On 14 December 2023, the Court of Appeals Panel in the case of the Specialist Prosecutor v. Salih Mustafa, composed of Judges Michèle Picard, Kai Ambos and Nina Jørgensen, issued the first appeal judgment of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) in a case dealing with war crimes.

The Appeals Panel affirmed Mr Mustafa’s convictions for the War Crimes of Arbitrary Detention (count 1), Torture (count 3), and Murder (count 4).

Mr Mustafa’s appeal was comprised of nine grounds, divided into 51 sub-grounds. The Appeals Panel dismissed eight grounds raised by Mr Mustafa challenging the Trial Judgment, while granting in part his challenge to the Trial Panel’s imposition of a sentence of 26 years of imprisonment for the three counts on which he was convicted.

While fully cognisant of the Trial Panel’s broad discretion in sentencing and keeping in mind that sentences cannot be easily transposed from one case to another, the Appeals Panel nevertheless found that in cases before both international tribunals and Kosovo courts concerning war crimes comparable to those for which Mr Mustafa was sentenced, shorter sentences were imposed than those imposed by the Trial Panel on Mr Mustafa. Accordingly, the Appeals Panel reduced Mr Mustafa’s individual sentences for the war crimes for which he was convicted and reduced his overall single sentence from 26 years to 22 years of imprisonment, with credit for time served.

In pronouncing its judgment, the Court of Appeals Panel emphasised that the judgment “is a significant step towards providing justice to victims and ensuring accountability,” and that the reduction of Mr Mustafa’s sentence, “in no way suggests that the crimes for which he has been convicted and sentenced are not grave.”

The Appeals Panel noted that Mr Mustafa did not appeal the Reparation Order issued by the Trial Panel, which awarded reparations to eight victims participating in the proceedings, and that its decision does not affect the Reparation Order.

The Appeals Panel also stressed that it had confirmed Mr Mustafa’s convictions for which he was found “individually criminally responsible” for the war crimes of torture, arbitrary detention and murder, and that, “neither the KLA nor the Kosovo people were the subject of these proceedings, and they have not been found responsible for or convicted of these crimes.”

A summary of the Appeal Judgment can be found on the KSC website.

Salih Mustafa was arrested and transferred to the Detention Unit of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers on 24 September 2020. The trial judgment was pronounced on 16 December 2022 and the reparation order was pronounced on 6 April 2023.

The indictment charged Mr Mustafa on the basis of individual criminal responsibility and superior criminal responsibility with four counts of war crimes (arbitrary detention, cruel treatment, torture, and murder) committed by certain KLA members against persons detained at the detention compound in the village of Zllash/Zlaš, located in the Gollak/Goljak region in Kosovo. According to the indictment, between approximately 1 April 1999 and around the end of April 1999, Salih Mustafa and certain other KLA soldiers, police, and guards shared a common purpose to interrogate and mistreat detainees at the Zllash/Zlaš detention compound and the common purpose involved the crimes charged in the indictment.

More information on the case can be found on the Salih Mustafa Case Page.

Specialist Chambers