradinaj's crimes committed in the province in 1998.

"Today's verdict of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague shows that it is high time that this tribunal closes down," Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukčević said in reaction to the news this afternoon.

Vukčević told Tanjug that the "low quality of the trials before the Tribunal is clear, and not only with regards the Haradinai trial", adding that "the exit strategy is, unfortunately, apparent in the courts themselves".

"The Tribunal has clearly played its historic role, in the period when the political elites in the region and in this country either refused or were unable to deal with war crimes," Vukčević stated.

He said that the judiciaries of this region have credibility and are fully prepared, as they have proved, to process war crimes cases locally.

Vukčević said he expected the Hague Tribunal prosecution to appeal Haradinai's acquittal.

"What is important is that nine witness linked to the Haradinai case have been killed in the 2003 - 2007 period. One survived an assassination attempt," Vukčević set out.

He underscored that the Tribunal's witness protection program for Kosovo has "completely failed".

Other top government officials also condemned the Hague ruling today.

Minister for Kosovo Slobodan Samardžić told a news conference in Belgrade that "this catastrophic ICTY verdict will have political, moral and legal consequences for justice and possibly also for peace and stability in Kosovo."

"Haradinaj's acquittal shows that there is no international justice for crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia," he said, noting that Haradinaj's indictment had been "well drafted with strong evidence and numerous witnesses".

"The verdict has allowed a war criminal to continue engaging in politics in Kosovo and will affect the state endeavors for preserving Kosovo as part of Serbia", Samardžić said, adding that the ruling "has poured oil onto fire in the Kosovo issue".

Deputy Prime Minister Božidar Đelić sad that Haradinaj's acquittal was a "black day for international justice", and recalled the evidence presented by former Hague Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte.

"The acquittal is scandalous and follows tremendous pressures and murder of witnesses. It has dealt a serious blow to the entire system of international justice and to the future and reconciliation among nations in the Balkans, and the responsibility lies with ICTY," Đelić said.

The Kosovo Serb political representatives agreed Thursday that the Haradinaj judgment was "scandalous".

Haradinaj, and two other Kosovo Albanians, were indicted for crimes against humanity and violation of war law and customs in Kosovo in 1998.

Democratic Party, DS, Commissioner for Kosovska Mitrovica and its candidate for MP Dragiša Đoković told Tanjug that the verdict was another proof that the Tribunal was a "political court with no connection with law or justice".

"This and other similar decisions are making Serbia's position more difficult as they are encouraging extremism and deepening problems in the Balkans, since there can be no reconciliation among nations if major criminals are rewarded rather than punished," he said.

President of the Community of Kosovo Serb Municipalities Marko Jakšić said the ruling was a "legal scandal, bearing in mind all crimes committed against Kosovo Serbs".

"The verdict sends to Kosovo Serbs a message from the international community that there is no justice," he said.

"Criminals are rewarded with a state to which they are returning as heroes, while on the other hand the truth about missing and abducted Kosovo Serbs remains hidden, as does the trade of their organs, about which former Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte wrote in her book," Jakšić said.

G17 Plus candidate in the upcoming parliamentary elections Oliver Ivanović told Tanjug that the decision to acquit Haradinaj was "shocking".

"About 30 Serbian army and police officers are currently being held at ICTY on grounds of command responsibility, while ICTY acquitted self-styled general Haradinaj who has written two books admitting his involvement in the Metohija zone and indirectly his accountability for crimes committed against Serbs in the area," Ivanović said.

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