Judges at the Hague-based Specialist Chambers, which will try former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters for wartime and post-war crimes, should be careful who they meet in order to maintain the confidence of everyone involved in investigations and trials, the Humanitarian Law Centre in Kosovo said.
The Humanitarian Law Centre’s call came after judge Vladimir Mikula, who has been appointed to the Specialist Chambers, was seen dining with Kosovo lawyer Arianit Koci at a restaurant in Pristina.
Koci is the lawyer for former Kosovo Liberation Army commanders Rrustem Mustafa and Sami Lushtaku, who have already been questioned by the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague about crimes that could be subject to prosecutions.
“Even if it was a social or casual dinner, the judge, with his behaviour outside the court should protect and enhance the confidence of the public and the parties [involved in cases] in his impartiality and in the judiciary in general,” Amer Alija from the Humanitarian Law Centre Kosovo told BIRN.
Alija said that Specialist Chambers judges should avoid any actions that might affect their judicial functions.
However, the dinner incident “should not put the court’s impartiality into question”, Alija added.
The Kosovo Specialist Chambers confirmed that Mikula has been appointed to its roster of international judges.
But the court explained that judges on the roster “are only required to exercise official functions at the request and upon assignment of the [Specialist Chambers’] President [Ekaterina] Trendafilova”.
“Judge Mikula has not been assigned to a case by President Trendafilova and we are therefore not in a position to comment any further,” said Angela Griep, the head of the Public Information and Communication Unit at the Specialist Chambers.
Court president Trendafilova issued a statement on Wednesday pointing out that Mikula does not have access to any confidential information about the activities of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, KSC or Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, SPO.
“I reiterate the mandate of the KSC to provide secure, independent and impartial proceedings. The KSC remains deeply committed to this mandate and operates accordingly,” Trendafilova’s statement said.
“The protection of witnesses remains a pivotal matter for the KSC and SPO,” it added.
The EU’s rule-of-law mission in Kosovo, EULEX, said that Mikula currently holds the position of Justice Monitor with the organisation.
Therefore “in accordance with the current EULEX mandate, he does not hold any executive function of judgment”, EULEX said in a statement.
It added that the mission is not in a position to comment on Mikula’s private engagements.
Lawyer Arianit Koci told BIRN meanwhile that he was in a public place with his wife, her friends and her gym trainer, and did not know that Mikula would be at the restaurant table.
“There were over 15 people – a group of individuals who every morning do physical activities at the same gym centre where my wife Merita goes,” Koci said.
The Specialist Chambers are expected to try former KLA fighters for crimes including killings, abductions, illegal detentions and sexual violence. No indictments have been made public yet, however.
The Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office are part of Kosovo’s legal system but are based in the Netherlands and staffed by internationals.