Two Kosovo Serbs Denied a Fair Trial

In a unanimous decision on 14 June this year, the international panel of the District Court in Prizren found two Kosovo Serbs, Cedomir Jovanovic and Andjelko Kolasinac, guilty of war crimes against the civilian population in Orahovac during the NATO intervention. The three-judge panel, with Dr Ingo Risch of Germany presiding, sentenced Jovanovic to 20 and Kolasinac to five years in prison.

Observing the trial, the Humanitarian Law Center’s monitors concluded that the two Serbs were denied a fair trial and that the panel’s decision imperils the efforts of the international community to establish the rule of law in Kosovo.

There is no doubt that mass crimes were committed against the ethnic Albanian population in the Orahovac area. There are numerous indications that members of the Serb regular and paramilitary forces killed and forcibly displaced Albanians, and looted and destroyed their property.

The trial of Cedomir Jovanovic and Andjelko Kolasinac, however, was not in accordance with the standards of fairness. The defendants’ right to the use of their own language was grossly violated since the trial was conducted in Albanian and English. They were therefore unable to follow the proceedings or challenge the evidence presented against them. Nor were they able to understand the testimony of witnesses as no translation was provided. Since only the recorded part of the trial was translated into Serbian, the defendants had no way of knowing what the presiding judge had not entered into the record and might have helped their defense.

Though Jovanovic and Kolasinac were not present at the hearing held in Belgrade on 8 June, the record of the evidence presented that day was not read out in Prizren so that they did not know what evidence was in their favor and what against them. Furthermore and in a clear contravention of the law, the court admitted as evidence the statements they had made to the police.

Presiding judge Ingo Risch posed leading questions to the witnesses, obviously instructing them as to the answers he desired. He repeatedly made inappropriate and cynical remarks, openly demonstrating prejudice against the defendants, in particular Andjelko Kolasinac.

In view of all these defects, the Humanitarian Law Center urges the Kosovo Supreme Court to set aside the decision and order a retrial. The Supreme Court should also issue to the Prizren District Court instructions that would guarantee a fair trial for Jovanovic and Kolasinac.