Rrustem Mustafa

12.04.2016 ( Last modified: 08.05.2017 )
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Rrustem Mustafa, also known as Commander Remi, was born in 1971 in Kosovo. During the Kosovo war from 1998 until 1999 he was the Commander of the Lab region zone and a member of the so-called “Lapska group” of the KLA.

Under his command, Serb and Albanian civilians were allegedly murdered and had their property looted and destroyed. Others were kidnapped and illegally detained in prisons located in the villages of Bradaš and Gornja Lapaštica. There, Rrustem and others allegedly kept detainees in inhumane conditions, denying them adequate sanitation, food, water and medical care and subjecting them to routine beatings, torture and death threats between August 1998 and June 1999.

In April 1999, Rrustem allegedly ordered Nazif Mehmeti to kill five Kosovo Albanians detained in the Majac and Potok detention centres and accused of collaboration with the Serb forces.

After the conflict, Rrustem became a parliamentary deputy and the vice president of the governing Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK).

legal procedure

Rrustem 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 three KLA members for the murder of five Kosovo Albanians who had allegedly collaborated with the Serb forces. Rrustem was sentenced to 17 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) has accused Rrustem, together with KLA soldiers Latif Gashi and Nazif Mehmeti, of the unlawful detention, inhumane treatment and torture of five ethnic Albanians during the Kosovo war 1998-1999. 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.

According to the indictment, Rrustem incurred personal and superior responsibility for immense suffering or violation of bodily integrity or health, application of measures of intimidation of terror and torture and inhumane treatment such as molesting and beating of civilians in the detention centres in Llapashtica, Koliq and Bajgora.

On 8 July 2009, Rrustem pleaded not guilty.

On 2 October 2009, the District Court of Pristina found Rrustem guilty of war crimes for torture and inhumane treatment of civilian detainees. The accused was sentenced to four years in prison. On 15 February 2010, Rrustem appealed this judgement.

On 26 January 2011, the Supreme Court of Kosovo, in a mixed panel of three EULEX judges and two Kosovo judges, 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 events 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 Rrustem guilty of war crimes against civilians. He was sentenced to four years in prison. Latif Gashi was sentenced to six years, and Nazif Mehmeti to three years. Rrustem 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 four years’ sentence for Rrustem.


The case concerning Rrustem Rrustem was handed over to the EULEX panel by their United Nations predecessors and was considered a sensitive case, as Rrustem was a high-ranking parliamentary deputy for the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo, led by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.



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.