By DOREEN CARVAJAL
Published: January 26, 2011
PARIS — The president of Serbia, Boris Tadic, lashed out at organized crime and its corrosive effect on the Balkans in a speech Wednesday, pressing for an international investigation of human organ trafficking in Kosovo and broad protection for witnesses.
He made his comments in Strasbourg before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which on Tuesday adopted an investigative report that has roiled the leadership in Kosovo. It alleged that Serb prisoners were killed at the end of the Kosovo conflict in 1999 to harvest organs for transplant for an organized crime group, Drenica, with ties to the current Kosovo prime minister, Hashim Thaci.
The Serbian president did not refer to Mr. Thaci by name in his comments, but he made a direct connection between the spreading influence of organized crime and the report on trade in human organs.
“The real purpose of organized crime is not just to live in parallel with legal society. Rather, it seeks to become society,” Mr. Tadic said, adding, “It subverts politics. It corrupts economies” and “it kills to steal parts of people’s bodies.”
The assembly — a pan-European organization that investigates human rights issues and makes recommendations — was also weighing three resolutions on Wednesday to strengthen witness protection in the Balkans, particularly in Kosovo, where the authorities lack funding and a specialized police force to prevent intimidation of witnesses.
Kosovo, a tiny nation of two million people and close-knit clans, is particularly problematic because “witnesses are often perceived as betraying their community when they give evidence,” according to a report prepared for the assembly by one of its members, Jean Charles Gardetto, of Monaco. He noted that in a nation where everyone seems to know one another, “many people do not believe that they have a moral or legal duty to testify as a witness in criminal cases.”
Dick Marty, a former Swiss magistrate who investigated organ trafficking for the assembly, faced that issue when he tried to gather more information about the Drenica organized crime group. According to his report, based on intelligence reports, it had roots in the Kosovo Liberation Army in the Kosovo conflict in 1999 and evolved into a criminal enterprise that controlled the heroin and narcotics trade and six detention centers in Albania to develop a black market for human kidney transplants.
His report was commissioned in response to allegations about organ trafficking in a 2008 memoir by Carla del Ponte, the former prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, a U.N. body that pursued war crimes suspects, but ultimately did not pursue the allegations of organ trafficking.
Mr. Thaci, the Kosovo prime minister, has strenuously denied the allegations, and he and other officials there have supported an investigation. So has Prime Minister Sali Berisha of Albania, who has dismissed Mr. Marty’s investigation as a “completely racist and defamatory report.”
“We are ready to face and we as Kosovo want to face” the report, Jakup Krasniqi, Kosovo’s acting president, told reporters. “We are convinced that this cannot be proven in any way.”
European Union officials in Brussels have requested more evidence of wrongdoing from Mr. Marty, who has been reluctant to release specific information because of a lack of safeguards for witnesses.
With the call for an independent international investigation of the organ trafficking allegations and witness protection procedures, the assembly is pressing for the sort of commission that can be costly and take years to give results.
An example is the U.N. Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which was created to investigate the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 and officially opened in March 2009. It is just now issuing its first indictments and could be operating through 2014.