‘Silenced’ Kosovo War Victims Given a Voice at Guerrilla’s Trial

The Victims' Participation Office of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers said in its opening statement at the first trial held at the Hague-based court on Wednesday that the alleged victims of Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA fighters during the 1998-99 war have been intimidated into silence for decades.

"Eleven thousand victims [of the Kosovo war] were civilians, some of these were victims of KLA members," said the statement which was read out on the opening day of the trial of wartime KLA unit commander Salih Mustafa.

"A veil of silence has been covering some of the crimes committed in the Kosovo war, the victims have been silenced," the statement continued.

It claimed that while some Kosovo war victims have been treated as "heroes or martyrs", others have been "left completely alone, directly or indirectly intimidated and silenced for years".

The statement was delivered to an empty chair because defendant Mustafa had walked out of court. He is charged with involvement in murder, torture, cruel treatment and arbitrary detentions during the Kosovo war in April 1999.

It is alleged that he committed the crimes at a KLA-run detention compound in Zllash/Zlas in Kosovo, against prisoners accused by the guerrilla fighters of collaborating with enemy Serbs or not supporting the KLA's cause. He has pleaded not guilty.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers' involvement of victims in court proceedings is novel in trials related to the Yugoslav wars, although similar schemes have been implemented at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and the UN's Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

At the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, which operated until 2017, and at war crimes trials in Kosovo itself, victims have...

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