Kosovo president Hashim
Thaçi vows to resign if war
crimes trial goes ahead
Thaçi says he will leave office if The
Hague confirms charges made against
him last week
Julian Borger Last modified on Wed 1 Jul 2020
Thaçi has strongly denied the charges levied against him. He said: ‘Political mistakes in
peace I could have made, but war crimes, never.ʼ Photograph: Valdrin Xhemaj/EPA
Kosovoʼs president, Hashim Thaçi, has promised to
resign immediately if a war crimes indictment filed
against him at a special court in The Hague is confirmed.
The indictment, yet to be ruled on by the pre-trial judge,
was made public in dramatic fashion last week, as Thaçi
was on his way to Washington for negotiations at the
The indictment was for a range of crimes against
humanity and war crimes, including murder, enforced
disappearance, persecution and torture. It named Thaçi
and one other Kosovo politician, former parliament
speaker Kadri Veseli.
The news scuppered the planned talks between Thaçi
and Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić, which had been
convened by Richard Grenell, Donald Trumpʼs Balkan
peace envoy. The two states have been in dispute since
the former Serbian province broke away after a Nato
bombing campaign in 1999, and a deal to normalise
relations would have brought a quick diplomatic win for
Trump shortly before the US presidential election.
Instead, Thaçi turned back and headed home. After
several days of silence, he surfaced on Monday evening,
with a televised address in which he protested his
innocence and used emotional language to describe his
personal feelings and his devotion to Kosovoʼs liberation
struggle. “Political mistakes in peace I could have made,
but war crimes, never,” he said.
However, he said he would not fight confirmed charges
while in office. “If the accusation is confirmed, I will
immediately resign as your president and face the
accusations,” he said.
Thaçi, Kosovoʼs most powerful politician, has been
president since 2016 and was prime minister before that.
During the armed struggle against Serbian forces in
1998-99 he led the political wing of the Kosovo
Liberation Army (KLA).
The specialist prosecutorʼs office at the Kosovo
chambers in The Hague said last week that it was taking
the unusual step of making the charges public before the
indictment had been confirmed because of Thaçiʼs
repeated efforts to “obstruct and undermine” the courtʼs
work. The prosecutorsʼ aim appeared to be to stop Thaçi
from signing a deal at the White House that would then
make him politically untouchable.
“Thaçi has this idea that because thatʼs the way he does
things and his crowd do things, thatʼs the way other
governments work, too,” said a former US diplomat who
worked in the region. “Trump has that same idea thatʼs
the way government should work. But I just donʼt see
anybody [at the court] accepting that.”
The diplomat said the prosecutors may have gone public
out of irritation at being pressured politically by elements
within the Trump administration. Others suggested
European officials may have been eager to make the
information public and scupper a rushed US deal with the
unpredictable Trump as guarantor.
“We donʼt really know who is influencing the court, if
anyone, but itʼs a legitimate question to ask because it is
vulnerable to political influence,” said Andrea Capussela,
who was head of the economic department of the
International Civilian Office in Kosovo from 2008-11 and
wrote a book on the countryʼs development. The court
was established in response to a 2011 report accusing
the KLA leadership, including Thaçi, of involvement in
Attorneys working on defence cases at the court said the
prosecutorʼs public statement was inexcusable. “The
rules are crystal clear that the indictments that are filed
are to be kept confidential and are not to be made public
before it is confirmed by the pre-trial judge,” said
Jonathan Rees QC, a British barrister who is on the list of
approved defence counsel for the chambers.
Rees said the court should sanction the prosecutor for
breaching the rules. “The specialist chambers will have
powers to prevent proceedings continuing if their
fundamental fairness has been jeopardised,” he said.
The majority of victims of the 1998-99 conflict were
ethnic Albanians, and several Serbian military and police
officials have been convicted by international courts of
war crimes. While the KLA was also accused of atrocities,
and while Thaçi has many critics for his performance in
government over the past decade, many inside Kosovo
view the war as a just struggle for liberation, and see the
court as a stain on the reputation of the newly
“Europe wanted to make Kosovo a success story, and it
would have been hard to do that if you allowed Thaçi to
be sent to jail,” said Capussela. “But now many can see
that the political winds inside Kosovo have changed.”
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