THE HAGUE – David Schwendiman, lead prosecutor at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers – set up to try crimes committed by the “Kosovo Liberation Army” – held in The Hague on Thursday his first press conference since his appointment.
He declined to speculate on the number of future indictments and on when they will be raised.
“There is more to do, more to come, before everything is in place that will allow me to make formal charging decisions. I will do what the evidence and the law compel me to do, when we are ready – not a minute before, not a minute later.”
He also declined to speak about witnesses and witness protection methods, the N1 reported.
“I am obligated as well to protect witnesses and to keep confidential and secure all information that should be protected to ensure that witnesses who give evidence are not intimidated, or harmed or threatened,” he said.
Schwendiman, a former U.S. federal prosecutor who has also worked in Bosnia and Afghanistan, told reporters he is “aware of the political sensitivity of what I am doing,” but stressed “I will be guided only by the facts and the law.”
Schwendiman is investigating allegations made in a 2010 Council of Europe report that senior members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), including current Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, ran detention centers where civilian captives, mostly Serbs, were killed and their organs sold on the black market during Kosovo’s 1998-99 war for independence from Serbia. Thaci denies the claims.
While the Council of Europe named suspects it alleged were involved in such atrocities, Schwendiman said he would not identify suspects until he was ready to file charges.
“You will know when someone is accused when an indictment or charging document accusing them is made public,” he said.
The court’s registrar, Fidelma Donlon, said it aims to begin “judicial activity” in the first half of next year. That will likely involve judges adopting rules to govern how trials will be run.
Key to the new court’s success will be its ability to protect witnesses willing to testify. United Nations attempts to prosecute former KLA fighters for crimes including murder and torture were largely unsuccessful because of what judges called widespread intimidation of witnesses.
Donlon said the court would “implement the highest standards of protection” for witnesses and others involved in trials.
“This is something we take very seriously,” she said.