A Guilty Verdict for Members of the Gnjilane Group Charged with War Crimes Committed against Serbs and other non-Albanians

The War Crimes Trial Chamber of the Belgrade High Court, presided by Justice Snežana Nikolić-Garotić rendered a guilty verdict on January 21, 2011 in the case of nine individuals charged with war crimes against civilian population in Gnjilan/Gjilan, Kosovo. The accused are sentenced as follows: Agush Memishi, Selimon Sadiku, and Samet Hajdari to 15 years in prison; Faton Hajdari, Ahmet Hasani, and Nazif Hasani to 10 years in prison;  Kamber Sahiti and Ferat Hajdari to 8 years in prison.

Agush Memishi, Faton Hajdari, Samet Hajdari, and Selimon Sadiku have been in detention since December 29, 2008 and their detention was extended, while the accused Ahmet Hasani, Nazif Hasani, Ferat Hajdari, Kamber Sahiti, and Burim Fazliu, who were released from detention after the closing argument on December 29, 2011, were ordered to regularly report to the police station and forbidden to leave town without a court permit.

The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) believes that the court properly assessed the evidence presented before them and established criminal responsibility of individuals accused of war crimes against the civilian population in Kosovo after the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo.

In determining the sentence, the Trial Chamber considered aggravating circumstances such as the fact that the defendants committed the acts stipulated in the indictment over an extended time period; the brutality of the crimes they committed; the number of victims; and serious consequences of their crime. The Trial Chamber also considered extenuating circumstances such as their family status, their misdemeanour during the trial, and their age at the time of the commitment of the criminal acts they were charged with.

Although the maximum prison sentence for war crimes is 20 years, because of legal limitations applicable to the defendants who were underage (younger than 21) at the time of the commitment of the crime, the Trial Chamber sentenced some of the defendants to lesser sentences than expected. Some of the sentences are not commensurate with the severity of the crime in question and they don’t offer satisfaction to victims’ family members, especially in light of the fact that the remaining co-conspirators are still at large.

HLC strongly believes that in war crimes trials it is inappropriate to lessen the sentences on the basis of extenuating circumstances, especially in cases in which the defendants are armed members of one of the parties to the conflict and their victims are civilians who are protected by Fourth Geneva Convention.

According to the indictment raised on August 11, 2009, the defendants, as members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) were deployed in June 1999 on the territory of the so-called Karakak zone of operation (the territory of municipalities of Gnjilan/Gjilan, Vitina/Viti, Kosovska Kamenica/Kemenicë, and Novo Brdo/Novobërdë). The command of the unit was situated at the Yugoslav National Army Home (Dom JNA) in Gnjilan/Gjilan, and about 100 soldiers were situated at the building of the Secondary Boarding School Center. The goal of their operation was to establish a complete civil and military control over the entire territory of Kosovo at the same time driving Serbs and other non-Albanians out of Kosovo. In the period from the beginning of June to the end of December 1999 the defendants ordered and conducted illegal detention, inhuman acts, torture, rape, murder, caused injuries and great suffering, and plundered the property of Serbs, other non-Albanians, and some Albanians, which resulted in the brutal death of 80 persons caused by torture, the disappearance of at least 34 persons whose bodies have not been found yet, and at least over 153 persons who were illegally imprisoned, tortured, and released. The bodies of eight people were found and the bodies of Stojanče and Zorica Mladenović were identified so far.

The trial of the 17 accused members of the so-called “Gnjilane Group” began on September 23, 2009. In November 2010 the Trial Chamber decided to separate the proceedings for Shefqet Musliu, Sadik Aliu, Idriz Aliu, Shemsij Nuhium, Ramadan Halimi, Fazli Ajdari, Rexhep Aliu, and Shaqir Shaqiri because at the time they were still at large. There were a total of 50 trial days during which 39 witnesses were heard, 21 of whom were victim/witnesses. The courtroom was closed for the public for the hearing of protected witnesses and witness-collaborators. All of the accused except for Ferat Hajdari and Kamber Sahit, who invoked their right to remain silent, entered a not guilty plea. The Trial Chamber rejected their defence that they had arrived to the Secondary Boarding School Center in Gnjilan/Gjilan after the period indicated in the indictment. Instead, the Trial Chamber accepted in its entirety the testimony of witness-collaborator Božur 50 and protected witnesses C1 and C2.  Witness-collaborator Božur 50 described in detail the crimes committed in Gnjilan/Gjilan and the role of each defendant. The Trial Chamber did not establish that witness-collaborator Božur 50 had an ulterior motive to falsely accuse any of the defendants. Also, the women who testified as victim/witnesses were obviously upset during their testimonies and gave very emotional accounts of what had happened to them and which of the accused were to blame.