War crimes round-up: Kosovo war court issues first verdict, Nazi secretary convicted in Germany

Irmgard Furchner was convicted on 20 December 2022 by a German court for aiding and abetting the murder of thousands of people in a concentration camp in Stutthof, where she worked as a secretary of an SS commander during World War II. (Keystone/Christian Charisius/Pool Photo via DPA)

Geneva Solutions’s monthly “war criminal hunt” round-up, in collaboration with Geneva-based NGO Civitas Maxima.

As 2022 came to a close, there was no slowing down for justice. The Specialist Chambers for Kosovo, set up in 2015, ruled against a former commander of the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army. In  November, we had reported on one of the last trials from Nazi times, and in December we saw its conclusion.

More and more, international crimes are being prosecuted around the world: 2022 was busy, and it looks like 2023 will be even more so.

  • Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima

Ex-rebel convicted in first Kosovo war crimes trial

The Specialist Chambers for Kosovo sentenced on 16 December Salih Mustafa, former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander, to 26 years in prison for committing murder, torture, and arbitrary detention of at least six fellow ethnic Albanians accused of spying for Serb forces. The KLA was a militant group formed by ethnic Albanians who fought for Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in the 1990s.

Presiding Judge Mappie Veldt-Foglia noted that there was a “climate of fear and intimidation” during the trial, as the court had to jail two former KLA members in 2021 for intimidating witnesses but hoped that the ruling would bring further reconciliation in Kosovo.

The Specialist Chambers for Kosovo was set up in 2015 to prosecute crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the Kosovo war by the KLA. Funded by the European Union, the court was set up in the Hague under pressure from Western countries, which feared the risk of witness-tampering and corruption in Kosovo’s judicial system.

Kosovo’s former president Hashim Thaci is due to stand trial this year for alleged war crimes.

US congress votes to expand powers to target war criminals

The United States House of Representatives voted on 22 December to ensure that war criminals will not find protection within the territory of the United States, after an address by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act, which was unanimously passed by Congress, will allow for the prosecution of war criminals residing in the US, regardless of where or against whom the crimes were committed. Currently, alleged perpetrators can only be tried for war crimes committed on US soil or against its citizens.

Mohammed Jabbateh and Thomas Woewiyu, two former rebel leaders from the first Liberian Civil War, who then fled to the US could only be tried for lying to US authorities about their involvement in the war, rather than for the alleged crimes committed during the conflict.

Russia promotes ‘immunity’ law in occupied Ukraine

Russia’s lower house of parliament proposed a bill on 13 December offering legal immunity to those suspected of committing crimes in Ukrainian soil under international law as long as they were “aimed at protecting the interests of the Russian Federation”. The bill refers to the use of Russian criminal law on the occupied regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

Amnesty International’s deputy director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Denis Krivosheev, said in a statement that the bill “expressly seeks to legalise the commission of war crimes by the Russian forces and their proxies”. He warned Russian soldiers that “even if this unprecedented bill is eventually passed, it will not override international law and will not protect war criminals from eventually facing trials abroad under universal jurisdiction”.

Germany convicts ex-Nazi camp secretary

Irmgard Furchner, a former secretary at a concentration camp in Stutthof, Germany, during World War II, was convicted on 20 December for complicity in the murder more than 10,500 people. Some 65,000 people are thought to have been killed in Stutthof camp, either in gas chambers or shot to the back of the neck, or to have died from starvation or the cold.

The 97-year-old said that she was “sorry for everything that happened”.

“I regret that I was in Stutthof at the time – that's all I can say,” she told the court.

Furchner was given a two-year suspended jail term in what could be one of the last trials for Nazi era crimes.

Argentina jails former policeman from Dirty War time

Mario Sandoval, a former Argentine police officer, was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for crimes against humanity for his role in the military junta’s Dirty War against leftist opponents. Sandoval, employed at a torture centre, was found guilty of abducting and disappearing Hernán Abriata, an architecture student.

Some 10,000 to 30,000 people are believed to have been killed or disappeared in Argentina between  1976 and 1983.

Two years after the end of the military junta, Sandoval moved to France, becoming a defence and security consultant. He taught for six years as an external lecturer at the Institute of Latin American Studies at the Sorbonne University and gained French citizenship.

He was extradited in 2019 to face trial in Argentina, after a long court battle. Sandoval denies involvement in the crimes.