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Articles on the Kosovo Conflict


Cuska - a “brave and patriotic” trial
By Radosa Milutinovic, Belgrade
International Justice Tribune
January 18, 2012

It was a sign of changing times in Serbia at the end of December 2011, when Deputy War Crimes Prosecutor Bruno Vekaric told journalists that an insider witness testimony describing atrocities against Kosovo Albanian civilians committed by Serb paramilitaries in 1999 constitutes a “brave and patriotic act.” “It is patriotic to testify about the killings of women and children and other horrors which he saw with his own eyes.

It is as patriotic as defend[ing] your fatherland,” Vekaric said. He was referring to the account given by Zoran Raskovic during the high-profile trial of members of the Jackals paramilitary unit that opened on December 20, 2010 before the Special War Crimes Chamber of Belgrade’s High court - which started its work in 2003.

Twelve accused - two of them still at large - are charged with crimes against ethnic Albanians in the village of Cuska in western Kosovo, including the killing of at least 44 civilians, rape, looting, and the burning of property. The crimes were allegedly committed on May 14, 1999, during NATO’s bombing of Serbia. After refusing the court’s protective measures, Raskovic - who was 20 years old and a member of the Jackals at the time, testified in gruesome detail how his former comrades killed women, children and men in Cuska.

“Ranko Momic was the worst... He raped a pregnant Albanian woman before my own eyes. He then shot her. Afterwards, Momic lit a cigarette and ordered me to set a house on fire,” Raskovic told the court on December 26, amid loud protests from both the accused and their supporters.

“We saw no terrorists”
The importance of Raskovic’s widely-reported testimony is hard to overstate in a Serbia where predominant public opinion still has it that Serbian forces in Kosovo fought a just war against Albanian KLA “terrorists,” helped by NATO “aggressors.” “Nobody shot at us and we saw no terrorists,” Raskovic testified. The Jackals case is not the first in Belgrade to be brought against Serbs for crimes in Kosovo. In four previous cases, nine Serb perpetrators, including policemen and members of the notorious Scorpions paramilitary - were sentenced to a total of 165 years in prison for the massacres of Albanian civilians in 1999.

But the Cuska trial could turn out to be the most significant because of the alleged aim of the Jackals’ operation. According to the indictment, their goal was to “spread fear among the Albanian population and to force it to leave Kosovo for Albania.” This charge implicitly places the Jackals as direct perpetrators, within a joint criminal enterprise aimed at persecuting hundreds of thousands of Albanian civilians outside Kosovo. That mirrors the main prosecution strategy in cases against high-ranking Serbian officials such as Sainovic and Djordjevic at the ICTY.

To date, six of them have received long prison sentences (15 to 27 years) for conceiving and implementing such a criminal enterprise under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 near the end of his trial at The Hague. Cuska and Belgrade’s other trials also illustrate the need for regional cooperation in prosecuting war crimes. Deputy prosecutor Vekaric says Serbian prosecutors have so far exchanged information and evidence in only 19 war crimes cases over eight years, with Kosovo’s “provisional authorities.”

Many non-Serb victims and witnesses, especially from Kosovo, have testified in Belgrade, thanks largely to the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), an NGO which has gathered dossiers on crimes in Kosovo, Croatia, and Bosnia. So far, Special Chamber sentenced 48 Serb perpetrators to a total of 545 years in prison for war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, and one Albanian to 13 years.

“Selective” indictments
The HLC - headed by renowned human rights activist Natasa Kandic - is also the harshest critic of Belgrade’s war crimes prosecutors. The Centre claims that indictments are “selective” - limited to direct perpetrators and not aimed high enough at the military and police chain of command. Responding angrily last November to that charge, prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic claimed Kandic was “biased” and “self-interested to prove, without any valid evidence, that our state is responsible for all the crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, not the perpetrators who are being prosecuted.” This dispute between one-time allies illustrates the enormity of the challenges that war crimes prosecutors and judges in Belgrade still face - eight years after they started work.

Originally published at https://www.justicetribune.com/articles/cuska-brave-and-patriotic-trial - free registration required

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