Anton Lekaj

20.04.2016 ( Last modified: 09.05.2017 )
Trial Watch would like to remind its users that any person charged by national or international authorities is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

facts

Anton Lekaj, also known as Pinqo, was born in 1980. He was a member of the “Cipat” group of the military police forces within the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK).

It is alleged that on 12 June 1999, in the context of the conflict between the UCK and the Serbian forces, Anton Lekaj and other members of the UCK unlawfully captured 13 civilians attending a Roma wedding ceremony in the city of Dakovica. The detainees were tortured before being transferred to premises of the Pastrik Hotel where they were held for four days. During that time, Anton Lekaj and other members of the UCK allegedly continued to torture and subject them to inhumane and degrading treatments, including mutilations, rapes and other sexual harassments, beatings with wooden sticks and cigarette burns. One of the victims was stabbed to death.

Two days later, on 14 June 1999, Anton Lekaj‘s group was ordered to release six of the victims. During the night of 15 June they also transferred the remaining detainees to a different place where three persons were allegedly killed.

 

legal procedure

Anton Lekaj was initially arrested in August 2004 in Montenegro, during investigations into a car theft. He was then transferred to Serbia following the indictment by Serbia’s Special War Crimes Chamber on 7 July 2005.

He was charged with war crimes against members of the civilian population, including torture and inhumane or degrading treatment, the rape of an under-age girl and the murder of four persons.

The trial began on 12 October 2005 before the War Crimes Chamber of the District Court in Belgrade. Lekaj denied all charges against him and requested to be tried in front of the United Nations-backed International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, refusing to recognise the Serbian judicial authorities.

The head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) also contested Serbian jurisdiction, since Kosovo at that point was no longer governed by Serbia but under the authority of the UN mission. Accordingly, UNMIK refused to cooperate fully and to proceed with the hearing of witnesses living in Kosovo.

On 18 September 2006, the Special War Crimes Chamber of Serbia found Anton Lekaj guilty of rape, torture and inhumane and degrading treatment, and of the murder of one person. For lack of evidence, the Court acquitted him of the torture of one person and the murder of three more.

Anton Lekaj was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment for co-perpetration in the commission of war crimes.

On 6 April 2007, the High Court of Serbia upheld the sentence.

highlight

The Lekaj case is the first judgment handed down by the Special War Crimes Chamber of Serbia against an Albanian for crimes committed in relation to the conflict in Kosovo.

context

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL TRIBUNAL FOR FORMER YUGOSLAVIA

The conflict in former Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1999, shocked international public opinion because of the abuses revealed by the press, which were committed by all parties to the conflict (massacres, forced displacements of population, concentration camps …). The conflict is considered to consist of several separate conflicts, which were ethnic in nature – the war in Slovenia (1991), the war in Croatia (1991-1995), the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995) and the war Kosovo (1998-1999), which also involved the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.

The conflicts accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia, when the constituent republics declared their independence. The wars mostly ended after peace accords were signed, and new republics were given full international recognition of their statehood.

In order to restore peace and security in the region, the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of UN Charter, created on 25 May 1993, by Resolution 827, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). It was determined that pursuant to numerous reports of, among other, mass killings, systematic detention, rapes, practice of “ethnic cleansing”, transfers, etc., these acts constituted a threat to international peace and security, necessitating a reaction by Security Council. As the Tribunal was created during the ongoing conflict, the Security Council expressed its hopes that ICTY would contribute to halting violations in the region. Its headquarters are in The Hague, Netherlands.

The Tribunal has jurisdiction to prosecute persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law – grave breaches of Geneva Conventions, violations of laws and customs of war, genocide and crimes against humanity – allegedly committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia after 1 January 1991, (no end date was specified). Since its creation, the ICTY has indicted more than 160 people, including heads of states and government members.

The Tribunal’s mandate was originally meant to expire on 31 December 2009, but the Security Council voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the Court with several judges, including permanent judges, so that the ongoing trials can be completed. According to the “ICTY Completion Strategy Report” from 18 May 2011, all trials were supposed to be completed by the end of 2012, and all the appeals by the end of 2015. The exceptions were cases of Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic.

The Security Council adopted resolution 1966 on 22 December 2010, establishing International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. The ICTY residual mechanism began functioning on 1 July 2013.

The Tribunal was called to finish its work by the end of 2014, in order to prepare closure and transfer of cases to the Residual Mechanism. The Mechanism is a small and temporary body, which plays important role in ensuring that the completion strategy of ICTY does not result in impunity of fugitives and in injustice. It is conducting all outstanding first instance trials, including those of Karadzic, Mladic and Hadzic. It is also to complete all appeals proceedings that were filed before 1 July 2013.

The ICTY is not the only court with jurisdiction to try alleged perpetrators of serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the former Yugoslavia. The Tribunal has concurrent jurisdiction with national courts. However, it takes precedence over them and may require the referral from the national court at any stage of the proceedings (Article 9 of the ICTY Statute). The Statute does not elaborate how the primacy is to be exercised, but it was asserted by the judges of the ICTY in the Rules of Procedure and Evidence. The primacy can be asserted in three cases: when an international crime is intentionally or unwittingly prosecuted before national court as an “ordinary criminal offence”, when a national court is unreliable, or when the case is closely related, or may be relevant to other cases being tried by the ICTY.

NATIONAL JURISDICTIONS

National courts also have jurisdiction to prosecute alleged perpetrators of serious violations of international humanitarian law.

In the former Yugoslavia, the trials of those accused of war crimes have been opened by the courts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Section for War Crimes was set up in the Criminal and Appellate Divisions of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Special Chamber for War Crimes has jurisdiction to prosecute the most serious alleged war crimes committed in Bosnia, and was created to relieve the ICTY, so that it can focus on criminals of high rank. Its establishment was also considered necessary for effective war crimes prosecution in Bosnia. The opening of the Special Chamber was on 9 March 2005.

Additionally, pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 from 10 June 1999, UN administration was created in Kosovo. Consequently, in 2000 “Regulation 64” Panels in Courts of Kosovo were created, which are mixed chambers at the local courts. They have two international judges and one national. These panels work in collaboration with the ICTY. They have jurisdiction over those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. They focus on prosecuting lower ranking offenders.

In Serbia, the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor was established on 1 July 2003. It was created to detect and prosecute perpetrators of criminal offenses against humanity and international law, and offences recognised by the ICTY Statute, regardless of the nationality, citizenship, race or religion of the perpetrator and the victim, as long as the acts were committed on the territory of former Yugoslavia after 1 January 1991. Its seat is in Belgrade, Serbia.

Other relevant national jurisdictions are under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows states with a specific legal basis, to try perpetrators of serious crimes regardless of their nationality or that of the victims and regardless of where the crime was committed.