Latif Gashi, also known as Commander “Lata”, was born on 12 September 1961 in the village of Doberdol, in Kosovo. During the 1998-1999 Kosovo war, he was commander of the military police unit of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). He later became chief of the intelligence service within the Lab region.
It is alleged that between August 1998 and June 1999 Latif Gashi, together with the other two members of the so-called “Llapi group”, Rrustem Mustafa and Nazif Mehmeti, illegally imprisoned Kosovo Albanian citizens in the detention centre of Llapashtica. Gashi allegedly supervised the camp and ensured control over the prisoners, whilst knowing that they were held in inhumane conditions which lacked basic sanitation. The detainees under suspicion of collaboration with the Serb forces were reportedly subjected to beatings and torture, with the aim of forcing them to confess acts of disloyalty to the KLA. Some are said to have died in detention. Gashi himself, as head of the intelligence service, ordered and participated in the interrogations. The illegal detention also deprived prisoners of their right to a fair trial.
After the conflict, Gashi became a parliamentary deputy of the governing Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK).
Latif Gashi was arrested on 11 August 2002 and brought to trial before the District Court of Pristina, which was composed by international judges of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).
On 16 July 2003, the District Court of Pristina convicted him and other KLA members for the murder of five Kosovo Albanians in the Llapashtica camp who had allegedly collaborated. Gashi was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, but the Kosovo’s Supreme Court overturned the verdict in 2005.
In 2008, the Prosecutor of the European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) accused Latif Gashi, together with Nazif Mehmeti and Rrustem Mustafa, of the unlawful detention, inhumane treatment and torture of ethnic Albanians during the Kosovo war. The trial started on 25 March 2009 before a mixed panel of the District Court of Pristina, composed by one local and two EULEX judges.
On 8 July 2009, Gashi pleaded not guilty.
On 2 october 2009, the Pristina Disctrict Court found Gashi guilty of war crimes through inhumane treatment, beating, torture and violation of bodily integrity or health of civilian detainees. Gashi was sentenced to serve 6 years in prison. On 17 February 2010, he filed an appeal.
On 26 January 2011, the Supreme Court of Kosovo partially granted the appeal of the accused. It upheld the conviction for war crimes against civilians but sent for a second re-trial the allegations concerning the beatings and torture at Llapashtica detention camp.
The partial re-trial started in July 2012 but was immediately postponed until 17 September 2012.
On 7 June 2013, the mixed panel at the Pristina District Court found Gashi guilty of war crimes against civilians. He was sentenced to 6 years in prison. Rrustem Mustafa was sentenced to 4 years, and Nazif Mehmeti to 3 years.
Gashi and his two co-accused appealed the verdict before the Appeals Court in Pristina. On 6 November 2015, the Court upheld the judgment, confirming the 6 years’ sentence for Gashi. Time already spent in detention on remand was credited towards his sentence.
The case concerning Gashi was handed over to the EULEX panel by their United Nations predecessors and was considered a sensitive case, as Gashi was a parliamentary deputy for the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo, led by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.
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 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.