On 1 and 2 November, experts of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) participated as trainers to the two-day Specialized Training Program on War Crimes organized by the Humanitarian Law Center in Kosovo and the Academy of Justice, targeting professional staff of judicial institutions of Kosovo who work in the field of war crimes, namely, judges of the Special Department of Pristina Basic Court, judges from the Court of Appeals, as well as prosecutors and legal professional of the Kosovo Special Prosecution Office.
From 2008 until June 2018, EULEX had an executive mandate to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate war crimes committed in Kosovo and, throughout EULEX’s executive mandate, the Mission strived to ensure accountability for war crimes. Building on this strong knowhow, the EULEX’s Head of Legal Section, Paul
Flynn, and EULEX’s Thematic Lead Monitor of Crimes under International Law, Petko Petkov, were invited to share their knowledge focusing on the importance of circumstantial evidence in war crimes cases, the principle of command responsibility, the difference between war crimes and crimes against humanity and investigation and trial in absentia.
On the first day, Flynn started his training session presenting the importance of circumstantial evidence in war crimes cases, Flynn recalled how circumstantial evidence has played a pivotal role in the investigation, prosecution, and adjudication of war crimes since the end of the Kosovo conflict. He emphasized that, in difficult cases, circumstantial evidence becomes indispensable as it can be used to complement other forms of evidence. “Circumstantial evidence serves as a crucial tool to construct a coherent narrative, which can help to connect the dots between isolated facts and provide a clearer picture of the events referred to in direct testimony,” he explained, adding how: “The effective use of circumstantial evidence is without doubt one such tool as it reinforces the rule of law. It sends a clear message that even in the most challenging cases, the legal system is committed to uncovering the truth and holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.”
Additionally, Flynn described the challenges and complexity deriving from the application of the principle of Command responsibility, which should in theory serve as a crucial instrument in holding leaders and superiors accountable for war crimes committed by their subordinates.
During the second day, Petkov addressed the participants explaining the legal distinctions between war crimes and crimes against humanity and clarifying that these two notions represent distinct legal categories, each with unique defining features and implications. “A profound understanding is imperative to facilitate precise interpretation and application of international law in diverse contexts,” said Petkov, pointing out that war crimes may involve individual acts and might not necessarily constitute part of a systematic attack against a civilian population, while crimes against humanity necessitate a systematic and widespread attack against civilians, indicating a higher degree of organization and planning.