A plenary session of the Parliament Assembly of the Council of Europe
Against a background of at least one murder of a would-be witness and a "real threat" of retaliation against those in Kosovo who agree to give evidence as witnesses to war crimes, a draft Council of Europe report describes profound failings in witness protection in Kosovo.
The report, to be debated by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on January 26 2011, follows a report to the CoE by Dick Marty that alleged that Kosovo prime minister Hashim Thaci had been involved in illegal organ trafficking in his days as a Kosovo Liberation Army leader. Thaci denies the allegations and has said he could take court action.
The report on witness protection was compiled by an assembly member from Monaco, Jean-Charles Gardetto, and says that Kosovo has no adequate witness protection programme and although witnesses in sensitive cases testify anonymously, they still continue to physically remain in Kosovo and face danger of their identities being revealed.
"Witnesses are seen as traitors by the community where they testify. This discourages witnesses to come forth with their testimonies. Furthermore, many people don’t believe they have a moral and legal duty to testify over criminal issues," he said in the report.
The report says that Kosovo has no witness protection law, although a draft is being circulated among the ministries.
A United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) regulation on the Protection of Injured Parties and Witnesses in Criminal Proceedings gives trial panels the power to implement a series of protective measures.
In the most serious cases, witnesses are able to testify anonymously.
"However, it was made clear to the rapporteur that these measures are useless as long as the witness is physically in Kosovo, where everybody knows everybody else," the Gardetto report said.
"Most witnesses are immediately recognised by the defence when they deliver their testimony, despite all the anonymity measures."
When a witness does come forward, there is a real threat of retaliation, according to the report.
"This may not necessarily put them in direct danger, losing their job for example, but there are also examples of key witnesses being murdered," the report said.
The report quoted an OSCE report that said in Kosovo, all too frequently, witnesses who initially make statements to the police later change their testimony or become unwilling to testify at trial, because they fear reprisals.
Incidents of witness intimidation and injury occur often enough to justify this reluctance on the part of witnesses, according to the OSCE report.
Witnesses who testify anonymously or under a protection programme also fear that their identities will be disclosed.
Indeed, local newspapers have frequently revealed the identities of protected witnesses, according to the Gardetto report.
"Threats and assaults on witnesses often go unpunished," his report said.