The Court of Appeals Panel at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in the Hague on Thursday reduced the sentence of former Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, commander, Salih Mustafa, by four years, to a total of 22 years imprisonment with credit for the time he has served in detention since September 2020 for the crimes of arbitrary detention, torture and murder.
The appeals panel found, by analyzing similar criminal cases in the courts within Kosovo, that their “sentences were shorter than that of Mr Mustafa”, therefore “the disparity between Mr Mustafa’s sentence and the sentences analyzed by the panel show the trial panel exceeded the limits of its bound,” Judge Michele Picard said on Thursday.
She concluded that, “by imposing sentencing out of reasonable proportion to a series of sentences, given in similar circumstances for similar criminal offenses, the trial panel committed a distinguishable error for the given judgment”.
The appeals panel confirmed the charges of arbitrary detention, torture and murder, but reduced the single sentence from 26 to 22 years “with credit to the time served” since September 24, 2020.
Picard emphasized that the sentence was given “only to individuals not groups [and] neither the KLA nor Kosovo people were the subject of these proceedings”.
Mustafa “will remain at the detention centre of the Specialist Chambers until the proceedings for transfer to the state where he will serve are completed”, he added.
In late-October, during the second Appeals court hearing, Mustafa again proclaimed his innocence. “The prosecution has willingly turned all the arguments upside down without viewing them from the initial declarations of the prosecution witnesses up to the decision of the trial panel,” he said.
In April, the trial judges ordered Mustafa to pay compensation of 207,000 euros for the harm inflicted on the victims, which the Appeals panel did not remove.
The trial panel in December 2022 found Mustafa, known as “Commander Cali”, guilty of three war crimes charges including the arbitrary detention and torture of at least six detainees and the murder of one prisoner. He pleaded not guilty.
The judges said Mustafa personally participated in the torture of two detainees. They also said that his failure to order the release of one prisoner when retreating before upcoming Serbian forces, against whom severe mistreatment was inflicted by Mustafa’s subordinates for almost three week, along with denial of medical care, directly led to his death.
This is the first Appeal’s court verdict at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers for war crime charges.
The Kosovo Specialist Chambers were set up to try former KLA fighters for wartime and post-war crimes from 1998 to 2000, including murder, torture and illegal detentions. Witness protection has been a key concern for the so-called Special Court after incidents of witness-tampering at previous trials of KLA commanders.
Source : BalkanInsight