The Supreme Court of Kosovo Sentences Former KLA Member Idriz Gashi to 14 Years in Prison for the Commitment of a War Crime

On November 25, 2010, the mixed Trial Chamber of the Supreme Court of Kosovo, presided by Justice Martti Harsia, upheld the judgment of the District Court of Peć/Pejë handed down on November 19, 2009 sentencing the accused Idriz Gashi to 14 years in prison for the war crime committed against a civilian.

The Supreme Court of Kosovo established that on August 12, 1998 the accused Idriz Gashi, as member of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), in a forest known as Isuf’s Valley/Lugu i Isufit near the village of Vranovac/Vranoc (in the Peć/Pejë municipality), killed the Albanian woman Sanija Balaj on suspicion of her collaboration with Serbian authorities.

The Humanitarian Law Center Kosovo believes that the Supreme Court of Kosovo properly established the criminal responsibility of the accused based on the presented evidence. The sentence is significant because it sanctions retribution against civilians who were killed during the armed conflict on suspicion that they collaborated with an enemy.

Facts of the Case:

The accused, Idriz Gashi, also known as Galani, was sentenced for killing Sanija Balaj on August 12, 1998 during the conflict in Kosovo/Kosovë, while he was a member of the KLA. On that day, Sanija travelled with her relatives to Peć/Pejë and when they arrived in the Barane/Baran village, near the KLA headquarters, they were stopped by members of the KLA. Sanija Balaj was questioned by commander of KLA operations Cuf Krasniqi, who found no reason to detain her any longer. On the other hand, the accused Idriz Gashi searched Sanija’s personal belongings and, based on the names he came across in her phone book, concluded that she collaborated with the Serbian authorities and ordered military soldier Avni Krasniqi to take her to the KLA Headquarters in the Glođane/Gllogjan village for a more detailed background check. The accused, Gashi, along with Avni Krasniqi and Sanija Balaj, were all on their way to the KLA Headquarters when Idriz Gashi ordered Avni Krasniqi to stop the car when they reached a forest in the vicinity of the Vranovac/Vranoc village. The accused then ordered Sanija to step out of the car and walk towards the woods, where he then killed her using his firearms. Idriz Gashi then warned Avni Krasniqi not to mention what happened. Later that same day, Idriz Gashi and Avni Krasniqi went back to the woods to hide the body of the killed woman. Durim Hasanaj, a young boy who was watching his herd, was near the place where the killing took place and he heard shots being fired. He told his parents about it when he went home. Soon after, the boy’s father, Zyber Hasanaj, and KLA members Ahmet Ukaj, Hysen Ukaj, and Sokol Tolaj went to the forest to see what had happened. They met Idriz Gashi and Avni Krasniqi. Idriz Gashi ordered Ahmet Ukaj to help Avni Krasniqi bury the girl. Three days later the accused ordered Avni Krasniqi to go with KLA soldier Idriz Balaj (also called Toger) to relocate the body to the Glođane/Gllogjan village, where the body was dumped in a nearby ditch along with 39 more bodies that were also there, all of which were found in September 1998 and identified in May 2007.

The investigation into the murder of Sanija Balaj was initiated in 2005. The accused Idriz Gashi was extradited from Sweden on October 12, 2006, where he had been living with his family. The indictment against him was raised on February 8, 2010 and the first-instance trial began on May 9, 2007 before the District Court of Peć/Pejë. On June 22, 2007 the Trial Chamber pronounced Idriz Gashi guilty and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. In the appeals process, filed by the defence counsel, the Supreme Court of Kosovo overturned the ruling and returned the case for a retrial. The new trial began on October 21, 2009 and ended on November 19, 2009. The Trial Chamber heard eye-witness accounts of the events that happened immediately before and after the execution of Sanija Balaj. The key witness was Avni Krasniqi, who on the day in question drove the accused Idriz Gashi and Sanija Balaj from the local headquarters in Barane/Baran to the forest where the execution took place. This witness was indicted in 2006 in connection with the same event on charges of kidnapping. However, prior to the beginning of the first-instance proceedings, the prosecutor dropped the charges because he could not establish that the Avni Krasniqi intended to harm Sanija Balaj and that he only acted as instructed by the accused Gashi. Since the family of Sanija Balaj did not file a private lawsuit against him, Avni Krasniqi was questioned only as a witness.

For the duration of the trial, the accused denied any wrongdoing. He stated that on the day in question he handed Sanija Balaj over to Met Krasniqi, one of the KLA commanders in the Požar/Pozhar village, so that Met Krasniqi would take her to the main KLA Headquarters in Glođan/Gllogjan and allow his superiors to decide on her destiny. Met Krasniqi, brother of Avni Krasniqi, could not be questioned because he had been killed by unidentified persons in August 1999.