Trial Panel I Friday announced its judgement in Specialist Prosecutor v. Salih Mustafa, finding Mustafa guilty of four counts of war crimes including arbitrary detention, cruel treatment, torture and murder. The verdict is the first case at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, an EU-backed special court to investigate the Kosovo War, to involve war crime charges. The court sentenced Mustafa, a past commander of the guerrilla unit of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), to serve 26 years in prison. The trial called 28 witnesses during its course, including 8 victims.The indictment for Mustafa’s arrest was made in 2020, at which point he was transferred to a detention center in the Kosovo Specialist Chambers. The indictment was made on the basis of “individual criminal responsibility and superior criminal responsibility” with regards to crimes committed against detainees in the eastern Kosovo village of Zllash. During April 1999, Mustafa and KLA subordinate soldiers engaged in the mistreatment of detainees in an effort to interrogate and extract information from them.The specialist prosecutor charged Mustafa with four counts of war crimes under Article 14(1)(c), seeking to find him individually criminal responsible pursuant to Article 16(1)(a) and (c) for torture and cruel treatment of at least six persons. The trial panel established this, given the fact that Mustafa was the sole commander of the BIA Guerrilla unit of the KLA until its disbandment. Mustafa pleaded not guilty to all charges.During trial, Mustafa sought to establish an alibi that would create reasonable doubt as to his guilt. Mustafa’s defense submitted that he was not present at the times that the crimes were committed. The panel, however, found that there was insufficient evidence to establish reasonable doubt of Mustafa’s involvement.As a result, the panel found guilt on all counts except cruel treatment. The panel sentenced Mustafa to 26 years in prison.Mustafa’s unit held a base during the Kosovo War in Zllash, which is where the crimes detailed above occurred. The Kosovo War began in February 1998 and lasted through June of 1999. During the war, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia–consisting of Serbia and Montenegro–fought to maintain control over Kosovo against the KLA. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) eventually intervened in March 1999 and the conflict was soon resolved during peace negotiations. Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented instances of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed over the course of the war. In a list that HRW describes as “far from exhaustive,” the KLA is accused of kidnapping and summary execution. Yugoslav and Serbian forces are also accused of committing atrocities.In its comments on the proceedings, the trial panel noted, “The physical and psychological abuse left detainees with life-long injuries.”  In announcing its judgment, the panel also said it would soon issue a reparation order to Mustafa.

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