Opening of the first trial in the tribunal for Kosovo

Since his arrest in September 2020, at each hearing before the Special Tribunal for Kosovo, Salih Mustafa has appeared before his judges dressed in a sober suit and tie. At the opening of his trial on September 15, this former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) this time chose a red tracksuit and a black hooded sweatshirt, as if to display a form of contempt for the court.

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Shaved head, oval face, rectangular glasses, Commander Cali, of his nom de guerre, swings in his chair, on this first day of the case, and smiles at the reading of the charges. “I am not guilty of any of the charges brought against me by this Gestapo office”, he blurted out to prosecutor Jack Smith. The president’s admonitions elicit only a small smile of defiance from her. Salih Mustafa is accused of war crimes for arbitrary detention, torture, cruel treatment and murder committed in April 1999, at the height of the war between the independence guerrillas of the KLA and the Serbia of Slobodan Milosevic. A heavy conflict of 13,000 dead.

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As a preamble, the prosecutor reaffirms the legitimacy of this trial, contested in Pristina. The arrests of several former guerrilla leaders in the fall of 2020 have fueled criticism of the relocated jurisdiction in The Hague, especially after the resignation of President Hashim Thaçi, indicted and awaiting trial. The creation of the Tribunal “Was inspired by Kosovar voices”, defends Jack Smith.

This new court made up of international judges was established by the European Union in 2015, before being validated, reluctantly, by the parliament of Kosovo. For the prosecutor, this does not call into question the independence of the country. His slayers “Say this lawsuit is against Kosovo and its people. But it concerns the deep contempt for human life, dignity and freedom ”, advises the American prosecutor.

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From Monday, he intends to call fifteen witnesses to the bar. “You will hear from victims who waited two decades to be heard”, he announces. His deputy, Cezary Michalczuk, discusses the crimes. In April 1999, near the village of Zlash, in the mountains of northeastern Kosovo, at least six prisoners were reportedly held in a stable before being tortured and beaten, burned and threatened with death. One of them will not survive.

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