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When San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Philip Kearney applied to be a war crimes prosecutor in Kosovo, he didn’t know armed guards were part of the gig. “You go through a threat-assessment test every week,” Kearney said. “For the first three months, I didn’t have security. But as the caseloads start expanding and the people you’re prosecuting get more important, your threat is assessed differently.” Kearney looked past the personal safety issues and plunged into the work of bringing to justice war criminals, gangsters and white slavers. A 16-year prosecutor, Kearney thought it would be a challenge to prosecute war crimes. “It was just too enticing to let slip by,” he said. He applied to the United Nations, where he was competing with prosecutors from around the world for the job. “My experience in gangs helped,” Kearney said. Kosovo has “basically inter-ethnic warfare” much like San Francisco gangs, he explained. After two planes crashed into New York’s World Trade Center on Sept. 11, Kearney’s “threat assessment” rose some more. “I was deemed not only to be a prosecutor but an American prosecutor,” Kearney said. “In my fourth month, I got security.” Six international policemen working for the United Nations would escort him from his apartment in downtown Pristina to the district courthouse. “Every minute you’re outside your house, you have people with you,” he said. He was moved from place to place in an armored car and although he didn’t wear a bulletproof vest, his guards did. “It was their job to take a bullet for me,” he joked. None was fired at him. Kosovo, a province of the former Yugoslavia, began to break up in the 1990s. Much of the province is composed of Kosovar Albanians, most of them Muslims. Albanians and Serbs have had a history of enmity. “Throughout the course of the ’90s — before the conflict and roughly coinciding with the rise of Slobodan Milosevic — there was increased repression of Albanians by Serbs, which led to the NATO bombing campaign [between March and June 1999],” he said. “After the conflict, there was a retribution period where there was a huge number of attacks and killing of Serbs by Albanians.” The United Nations stepped in as peacemaker to restore order, and the mission was to rebuild Kosovar society, including establishment of a police and justice system, Kearney said. “So when the U.N. made the decision to have an open and transparent judicial system, they needed internationals [lawyers from abroad],” he said. “That’s why they brought us in.” One of his first tasks was to learn new codes of procedure from what he’d known in California courts. “We were using the 1989 criminal court and procedural code of the [former] Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which is based on a civil law system,” he said. “You have an investigating judge concept as opposed to our system where judges are much more neutral arbiters. “We tried our cases before a panel of three justices,” he said, at least two of whom were internationals. Kearney tried four cases over the nine-month period — July 2001 to April 2002 — that he was in Kosovo. “I was in one trial where a Serb was a paramilitary who was charged with two murders, a rape and a forceful evacuation of two villages of 4,000 to 5,000 people.” Kearney recalled. Two days before he left, he gave his closing statement. The defense is scheduled to give its closing in early May and a verdict won’t be known until probably the middle of the month. Kearney said he’s particularly proud of a case in which he won the first conviction for human trafficking in Kosovo. He won a conviction of the owner and madam of the Miami Beach Club, a notorious brothel in Pristina. The owner got four years; the madam two. The women forced into prostitution were repatriated. Kearney also was handed a trial of a local gangster charged with pistol-whipping and shooting at a police officer. “I tried it because the locals were afraid to,” he said. “He had everybody intimidated … . I think he got about five years.” Kearney also prosecuted several Kosovar Albanians for shooting at a Serb farmer tending his cows. “That case ended in a mistrial,” he said. One of the three-justice panel was a local judge “who was terminated due to corruption … . Another prosecutor retried it.” Those trials were completed during Kearney’s first six months in Kosovo. From there, he began an investigation of Kosovo Liberation Army members accused of running a detention camp for Kosovar Albanians accused of collaborating with the Serbs. He said the war crime probe was based on alleged violations of the 1949 Geneva Convention prohibitions against harming civilians. “We arrested former KLA policemen and one leader of the KLA intelligence service who conducted a lot of interrogations,” Kearney said. One victim weighed 86 kilos — or about 190 pounds — when he was detained. By the time he was released, Kearney said, he had withered to 48 kilos — or about 105 pounds. Fifty-two more victims have been identified. “People who had relatives and friends who had been abducted were very grateful that somebody was doing something about it,” Kearney recalled with satisfaction. Kearney said he feels he contributed to the stabilization of a war-torn area. “The rule of law is so important to establish in the Balkans,” he said. “It’s a completely volatile area with a huge tradition of violence.” He says the U.N. presence is essential if Kosovo is ever to climb out of its ethnic hatreds and develop as an independent nation. “A day without bloodshed is a good day,” he said. “A day without inter-ethnic violence is a positive step. “There were victims and perpetrators on both sides,” Kearney said. “The one thing you learn is that nothing is black and white in the Balkans.” Although his initial leave was six months, San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan allowed him to extend it to nine. “It’s hard being away from home,” he said. He especially missed his wife, Sandra Kearney, an associate at San Francisco-based Farella Braun & Martel. But the couple met up in Paris for a week and in London for a long weekend. Would he do it again? “Absolutely. I loved it,” he responded. “It was very important work.”

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