The Council of Europe and unfounded accusations against the Kosovan Prime Minister

This article was published by The Wall Street Journal 

Smearing Hashim Thaci 

23 February 2011 

Last month the Council of Europe adopted a report by Swiss politician Dick Marty, which accused the prime minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, of having harvested organs for sale from executed Serb prisoners in 1999. The allegations made world headlines. After the Iraq war controversy, the message was clear: The West’s intervention in Kosovo 12 years ago was also wrong. The problem is that the Marty report seems more politically motivated fiction than hard-nosed criminal investigation.

Sir Geoffrey Nice, one of Britain’s most respected international lawyers, quietly deconstructed Mr. Marty’s report in last week’s London Review of Books. Mr. Nice  who as deputy prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague was in charge of prosecuting Slobodan Milosevic, and who was present when Bosnians and Kosovars were brought to trial at the Hague, accuses Mr. Marty of ignoring basic standards of evidence. According to Mr. Nice, Mr. Marty did not identify a single victim supposedly killed on Mr. Thaci’s orders and fails to “demonstrate any link” between later scandals of a clinic in Pristina involved in kidney harvesting and Mr. Thaci’s former role as political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army in 1999.

Most troublesome, according to Mr. Nice, is that Mr. Marty’s narrative an anonymous witness, “K144,” who Belgrade says has provided evidence of these atrocities, but who most likely does not exist. Mr. Nice confirms that all the Hague witnesses dealing with Kosovo were given the initial “K” and a number. But the last number used was “K116” and no one involved in the Hague trial knows of a witness “K144.” Further, writes Mr. Nice, “If K144 has indeed given a statement of the kind [Mr.] Marty suggests before March 2006—when the Milosevic trial ended with the accused’s death—I would have known about it.”

“K144” appears to be the invention of the Belgrade media, which regularly whip up nationalist and revanchist passions. This populism makes it hard, almost impossible, for Serb leaders to conclude an agreement with Kosovo that would allow both nations to advance to a European future.

Mr. Marty also seems to rely heavily on a 2008 book published by Carla del Ponto, the Swiss-Italian prosecutor, who for a while was Mr. Nice’s boss at the Hague. But Ms. del Ponte also failed to produce any real evidence in her book.

Mr. Marty, a member of the upper house in the Swiss parliament, is a forceful politician who robustly defends Swiss banking secrecy in Council of Europe debates. The thing to remember about the Council of Europe is that it is not a cozy group of human rights parliamentarians. Instead, it is a deeply political body. When it comes to issues related to the former Yugoslavia, the Council is clearly divided between politicians aligned along a Belgrade-Moscow axis and those from countries that have now recognized Kosovo.

The latter group would like Belgrade to finally overcome the 1990s and to accept that its former domination of the now separated states in the former Yugoslavia will never return. But for Russian members and other anti-Nato politicians at the Council of Europe it is important to assert that NATO’s 1999 intervention was illegal and that Kosovo’s declaration of independence—now validated by the International Court of Justice—should not lead to full statehood.

Mr. Nice puts it, well, nicely, when he asks if the Marty and del Ponte allegations are “part of a media campaign to obstruct the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state.” The answer for anyone who has attended Council of Europe assemblies and committee meetings in recent years can only be “yes.”

One article in a British literary magazine cannot counter the avalanche of headlines in December accusing Mr. Thaci of organ harvesting. But Mr. Nice has taken apart the Marty report with forensic precision. Perhaps the Council of Europe should organize a debate between the British and Swiss lawyers.

But it’s not just the Council of Europe that needs to examine more critically whether it should allow its name to be used to promote wild allegations. The Western media, too, need to reassess their practices. By uncritically swallowing the Marty line, they have acted, unwittingly, as aides in a political campaign against Kosovo.

The real way forward is to hold a credible inquiry into the crimes committed by both parties, Serbs and Kosovar Albanians alike. Such an inquiry, though, must not be allowed to hold up Kosovo’s independence. It is time for Belgrade to move on from its destructive opposition that is blocking regional progress