The Trial to Anton Lekaj was Fair Although Conducted Before a Non-Jurisdictional Court

The War Crimes Chamber of the Belgrade District Court, presided by judge Olivera Andjelkovic, in a Decision of September 18, 2006, found Anton Lekaj, a former member of KLA, guilty of war crimes against civilian population, and sentenced him to 13 years in prison. The verdict was highly publicized in all Serbian media, as opposed to the trial itself which went unnoticed, without media coverage or expert involvement.

Anton Lekaj, a Kosovo Albanian, had a fair trial in Serbia, but it was accompanied by a number of problems with respect to providing witnesses from Kosovo, as well as those who had left Kosovo in 1999 and are still without a permanent address. Witnesses from Kosovo refused to appear before the court in Serbia. UNMIK was not very supportive of having the trial to Lekaj held in Serbia.

The HLC believes that Lekaj should have been tried in Kosovo, before the International Panel, which has the jurisdiction over trying citizens of Kosovo accused of having committed war crimes as well as other heinous crimes. The impression is that the Office of the Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia refused to hand over the Lekaj case to UNMIK, in order to present itself as having jurisdiction to try Kosovo Albanians as well, presenting them as Serbian citizens. The damage was done against the Albanian community, which was, in the Lekaj case, denied the opportunity to face the crimes committed in their name.

The Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia accused Lekaj of illegal imprisonment, killing, torture, inhuman treatment, inflicting injuries, and rape of members of non-Albanian ethnic community in the basement of the “Pastrik” hotel in Djakovica. With respect to those accusations, the War Crimes Chamber established that the accused Lekaj had raped S. T., a minor Roma girl, and made her inflict wounds to Tafa Hasan with a lit cigarette. Furthermore, the War Crimes Chamber believes that it was proved that the accused Lekaj, together with other persons, inflicted a serious injury to late Rade Gagovic by holding him down while another person cut off his ear and than together, they made Rexh Shala eat that ear. The Chamber also established that the accused Lekaj, together with Arben Shkupi sodomized the plaintiff Bedri Shala and also participated in the killing of Rexh Shala.

Due to a lack of evidence, the War Crimes Chamber acquitted Lekaj for the murder of the following civilians: Lushaj Zvezdan, Krasniqi Bajram, and Rade Gagovic, and for cutting off three fingers from the hand of Bali Shala.

The most serious problem was the refusal of Berisha Sali, Bolaj Shaban, and Shala Mete, the witnesses who live in Kosovo, to come and testify before the court in Serbia. The Trial Chamber decided at that time to have those witnesses and parents of the late Lushaj Zvezdan, as well as four witnesses to the Defense, heard by a member of the War Crimes Trial Chamber Miroslav Alimpic on May 30, 2006 in Pristina. As was the case with the hearing of witnesses in BiH and Croatia, the judge was not allowed to hear the witnesses independently. Instead, an international judge was appointed by UNMIK to conduct the hearing. With no explanation at all, UNMIK refused to hear any of the witnesses proposed by the Trial Chamber of the Republic of Serbia, and only conducted hearing of the witnesses to the Defense. After that decision, judge Miroslav Alimpic and the deputy War Crimes Prosecutor Dragoljub Stankovic left the District Court in Pristina, and the witnesses to the Defense were heard by an international judge.

Although the decision of UNMIK to have an international judge conduct the hearing of witnesses to the Defense was arbitrary, judge Alimpic, a member of the Trial Chamber and the deputy War Crimes Prosecutor Stankovic should not have refused to attend the hearing of the witnesses to the Defense, because that demonstrated that they were not interested in establishing the facts and that they did not recognize the right of the accused to propose witnesses. The HLC believes that judge Alimpic had a responsibility to attend the hearing of those witnesses, and could have continued to insist on having witnesses to the Prosecution heard as well.

Regardless of the above mentioned deficiencies of judge Alimpic, who is a member of the Trial Chamber, this Trial Chamber made a fair and legally founded decision to admit the testimonies of witnesses to the Defense, given in Pristina, to be read in the course of the proceedings, which represented the respect of the right of the accused to defense. But, the ultimate result of the wrong decision made by UNMIK was that the injured party-witnesses, the parents of the late Lushaj Zvezdan, were denied their right to convey their knowledge on the death of their son before the court.