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Kosovo: Criminal justice system still on trial

* News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International *

22 November 2000
EUR 70/063/2000
221/00

Amnesty International today expressed concern about tomorrow's trial in Kosovo of Momcilo Trajkovic, a Kosovo Serb and former police station commander, and about the fate of Afrim Zeqiri, an ethnic Albanian accused of the murder of three Serbs, who has been unlawfully imprisoned for at least two weeks.

Momcilo Trajkovic, who faces charges of war crimes against ethnic Albanians, will go on trial in the absence of a prosecutor from the international community. The presence of an international prosecutor has been advocated as a safeguard against bias in the Kosovo courts by the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK).

Amnesty International is also concerned that the detention of Afrim Zeqiri has not been authorized by a judge, as required in national and international law.

Amnesty International reiterates its concern that the criminal justice system in Kosovo has failed to uphold international human rights standards, and these two cases are clear examples of this failure.

"While recognizing the enormous obstacles confronting UNMIK, it has to be said that the authorities have failed to ensure that international human rights law is implemented in Kosovo," Amnesty International said.

"To end the culture of impunity in Kosovo all trials must be fair and due process observed at all stages so that justice can be seen to be done -- for both victims and defendants,"

Amnesty International issued two reports earlier this year analysing failings and making recommendations about the judicial system and law enforcement in Kosovo, which were accepted by UNMIK and KFOR peacekeeping force. However, a report issued last month by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) Legal Systems Monitoring Section in Kosovo revealed continuing failings.

UNMIK's public response to the OSCE report was to highlight how the appointment of international judges and prosecutors had reduced ethnic bias in the courts. Yet, although an international judge will sit on the panel, the Trajkovic war crimes trial will proceed without an international prosecutor.

Background Momcilo Trajkovic (unrelated to the Kosovo Serb politician of the same name) is charged with "war crimes against the civilian population" in relation to killings, torture and forcible expulsion perpetrated in Kosovo in April and May 1999 while he was commander of the police station in Kamenica.

Afrim Zeqiri was detained in connection with the killing of three Serbs in the village of Cernica near Gnjilane/Gjilan in May 2000. Most recently the Kosovo Supreme Court returned his case to the District Court after an appeal. His detention has been alternately on the basis of judicial decisions or administrative orders by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner. The last judicial decision on his detention expired on 9 November, making his current detention illegal. Amnesty International understands that the court had ordered the release of Zeqiri on 31 October, on the basis of the Supreme Court decision. He nevertheless remains in the detention centre at the Bondsteel US Army base. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is applicable in Kosovo, forbids arbitrary detention and insists that pre-trial detention is ordered only by a judicial authority and not by an administrative decision.

A leaflet distributed by KFOR in the Gnjilane/Gjilan area in August 2000 associated Afrim Zeqiri with a number of crimes for which he had not been brought to trial, including the Cernica. killings. The leaflet had both the KFOR and UNMIK logos. Coming from the organizations responsible for maintaining law and order in Kosovo it could prejudice Afrim Zeqiri's right to a fair trial and the victims' right to see justice done.

Amnesty International's reports on Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Kosovo) see: Recommendations to UNMIK on the judicial system, AI Index: EUR 70/06/00, February 2000 Setting the standard? UNMIK and KFOR's response the violence in Mitrovica, AI Index: EUR 70/13/00 March 2000 The OSCE report*, Review of the criminal justice system, can be found at: www.osce.org/kosovo/publications/law/. The report analyses criminal cases in process between February and July and makes numerous recommendations. *Amnesty International endorses many of these recommendations and urges their implementation together with its own

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