1999: An Overview
March 24, 1999, the eyes of the world turned to Kosovo as aircraft from
the North Atlantic Treaty Organization began to bomb targets in the Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia. The start of NATO's air war against Yugoslavia
was also the beginning of the bloodiest period in Kosovo since the end
of the Second World War. In the twelve weeks that followed, Serbian and
Yugoslav military, police, and paramilitaries expelled more than 850,000
ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, internally displacing several hundred thousand
more.1 Many were robbed and beaten as they were forced from their homes,
which were frequently looted and burned. Scores of women were raped. Thousands
of adult males were detained, and many of them were executed, in some cases
together with women, children, and the elderly, although the total number
of civilians executed is still unclear (see section on Death Toll below).
In more than a dozen mass killing sites, government forces tried to hide
the evidence by destroying or removing bodies. The brutal campaign against
ethnic Albanian civilians came to a halt only after the withdrawal of Yugoslav
soldiers and Serbian police and paramilitaries and the entry of NATO forces
on June 12, 1999.
Many observers mark the date of the NATO air war
as the beginning of the Serbian and Yugoslav campaign. While March 24 saw
a marked intensification of the campaign, the start of the operation actually
came four days earlier, on March 20, when the monitors of the OSCE Kosovo
Verification Mission (KVM) withdrew en masse from Kosovo. Most of the remaining
international nongovernmental organizations evacuated their personnel at
the same time. The departure of the KVM, together with international aid
workers, deprived Kosovo not only of some of its most important witnesses,
but also ended any deterrence that the presence of the OSCE verifiers might
have provided.2 According to the OSCE report on its work in Kosovo from
October 1998 to June 1999, based in part on interviews with refugees during
the NATO bombing, "the level of incidents of summary and arbitrary killing
escalated dramatically immediately after the OSCE-KVM withdrew on March
As the Background chapter of this book demonstrates,
the abuses after March 20, 1999, were a continuation and intensification
of the attacks on civilians, displacement, and destruction of civilian
property carried out by Serbian and Yugoslav security forces during 1998
and the first months of 1999. By March 1999, the combination of fighting
and the targeting of civilians had left an estimated 1,500-2,000 civilians
and combatants dead.4 More than 200,000 Albanian civilians were internally
almost 70,000 Albanians had fled the province to neighboring countries
and Montenegro, and a further 100,000 Yugoslav nationals, mostly Kosovar
Albanians, had sought asylum in Western Europe.5 Thousands of ethnic Albanian
villages in Kosovo had been partially or completely destroyed by burning
The state-organized campaign that began in late
March 1999 was nevertheless different in scale and scope than the violence
that had occurred in 1998 and early 1999. Earlier operations by Serbian
and Yugoslav security forces were directed at areas and families in Kosovo
with ties to the KLA. Although the actions undertaken by Serbian police
and Yugoslav soldiers in the Drenica region and southwestern Kosovo were
egregious (in that they targeted civilians, illegal under international
humanitarian law), they could be understood as brutal counterinsurgency
against the KLA rebels.
The operations that began in late March 1999 went
far beyond counterinsurgency: Serbian and Yugoslav forces carried out a
systematic campaign of violence and forcible depopulation that left an
estimated 80 percent of the civilians displaced from their homes.7 Areas
with no history of support for the KLA and which had previously escaped
the violence in Drenica and southwestern Kosovo, such as Pristina and eastern
Kosovo, were targeted for mass expulsion. The killing and terror against
civilians began to encompass any area with a current or historic link to
the KLA, as well as some areas without any such link. In short, localized
counterinsurgency was joined by systematic "ethnic cleansing."
Despite the scale of the displacement during 1998
and early 1999, many observers believed Kosovo, with its 90 percent ethnic
Albanian population, would be exempt from large-scale ethnic cleansing,
if only for the practical obstacles to the expulsion of an entire people.
In ethnically-mixed Bosnia and Herzegovina, and contested areas of Croatia
where no one ethnic group had an absolute majority, the expulsion of one
ethnic group was a means of consolidating control over that territory by
a rival group. By contrast, Kosovo with its overwhelming ethnic Albanian
majority had experienced a steady outflow of its Serb population over preceding
decades, with Belgrade resorting to forced resettlement of Croatian Serbs
in an attempt to reverse the migration of Serbs out of the province. The
slow initial response of UNHCR and NATO to the human tide of refugees into
Macedonia and Albania in late March and early April is evidence that few
in the international community believed the government of Slobodan Milosevic
would attempt the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo.8 Many observers also believed
that Milosevic would quickly capitulate once NATO airstrikes began.
If the conventional wisdom among Western observers
held that "ethnic cleansing" was unlikely in Kosovo, what is the explanation
for the systematic mass expulsion of the province's Albanian population
by Serbian and Yugoslav forces between March and June 1999? Was it a coordinated
plan or a spontaneous reaction to the NATO bombing? Although only Slobodan
Milosevic and his top aides know the real explanation for the "ethnic cleansing"
of Kosovo, several strong theories have emerged.
First, evidence suggests that the Milosevic government
began preparing a large-scale anti-insurgency campaign to crush the KLA
back in September 1998, long before anyone suspected NATO airstrikes, when
the summer offensive was coming to a close (see Background). After routing
the KLA from some of its strongholds-and influenced by growing international
criticism and the onset of winter-the government halted the offensive and
accepted the KVM monitors.
Between October and December 1998, a number of key
individuals in the security apparatus were either removed or promoted,
including the dismissal of Jovica Stanisic, head of Serbian state security,
and Momcilo Perisic, chief of the army's general staff. A loyalist, Gen.
Dragoljub Ojdanic, replaced Perisic, and Col. Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic was
promoted to commander of the Third Army, which had responsibility for southern
Serbia and Kosovo. These changes, along with others in the Yugoslav Army
and Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs, suggest that a new strategy on
Kosovo was being devised.
December 1998 and January 1999 saw a gradual increase
of security forces in Kosovo, in violation of the KVM agreement, but without
serious criticism from the international community. The killing of forty-five
ethnic Albanians in Racak provoked an international outcry, but the Serbian
and Yugoslav buildup inside Kosovo continued unabated. According to the
OSCE, paramilitary groups were set up in Kosovo in February to organize
transportation routes for looted goods.9 The buildup continued during the
negotiations in Rambouillet, France, including the arming of local Serbs.
According to the OSCE, which still had its monitors in Kosovo, February
6-23 saw "a significant build up of VJ forces throughout Kosovo leading
to the arming of civilians and the training of reservists, the arrival
of anti-aircraft weapons, the digging of tank pits and the preparation
of demolition explosives along key routes in from the south and an increase
in military air activity."10
The first attacks on KLA strongholds in the rural
areas began immediately after the KVM departed on March 20, and these involved
indiscriminate attacks on villages. According to the OSCE, emphasis was
also placed on the strategically important route to the west of Vucitrn
that links Kosovo to Serbia proper.
The character and intensity of the campaign appeared
to change, however, after the commencement of NATO bombing. On March 24
began the full-scale cleansing of cities, such as Pec in Kosovo's southwest,
and later Pristina, as well as the burning of Djakovica's old town. March
24-26 saw an aggressive operation to secure the southwest border with Albania,
which involved large-scale displacement accompanied by killings of civilians.
While this evidence suggests that a powerful anti-insurgency
campaign had long been in preparation before the NATO bombing, it seems
that the Milosevic government took advantage of NATO air strikes to further
impose terror on Kosovo's Albanian population and to expel large numbers
of ethnic Albanians from the province. Using the pretext of the NATO bombing,
the government was free to unleash a full-scale offensive on the KLA as
well as to order the expulsion of more than 850,000 Kosovar Albanians.
One explanation is simply revenge. As hundreds of
refugees testified, government forces repeatedly told them to "Go to NATO!"
Unable to strike back at NATO air power, government forces took their vengeance
on the civilian population. But the systematic nature of the expulsions
contradicts this theory; clearly, there was a well-conceived plan to "ethnically
cleanse" large portions of the Albanian population. Revenge was nothing
more than an added factor to motivate the troops.
One credible theory is that Belgrade intended permanently
to alter the demographic composition of Kosovo by expelling a large proportion
of Kosovar Albanians-a strategy that had occasionally been proposed by
Serbia's far-right, including former Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and
head of the Serbian Radical Party Vojislav Seselj.11 This explanation is
supported by the multiple accounts from refugees arriving in Albania of
document confiscation and destruction and the removal of car license plates
at the border. This so-called "identity cleansing" documented by Human
Rights Watch and other organizations gathering testimony in Albania strongly
suggests an attempt by Belgrade to strip Kosovo Albanians of their citizenship
and to frustrate future efforts to return home.12
A second explanation for the "ethnic cleansing"
is that it was designed to destabilize the neighboring countries of Albania
and Macedonia. In March 1999, the young state of Macedonia, with two million
inhabitants, at least 25 percent of whom are ethnic Albanian, was widely
perceived as unstable and, at the same time, as a pivotal country for regional
stability. The mass influx of refugees from Kosovo could easily have disrupted
the fragile ethnic balance, if not destablized the entire country.13
Although Albania did not have these ethnic tensions
to contend with, its stability had been repeatedly threatened in the 1990s
by political and economic upheaval. The influx of more than 400,000 refugees
could have pushed the impoverished country into turmoil.
With luck, none of these scenarios played out. There
can be little doubt that the arrival of some 260,000 refugees from Kosovo
placed an enormous strain on relations between ethnic Macedonians and ethnic
Albanians in Macedonia. The government's go-slow policy in admitting refugees
during the spring of 1999, the occasional police violence against the refugees,
and the government's periodic refusal to admit additional refugees14 created
enormous resentment and anger among Macedonia's Albanians. Equally, the
common cause shown by Macedonian Albanians for their Albanian neighbors
from Kosovo fueled fears about succession among ethnic Macedonians. The
restraint shown by the leadership of the Albanian party in the ruling coalition,
the Albanian Democratic Party, as well as the NATO presence, certainly
helped prevent open conflict in Macedonia in the spring of 1999.
In Albania, the refugees were accepted with open
arms. Despite difficult economic conditions, especially in northern Albania,
refugees were successfully accommodated in refugee camps and private homes.
The country even experienced an economic boom due to the influx of foreign
humanitarian aid organizations, NATO, and the media.
Destabilizing Macedonia and Albania may also provide
a third explanation for the "ethnic cleansing"-to weaken the resolve of
the NATO alliance to continue the air war. It was clear from the outset
that some members of the alliance, such as Italy, France, and Greece, were
apprehensive about the airstrikes. Belgrade may have hoped that the flood
of refugees would convince governments and the public that the bombing
had made the situation worse, if not directly caused the refugee flow.
(The Yugoslav government repeatedly claimed that the refugees were fleeing
NATO bombs.) If this was Belgrade's intention, it badly failed: the "ethnic
cleansing" and the need to reverse it became the strongest justifications
for NATO's actions and helped to galvanize support among the alliance and
the public to continue the bombing. Extensive media coverage of the expulsions,
invoking images of Nazi deportations, helped solidify NATO support, notably
during periods of intense criticism over civilian casualties by NATO and
the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.15 The refugee crisis handed
NATO its greatest evidence that this was a war in defense of human rights.
Some commentators have suggested that the forced
expulsion of Kosovo's Albanian population was an attempt by Belgrade to
create conditions for the partition of Kosovo, presumably areas bordering
Serbia in the northern and eastern parts of the province to be retained
by Belgrade. The existence of such a plan, however, remains unclear since
the expulsions were generally heaviest in those areas with high KLA activity
rather than along any of the lines proposed as possible partition borders.
Finally, the "ethnic cleansing" apparently served
some militarily strategic objectives. Villages in areas where the KLA was
active, such as around Podujevo, Malisevo, and Djakovica, were cleared
because of the logistical support they were providing to the KLA. Since
it was difficult to discern between combatants and civilians, government
forces drove the entire populations from many of these areas, essentially
"draining the sea," to better engage the rebels. The one exception is the
Drenica region, where many civilians were prevented from leaving the area
and used as human shields.
Expelling refugees to Macedonia and Albania might
also have been intended to tie down NATO forces in those countries and
to hamper a possible ground invasion. Likewise, the crisis in Albania might
have been an attempt to disrupt supply lines and hinder incursions by the
KLA, who were based in the northern part of the country.
The Geography of Abuses
systematic "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo, some parts of the province were
disproportionately affected-suffering the mass execution of civilians,
rape, torture, and the destruction of civilian property through arson and
looting. Many of these areas had already witnessed violence during 1998
and early 1999. The documentation and analysis of the abuses in these towns
and villages form the main body of this report. (See Statistical Analysis
of Violations for a study of Kosovo's most impacted municipalities.)
Areas with historic ties to the KLA were hardest
hit. The municipalities of Glogovac and Srbica in the Drenica region, the
cradle of the KLA, were the scene of multiple massacres of civilians, as
well as arbitrary detentions, use of human shields, and the destruction
of civilian property (see Drenica Region). With the exception of a mass
expulsion from Glogovac town, most Drenica residents were prevented from
fleeing, or unwilling to leave the area. Mass killings, expulsions, and
the destruction of civilian property were also common in the municipalities
of Djakovica, Orahovac, Prizren, and Suva Reka in the southern border area,
where many of the villages had historically supported the KLA. (There are
no reports of mass expulsion or killings among the almost exclusively Muslim
Slav population of the southern-most municipality of Gora (Dragash).) With
close ties to neighboring northern Albania, the southwestern region was
the principal conduit for KLA weapons, supplies, and trained recruits,
and it was across the Albanian border that hundreds of thousands of civilians
were expelled over the course of a few weeks during the spring of 1999.
The slaughter and terrorizing of civilians and the destruction of their
homes in these municipalities between March and June 1999 can be understood,
at least in part, as a continuation of the effort to eliminate the KLA's
base of support in the civilian population that began in early 1998.
Explanations for the concentration of abuses in
other municipalities investigated in detail by Human Rights Watch are more
complex and less conclusive. The municipalities of Pec and Lipljan, both
of which had significant Serb populations, were targeted for mass expulsion,
but killings were more localized. Although the KLA was active in the Pec
municipality and present in the western-most part of Lipljan municipality
during 1998, there is little or no evidence to tie the KLA to some of the
villages in which massacres occurred. The killings may simply have been
designed to terrorize the remaining population into fleeing Kosovo, with
the majority from Pec crossing into Montenegro and most of those from Lipljan
being sent to Macedonia. Whatever the case, the frequent acquaintance between
perpetrators and victims in these ethnically-mixed municipalities sets
them apart from Drenica and southwestern Kosovo, where Albanians had scant
familiarity with their tormenters. There was little KLA presence or violence
during 1998 in the ethnically-mixed western municipality of Istok, for
example. Nevertheless the municipality suffered mass expulsions of its
Albanian residents into Montenegro and the burning and looting of their
homes. Istok was also the scene of one of the bloodiest incidents of a
bloody spring, when more than ninety Albanian inmates in the Dubrava prison
were killed by unknown perpetrators in May 1999 after two days of NATO
airstrikes that had already killed an estimated nineteen inmates (see Istok
Municipality). By contrast, a massacre of more than one hundred civilians
in the municipality of Vucitrn, as the villages around Sudimlja (Studime)
were being forcibly expelled from Kosovo into Albania, appears almost _certainly
tied to the presence of KLA fighters in the area. Many of Vucitrin's residents
were also expelled, some toward Albania and others toward Macedonia.16
In other municipalities in Kosovo during the spring
of 1999 (not covered in detail by this report), the picture is generally
one of mass expulsion combined with more limited numbers of killings and
other abuses. In northern Kosovo, the municipalities of Leposavic (Leposaviq),
Zvecan, and Zubin Potok were relatively untouched, as reflected in the
chapter on statistics, a fact mostly attributable to the majority Serb
population in each.17 The Albanian-majority municipality of Kosovska Mitrovica
(Mitrovice) was less fortunate. The ethnically-mixed and eponymous capital
of the municipality, which has since become the most potent symbol of post-war
ethnic division in Kosovo, was the scene of conflict between the KLA and
Serbian security forces beginning in 1998.18 As elsewhere, the departure
of the OSCE was followed by an increase in killings of Albanians and the
forced expulsion to Albania of much of the town's Albanian population.19
Fighting between the KLA and Serbian security forces
also occurred in the municipality of Podujevo (Podujeve) to the east of
Mitrovica, although this region is less covered in this report. The violence
and the accompanying crackdowns that began in September 1998 led some of
its residents to flee to Pristina in December of that year.20 Tensions
rose further in March 1999, notably in Podujevo town, with much of the
remaining population expelled towards Macedonia or fleeing into the nearby
hills, where a large number of displaced persons had taken shelter.21 The
ethnically-mixed municipalities of Obilic (Obiliq) and Kosovo Polje (Fushe
Kosove) had also witnessed some sporadic fighting during 1998, much of
it linked to the seizure of a mine in the village of Grabovac (Graboc)
in Kosovo Polje municipality.22
Following the departure of the KVM, events in both
Kosovo Polje23 and Obilic24 followed a similar pattern, with much of the
Albanian population forcibly expelled to Macedonia. The railway station
in Kosovo Polje was also used as a transit point for the expulsion of tens
of thousands of Albanians to Macedonia by train. The village of Ade (Hade)
appears to have been singled out for punishment, perhaps because of an
association with the KLA: five men from a single family in the village
were executed and four of the corpses set on fire.25 A week later the entire
population was forced to board buses and was expelled to Macedonia and
The eastern municipalities of Klina (Kline) and
Decani also suffered the forced expulsion of much of their Albanian populations
during late March and early April. Ethnically-mixed Klina to the immediate
west of the Drenica region had witnessed fighting between the KLA and Yugoslav
and Serbian security forces during 1998. Much of the municipalities Albanian
majority was expelled to Albania on March 31 and April 1, 1999.27 The predominantly
Albanian population of Decani had also experienced KLA activity as well
as substantial internal displacement prior to March 1999. Many of its inhabitants
were expelled to Albania over the month of April 1999.28
March 1999 saw a broadening and deepening of the
conflict in Kosovo to encompass areas that had previously experienced little
violence and which had few links to the KLA. Kosovo's capital Pristina
is a case in point. Although Pristina was spared the large-scale killing
that occurred to the west in Drenica during the spring of 1999, a large
proportion of the city's population was expelled towards Macedonia in the
first wave of "ethnic cleansing" in late March and early April 1999. Robbery
and looting were also widely reported, although far fewer properties were
burned than in Pec or Djakovica. The eastern municipalities of Gnjilane
(Gjilan) and Kosovska Kamenica (Kamenice) suffered a similar fate: although
they largely escaped the killing and burning, thousands of their Albanian
residents were expelled from their homes during April and May, with many
robbed and detained on their way to the Macedonian border. (Little is known
about the experience of the tiny Serb-majority municipality of Novo Brdo,
which lies to Gnjilane's west.)
Municipalities close to the Macedonian border were
not known for their links to the KLA, although the border was used by the
group for smuggling weapons and supplies and was a focus of Yugoslav counterinsurgency
efforts. Once the conflict broadened, however, Yugoslav and Serbian security
forces moved quickly to expel or otherwise displace the population away
from the border, with frequent reports that villages were being shelled
and burned. Preparation for a NATO ground invasion may be one explanation.
The municipality of Kacanik, on the Macedonia border,
had been mostly quiet during 1998. According to the OSCE KVM, the KLA moved
into the area in February 1999, and armed clashes were reported between
Yugoslav and Serbian security forces and the KLA in a number of villages
during February and March.29 Efforts by the Yugoslav army and Serbian police
to expel villagers to Macedonia began almost immediately following the
departure of the OSCE, but many residents were reluctant to leave, leading
to substantial and rapidly shifting internal displacement in the municipality
before residents were forced into Macedonia in April 1999.30 There were
also a number of killings in the municipality, notably in the village of
Kotlina (Kotlino) where twenty-five men were executed (some of them members
of the KLA) before the residents were expelled.31
The municipality of Urosevac (Ferizaj) to the north
also experienced mass expulsion within weeks of the KVM departure. By mid-April,
thousands of Urosevac residents were sheltering in camps in Macedonia,
although a few were also forced to go to Albania.32 The railway line in
Urosevac town made the municipality a convenient staging point for deportations
from southern Kosovo into Macedonia. The ethnically-mixed border municipality
of Strpce (Shterpce) experienced similar patterns of displacement to Kacanik,
at least in its eastern half and other areas with Albanian populations.
While initially resisting expulsion by moving from village to village,
most of the municipality's Albanian inhabitants were in refugee camps in
Macedonia by mid-April 1999.33 Many of the Albanian residents of Vitina
(Viti) municipality, on the border to the east of Kacanik, were also expelled
to Macedonia in early April 1999.
of ethnic Albanians took place throughout Kosovo. As the chapter on statistics
makes clear, the vast majority of the victims were males, although females
and children were not exempt. In numerous cases, such as the Vejsa household
in Djakovica on April 1, the Gerxhaliu family in Donja Sudimlja (Studime
e Poshtme) on May 31, or the Berisha household in Suva Reka on March 26,
young children were killed along with adults. The statistics chapter also
reveals how the killings generally occured in three distinct waves (see
Witness testimonies suggest three general motives
for killings. The first was to expedite the "cleansing" process. Typically,
security forces would shell and then enter a village, ordering the Albanian
population to leave. A few individuals might be killed to spread panic
and accelerate the deportation.
The second motive was to target individuals suspected
of participating in or assisting the KLA. In village after village, security
forces separated the men from the women and children, and interrogated
the men about the insurgency, sometimes detaining them for days. As interviews
with witnesses and survivors confirm, as well as statements in the international
media given by Serbian and Yugoslav forces after the war, men suspected
of KLA involvement were often shot on the spot. Such suspicion could be
based solely on the fact that the man was of fighting age. Men were sometimes
forced to strip, such as in Bela Crkva, to look for military uniforms under
their civilian clothes, injuries from combat, or even dirt on their hands
to suggest fighting. Since it was often difficult to distinguish civilians
from KLA, not to mention village guards, government forces often took no
chances, and killed those they thought might be a threat.
In other cases, prominent political leaders, community
activists, or wealthy individuals were specifically targeted. As the chapter
Forces of the Conflict makes clear, paramilitary units sometimes had lists
of those to be killed, provided by local officials or the police.
A third factor was revenge. In certain cases, such
as Meja near Djakovica or the Tusus neighborhood of Prizren, large-scale
killings took place after the KLA had killed Serbian or Yugoslav forces.
In Drenica, the killings in Vrbovac and Stutica occurred in late April
immediately after NATO bombed the Feronikel plant, where security forces
had been based.
Lastly, while most of the expulsions and killings
were carefully planned, there are also cases where forces went out of control,
especially volunteers or paramilitaries. The general lawlessness in Kosovo
during the NATO bombing allowed for criminals and thugs to extort, rob,
and kill with impunity. With very few exceptions, the government did nothing
to stop these people. On the contrary, paramilitaries were dispatched to
Kosovo despite their reputation for brutality, and some criminals were
even released from prison if they agreed to go to Kosovo to fight.
Death Toll, The Missing and body removal
More than two
years after the end of the war, the total number of victims killed between
March and June 1999 remains unclear. Although the explanations for the
lack of clarity in the death toll are straightforward and common to many
post-conflict situations, the total number of dead remains one of the most
controversial aspects of the war. Ultimately, however, what matters is
not whether the dead number 5,000 or 15,000, but that large numbers of
civilians were targeted for execution by Serbian and Yugoslav security
One reason for the number controversy is the exaggerated
claims made by NATO and NATO governments during the war. Some U.S. officials,
including Secretary of Defense William Cohen and State Department Special
Envoy on War Crimes David Scheffer suggested that up to 100,000 Albanian
men were missing and feared dead.34 Such figures contrast with the more
measured U.S. government and NATO estimates from the same period of between
3,000 and 4,000, based on refugee accounts.35 After the war, head of the
U. N. administration in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, said that "around 11,000
people" had died, although his press office later backpedaled from that
estimation.36 Still, the unproven claims by top government officials at
the height of the war led to charges of propaganda to justify NATO intervention
both by journalists and by NATO's political opponents in the West.37 These
allegations also fueled predominantly left-wing critics of Western policy
towards the former Yugoslavia, some of whom dispute that the mass exodus
of Albanians was caused by Serbian government forces and even that mass
killings of Albanian civilians occurred.
The more direct reason for the uncertainty, however,
is a deliberate attempt on the part of the Serbian and Yugoslav government
to destroy evidence and remove bodies. Both the ICTY and Human Rights Watch
have documented cases where bodies were disinterred and removed from the
crime scene, in an apparent attempt to conceal the killing. A radio documentary
broadcast on National Public Radio in the United States on January 25,
2001, called Burning the Evidence,
claims that Serbian and Yugoslav forces systematically transported the
bodies of Kosovar Albanians to the mining complex at Trepca near Kosovska
Mitrovica, where they were incinerated. Citing Serbian fighters and "a
well-placed Serbian intelligence officer," between 1,200 and 1,500 bodies
were destroyed at Trepca, according to the report.38
The credible allegations of body removal and destruction
were apparently confirmed in May 2001, when the Serbian government announced
that a truck filled with eighty-six bodies had been dumped in the Danube
River in Serbia during the Kosovo war-allegedly the bodies of ethnic Albanian
civilians taken from Kosovo. A top Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs
official announced on May 25 that Milosevic had ordered then-Interior Minister
Vlajko Stojiljkovic to eliminate "all traces which could lead to any evidence
of crimes" in Kosovo.39 As of July 2001, the Serbian authorities had announced
the discovery of four additional graves in Serbia with as many as 1,000
Kosovar Albanian bodies.
As of July 2001, the ICTY had exhumed approximately
4,300 bodies, far less than the 11,334 bodies initially reported to the
ICTY by Kosovar Albanians.40 According to the International Committee of
the Red Cross, as of April 2001, 3,525 people remain missing from the conflict
- the vast majority of them Kosovar Albanians.41
Between June and November 1999, ICTY teams exhumed
2,108 bodies from 195 grave sites. During the second phase of exhumations,
between April and November 2000, forensic experts examined another 325
sites and found an additional 1,577 bodies and 258 incomplete remains.
In her November 2000 address to the U. N. Security Council, ICTY Chief
Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte stated that the provisional total of exhumed
bodies was "almost 4,000 bodies or parts of bodies." It should be noted,
however, that the ICTY apparently made no distinction between combatants
and non-combatants, and that in some areas the KLA was present among the
civilian population (eg: in the Vrbovac-Stutica area of Drenica during
the April 30 offensive that left dozens of ethnic Albanians dead).
Of crucial importance, however, are the statements
about grave tampering made by Del Ponte in both her 1999 and 2000 address
to the Security Council. In 1999, after exhuming 2,108 bodies, she said:
This figure [2,108 bodies] does not necessarily
reflect the total number of actual victims, because we discovered evidence
of tampering with graves. There are a significant number of sites where
the precise number of bodies cannot be counted. In these places, steps
were taken to hide the evidence. Many bodies have been burned, but at those
sites the forensic evidence is nevertheless consistent with the accounts
given by witnesses of the crimes.42
In the next year's address, Del Ponte stressed that
"it will never be possible to provide an accurate figure for the number
of people killed, because of deliberate attempts to burn the bodies or
to conceal them in other ways."43
Sites at which the ICTY has reported clear evidence
of grave tampering include Izbica, Trepca, Mala Krusha and Crkolez (Cerkolez).
Human Rights Watch, the OSCE, and other organizations documenting violations
of humanitarian law and human rights have also collected evidence of grave
tampering and other efforts to conceal evidence of killings by Yugoslav
and Serbian forces prior to June 12, 1999. These include the removal of
bodies, the reinterring of bodies from mass graves into individual graves,
the burning of corpses, and the removal or exchange of clothing and personal
effects in order to complicate the process of identification.
Human Rights Watch gathered credible testimony relating
to grave tampering in Mala and Velika Krusa, Pusto Selo, Slovinje, Poklek,
Kotlina, Rezala (Rezalle), Izbica, Trnje (Trrnje), and Djakovica, where
at least seventy-seven bodies were removed from the town cemetery. In Trnje
near Suva Reka, between twenty-four and thirty-six village men were killed
by Serbian forces on March 25. Four days later, a witness saw unidentified
men taking the bodies away on a truck. He said:
Early in the morning I heard a truck come from Leshane
[Lesane in Serbian]. I heard them stop, and they opened the metal doors,
and I knew they came to take the bodies. I heard when they put them in
the truck, and I heard the Serbs complain about the smell. They put them
all in, and went back to Leshane.44
In Slovinje, Human Rights Watch visited a temporary
grave site outside the village in which the sixteen victims of an April
16 killing had been buried by their relatives the following day (see Lipljan
Municipality). The bodies were later removed by Serbian security forces
with excavation equipment, and the relatives have no information about
the remains. In Poklek, the estimated forty-seven victims of an April 17
killing were first machine-gunned before hand-grenades were thrown into
the room where they lay (see Drenica Region). Several other corpses were
pulled from the garden well. Finally the house was set on fire. Relatives
showed a Human Rights Watch researcher a box of human bones reportedly
collected from the room during a July 1999 visit to the site. In the village
of Kotlina, Human Rights Watch saw a wooded site where Serbian security
forces had attempted to conceal evidence of the killing of twenty-two men
by putting their bodies into two deep natural wells and dropping explosives
into the holes.
There have been two scientific studies to address
the question of how many Albanians were killed. The first study, released
in June 2000 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control,45 is an epidemiological
analysis of all deaths in Kosovo during 1998 and 1999. It concludes based
on its household surveys and pre-war mortality rates that an estimated
12,000 persons died as a result of "war-related trauma." It is important
to emphasize, however, that the study includes 1998 (when approximately
1,500 Albanians were killed as a result of the conflict) and does not undertake
the difficult distinction between civilians and combatants.
The second study,
Political Killings in Kosova/Kosovo, published
in October 2000 by the Central and East European Law Initiative (CEELI)
of the American Bar Association and the American Association for the Advancement
of Science (AAAS), concluded that approximately 10,500 Kosovar Albanians
were killed between March 20 and June 12, 1999, with a 95 percent confidence
interval from 7,449 to 13,627.46 The report further analyzes the timing
and location of the killings, showing that the killings correlated closely
with the flow of refugees out of Kosovo (see Statistical Analysis of Violations).
to the general killings that took place throughout Kosovo, some prominent
Kosovar Albanians were specifically targeted for execution. A number of
politicians, doctors, human rights activists, and other public figures
were killed in this way, as well as individuals who had worked with the
OSCE or rented their homes to the organization.
The first reported case was the murder of a well-known
human rights lawyer, Bajram Kelmendi, and his two sons, Kushtrim and Kastriot,
aged eighteen and thirty-one. Bajram was active with the Council for the
Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms and had been providing information
during 1998 to the war crimes tribunal. He was highly respected for his
skills as a defense attorney in numerous politically-motivated trials over
the previous decade.47 Most recently, he had defended the Albanian-language
newspaper Koha Ditore,
which was on trial for publishing a statement by the KLA's political representative,
On the night of March 24, the beginning of the NATO
bombing, five uniformed policemen forced their way into the Kelmendi house
on Vellusha Street in Pristina.48 According to Kelmendi's wife, Nekibe
Kelmendi, herself a prominent lawyer, Kastriot called the police to tell
them that someone had broken into their home, but the police hung up the
receiver. Nekibe tried to call and they hung up on her as well. The family
was forced to lie down, and Bajram was hit in the stomach. The police searched
the house but didn't steal anything. Around 1:30 a.m., Bajram, Kushtrim,
and Kastriot were taken away in Kastriot's car. Kushtrim was told that
he should "kiss his children for the last time."
Nekibe tried without success to get information
about her husband in the police stations and hospitals of Pristina. She
also contacted Natasa Kandic, executive director of the Humanitarian Law
Center, one of Yugoslavia's most respected human rights groups, who publicized
the abduction. On the morning of March 26, Nekibe received word that the
bodies of Bajram and her two sons had been found at a gas station on the
Pristina road leading to Kosovo Polje. All three had been shot.
The murder of Bajram Kelmendi and his sons terrorized
Pristina and Kosovar Albanian professionals-anyone with a public profile
as a politician, human rights activist, journalist, artist, or academic.
Panic spread in Pristina out of fear that unaccountable forces would liquidate
prominent members of Kosovar Albanian society. Upon receiving news of Kelmendi's
death, many Albanians decided to leave Kosovo.
Other prominent Albanians were killed in different
parts of Kosovo around the same time. On March 25, Serbian security forces
broke into the home of a respected physician in Djakovica, Dr. Izet Hima,
and shot him in front of his wife. A well-known lawyer, Urim Rexha, and
an LDK leader, Mark Malota, were also killed in Djakovica that day (see
Djakovica Municipality). Two high level LDK activists in Mitrovica were
also killed in unclear circumstances: Agim Hajrizi and Latif Berisha.
On March 27, unknown security forces reportedly
took into detention the LDK secretary in Kosovo Polje, along with his wife
and another Albanian family which lived nearby. According to the OSCE's
report on Kosovo, the males were beaten badly in detention. They were released
on March 28 and eventually made their way to Macedonia. On April 4, the
LDK secretary, who is not named in the OSCE report, died from his wounds
in a hospital in Tetovo, Macedonia.49
Perhaps the most prominent killing was the murder
of Fehmi Agani, a professor and leading member of the LDK. Agani was a
politician respected by most people involved in Kosovo politics: his own
party, the KLA, international negotiators, and even his Serbian interlocutors.
For many years, he was viewed as the key player behind LDK politics, and
a person in genuine search of a peaceful solution to the crisis. His intelligence
and popularity are a possible motive for his murder.
The circumstances behind Agani's death remain unclear.
On May 6, Agani attempted to leave Kosovo by train with his family. On
the border with Macedonia, the train was sent back. Somewhere near Kosovo
Polje, police stopped the train and ordered everyone off. Various accounts
in the press have Agani being taken away either in a bus with other Albanian
men or separately with police in a private car. His body was found the
following day next to a dirt road near Lipljan. The Serbian government
claimed that the KLA had killed Agani to prevent him from negotiating between
Rugova and the Serbian government. A statement from the police issued on
May 7, 1999, said:
It is assumed that the terrorists of the so-called
KLA kept Agani isolated in order to prevent his engagement in negotiations
between Ibrahim Rugova and the Government of Serbia. When Rugova left for
Rome they had no further interest to keep him, so they killed him. This
most recent terrorist act can be, without any doubt, interpreted as a confirmation
of an already announced decision of the KLA to do the same thing to Mr.
Other well-known individuals, such as Latif Berisha,
the LDK president in Kosovska Mitrovica,51 Din Mehmeti, a poet, and Teki
Dervishi, a writer, were also reportedly killed.52 On March 24, the guard
at the newspaper Koha Ditore
was shot and killed by police who were raiding the offices.
Another targeted group were Albanians who worked
with the OSCE's KVM mission. Once the KVM withdrew from Kosovo on March
19, many of their offices were looted and burned, and some of the Albanian
staff was sought by police or paramilitaries for beatings or execution.
The worst case of revenge took place in Suva Reka against the Berisha family,
which had rented two houses to the OSCE. Serbian forces killed at least
twenty-four members of the family on March 25 and 26, including eleven
children aged sixteen or younger (see Suva Reka Municipality).
Rape and Sexual Assault
Rape and other
forms of sexual violence were used in Kosovo in 1999 as weapons of war
and instruments of systematic "ethnic cleansing."53 Rapes were not rare
and isolated acts committed by individual Serbian or Yugoslav forces, but
rather were used deliberately as an instrument to terrorize the civilian
population, extort money from families, and push people to flee their homes.
Rape also furthered the goal of forcing ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.
In total, Human Rights Watch found credible accounts
of ninety-six cases of sexual assault by Yugoslav soldiers, Serbian police,
or paramilitaries during the period of NATO bombing, and the actual number
is probably much higher. In six of these cases, Human Rights Watch was
able to interview the victims in depth. Human Rights Watch met two other
women who acknowledged that they had been raped but refused to give testimony.
Finally, Human Rights Watch documented six cases of women who were raped
and subsequently killed.
The ninety-six cases also include rape reports deemed
reliable by Human Rights Watch that were compiled by other nongovernmental
organizations.54 To the extent possible, Human Rights Watch corroborated
these accounts through interviews with dozens of nurses, doctors, eyewitnesses,
and local human rights and women's rights activists. It is important to
note that some of these cases may have been double-counted by local and
international organizations. Despite this, Human Rights Watch believes
that the actual number of women raped in Kosovo between March and June
1999 was much higher than ninety-six, since Kosovar Albanian victims of
rape are generally reluctant to speak about their experiences. At the same
time, it should be noted that Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm
the allegations of rape camps in Kosovo that were presented during the
war by the U.S. and British governments, as well as by NATO.
In general, rapes in Kosovo can be grouped into
three categories: rapes in women's homes, rapes during flight, and rapes
in detention. In the first category, security forces entered private homes
and raped women in front of family members, in the yard or in an adjoining
room. In the second category, internally displaced people wandering on
foot and riding on tractors were repeatedly stopped, robbed, and threatened
by the Yugoslav Army, Serbian police, or paramilitaries. If families could
not produce cash, security forces sometimes threatened that their daughters
would be taken away and raped; in some cases, even when families did provide
money, their daughters were taken away. The third category of rapes took
place in temporary detention centers, such as abandoned homes or barns.
As an example of the second category, one rape victim
recounted to Human Rights Watch how she was dragged off a tractor by a
Serb paramilitary near the border village of Zur (Zhur) and sexually assaulted
in front of dozens of other refugees. The victim, a thirty-year-old mother
traveling with her mother, mother-in-law, and two children, told Human
Two uniformed Serbian men stopped us. A big guy
with red hair called me from the tractor. The red-haired one came around
the tractor and said, "You," pointing at me. When he told me to get off
the tractor, I didn't. Then he yelled, "You! Get off!" My three-year-old
son was asleep on my lap. He kept yelling, "Get off! Get off!" He pulled
me off the tractor and ripped my clothes. His pants were already open and
his penis was out. He tore off my bra. I started screaming and crying.
The other Serb came close and pointed his automatic weapon at my chest.
I was wearing dimije [baggy pants] so they'd think I was old. The red-haired
one took my pants off, tearing the drawstring. He told me to sit down.
He took the 10 DM that I had with me. He took off his pants and pulled
me close to him. We were right next to the tractor, next to the driver's
cabin. I had my period. When he took off my pants, he saw the pads with
blood on them, so he didn't have sex with me. Instead he turned me around
and grabbed my breasts, trying me on the other side [anal rape]. I contracted
myself very tightly and he didn't succeed. He may have ejaculated. I don't
know. It took three or four minutes, then he told me that I could get back
on the tractor.55
Witnesses to this attack, which occurred on June
2, 1999, corroborated the account and provided additional, credible details
of the incident. A tractor driver who passed that same point later in the
day, as well as his other passengers on the tractor, corroborated the description
of the two uniformed men. One eyewitness to the sexual assault, an eighteen-year-old
man from Djinovce (Gjinoc) in the Suva Reka municipality, told Human Rights
He took her onto the asphalt road and raped her
right there in front of everyone. Only one Serb raped her. The other Serb
hit people with the butt of his automatic weapon and said, "Silence, silence!"
We all averted our eyes. It took three or four minutes. He did it right
next to the tractor.56
With few exceptions, the rapes documented by Human
Rights Watch were gang rapes involving at least two perpetrators. In several
cases, victims and witnesses identified the perpetrators as Serbian special
police, in blue or blue-camouflage uniforms, or Yugoslav Army soldiers,
in green military uniforms. The majority of rape cases, however, were evidently
committed by Serbian paramilitaries, who wore various uniforms and often
had bandanas, long knives, long hair, and beards. These paramilitary formations
worked closely with official government forces, either the Serbian Ministry
of Internal Affairs or the Yugoslav Army, throughout Kosovo (see Forces
of the Conflict).
The Serbian and Yugoslav authorities knew that their
paramilitaries had used rape and other forms of sexual violence in Bosnia
and Herzegovina. Yet, the paramilitaries were deployed to or allowed to
operate in Kosovo by the Serbian and Yugoslav authorities apparently without
any precautions being taken to prevent their committing further such war
The participation of Serbian and Yugoslav forces
in gang rapes renders it unlikely that senior officers were unaware of
the assaults. Rapes occurred frequently in the presence, and with the acquiescence,
of military officers. Several rape victims actually reported the crimes
to Yugoslav military officers. Yet there is no evidence that the Yugoslav
Army or the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs made any attempt to apprehend
or punish those responsible for the attacks. Despite this seeming dereliction
of duty, many leading police and military officers from the Kosovo campaign
have been honored or promoted within the Serbian and Yugoslav forces since
the end of the conflict.
There is also no evidence that the Yugoslav Army
or Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs took any measures to prevent rape
and other forms of sexual violence, such as issuing orders or warning troops
that they would be punished for these crimes, although there were some
cases where soldiers or police tried to protect women from paramilitaries.
Moreover, soldiers, police, and paramilitaries often raped their victims
in front of many witnesses. In addition to actual rapes that took place
in front of others, the process of pulling women out of refugee convoys
often occurred in full view of other internally displaced persons.
and the first months of 1999, there was substantial displacement in Kosovo:
more than 200,000 Kosovar Albanians were internally displaced, almost 70,000
fled the province to neighboring countries and Montenegro, and a further
100,000 Yugoslav nationals, mostly Kosovo Albanians, sought asylum in Western
Europe.57 But as the discussion above makes clear, few Western observers
believed that Belgrade would attempt to expel the entire Albanian population
of Kosovo. None could have predicted the speed and scale of the expulsion:
within three weeks of the start of NATO airstrikes, there were 525,787
refugees from Kosovo in neighboring countries.58 A month later, on May
12, the total had risen to 781,618.59 All told, the Yugoslav military and
Serbian police and paramilitaries expelled 862,979 Albanians from Kosovo,60
and several hundred thousand more were internally displaced, in addition
to those displaced prior to March.61 These figures indicate that by early
June 1999, more than 80 percent of the entire population of Kosovo and
90 percent of Kosovar Albanians were displaced from their homes. Approximately
440,000 refugees crossed the border to Albania and 320,000 to Macedonia
(of whom almost 80,000 were transferred to third countries outside the
region). Montenegro hosted around 70,000 refugees, while Bosnia and Herzegovina
received more than 30,0000.
Refugee flows from Kosovo between March and June
generally followed the principle of proximity to borders. Residents from
the western half of Kosovo generally crossed the southwestern border into
Albania and residents from the eastern half generally crossed the southeastern
border into Macedonia. Conversely, residents of Kosovska Mitrovica, Vucitrn,
and other ethnic Albanian areas in northern Kosovo were generally sent
to the Albanian border. Many residents from Pec and the western-most part
of Kosovo crossed into Montenegro, while some residents in the eastern-most
municipalities entered first into southern Serbia before crossing the border
into Macedonia. Some areas saw relatively few departures: A military cordon
and an unwillingness to leave meant that few residents from the Drenica
region in central Kosovo fled the province, other than those expelled from
Glogovac town in early May (see Drenica Region). While the fact of proximity
in most cases may suggest voluntariness, the statements of hundreds of
refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch and other organizations in Albania,
Macedonia, and Bosnia indicate otherwise.
The flight of the ethnic Albanian population from
Kosovo was executed with a degree of coordination and control that render
it impossible to reach any conclusion other than systematic forced expulsion.
At least four factors are key in determining that a policy of "ethnic cleansing"
was carried out in Kosovo: First is the timing of the refugees' arrival-refugees
arrived in Macedonia and Albania from the same areas on the same dates,
and at various times (notably during negotiations) the flow of refugees
stopped or was switched from one border to another. Second is the means
of departure: refugees were expelled into Macedonia by train, which allowed
the efficient removal of thousands of persons a day. Others, including
many of those sent to Albania who did not have their own transportation,
were taken by trucks and buses organized by the Serbian police. Collection
points were used to facilitate expulsion. Third is the use of threats and
violence to terrorize the population into departing, a central element
of "ethnic cleansing," observed frequently during the wars in Bosnia and
Croatia. Fourth is the practice of "identity cleansing": refugees expelled
toward Albania were frequently stripped of their identity documents and
forced to remove the license plates from their cars and tractors before
being permitted to cross the border.
Since almost 90 percent of the refugees who left
Kosovo crossed the Albanian or Macedonian border, the analysis of the timing
and pattern of expulsion must necessarily focus on arrivals in those two
countries. Human Rights Watch had researchers present in both countries
from the last week of March until the end of the war in mid-June 1999.
Researchers were therefore able to observe both the timing and pattern
of refugee arrivals. If refugees were fleeing the NATO bombing or the fighting
between Yugoslav and Serbian forces and the KLA, one would expect that
refugees would arrive in a somewhat random fashion, based on an individual
family's decisions about when the risks became too great to remain. In
fact, almost all refugees arrived village-by-village and municipality-by-municipality
in Albania or in Macedonia. The exceptions were cases where some residents
from the same place were directed to Albania and some to Macedonia.
Although they were necessarily selective, the chronologies
of Human Rights Watch interviews provide some insight into that process.
In Macedonia, Human Rights Watch interviewed mostly newly arrived refugees
from Pristina in the first week (beginning March 24). In the second and
third weeks most of the new arrivals were from Kacanik and Strpce municipalities.
In the fourth week, large numbers of refugees arrived from Gnjilane. In
week five, many of the new arrivals were from Lipljan municipality. Similarly
in northern Albania, Human Rights Watch interviewed large numbers of new
arrivals from Prizren municipality during the first week; in the second
week, many of the refugees came from Suva Reka and Djakovica, and in the
third week, there was a large influx of refugees from Mitrovica and more
from Djakovica. Refugee flows to Macedonia were abruptly stopped on several
occasions, notably in early June, when the details of a settlement between
the Yugoslav government and NATO were being negotiated. And as the OSCE
noted, "the flow of refugees was also regulated, with the result that many
thousands would arrive at the border crossing points with Albania, the
former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro (FRY) on some days,
but then only a handful of refugees would arrive at particular crossing
points on succeeding days."62
A more systematic effort to analyze the pattern
of refugee flows into Albania, conducted by the American Association for
the Advancement of Science (together with the East-West Management Institute
and the Institute for Legal and Policy Studies in Albania), confirms this
analysis. The statistical study primarily utilized data collected during
the crisis by Albanian guards at the Morina border crossing in northern
Albania. The study concludes that "the mass exodus of refugees from Kosovo
[into Albania] occurred in patterns so regular that they must have been
coordinated." The report further compared the expulsion times and patterns
to the NATO bombing and found that "only a small fraction of Kosovo Albanians
fled Kosovo as a direct result of NATO bombing raids."63 (See Statistical
Analysis of Violations for a further discussion.)
The pattern of departure of many of the refugees
also strongly points to organized expulsion rather than spontaneous departure.
The depopulation of Kosovo's capital, Pristina, is a case in point. Within
days of the start of the NATO airstrikes, Serbian police and paramilitaries
began systematically to clear the city of large sections of its Albanian
population. Witnesses from the neighborhoods of Vranjevac (Kodra e Trimave),
Tashlixhe, Dragodan, and Dardanija (Dardania) told Human Rights Watch that
police and masked paramilitaries went door to door at the end of March,
telling residents that they had to leave at once. M.B., a mother of two
from Tashlixhe said that she had been told: "Come on, get out! You must
go to the railway station."64 In some cases witnesses were told they would
be killed if they failed to comply. A medical doctor and his family were
told by masked men "if you don't leave in one minute we will kill you all!"65
Upon leaving their homes, residents were directed
by police towards the central railway station in Pristina, while others
left by car. The side roads were blocked by armed police and paramilitaries:
a Vranjevac resident said that "people who tried to walk in another direction
were forced back by police."66 Thousands of Pristina residents were gathered
at the railway station, with armed police posted around the area, where
they were herded onto a passenger train headed for the Macedonian border.
The trains were extremely overcrowded: one refugee said he was one of twenty-eight
people forced into a compartment meant for eight passengers.67 Several
refugees also described people being loaded onto buses and trucks at the
railway station, which suggests that it served as a general collection
point for the organized expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Pristina. Refugees
interviewed by Human Rights Watch saw police drag people from cars and
beat them. Most indicated that police and especially paramilitaries demanded
hard currency for safe passage, and reported witnessing the theft of jewelry
and vehicles. The use of collection points was also reported by refugees
in the towns of Glogovac and at the central railway stations in Urosevac
and Kosovo Polje, and in the village of Belanica (Bellanice) in Suva Reka
As the case of Pristina suggests, violence and threats
were frequently used to terrorize the population into departing. Residents
from Lipljan municipality told Human Rights Watch that the first massacre
in the municipality (in the village of Slovinje) made them nervous. A climate
of fear was created by subsequent killings in Malo Ribar (Ribar i Vogel)
and Mali Alas (Hallac i Vogel), which left them with no choice but to leave
(see Lipljan Municipality). Random gunshots, police checks, and house burnings
also contributed to their decision to flee.
In areas with a history of support for the KLA,
killings and other violence served the dual purpose of terrorizing the
population and eliminating persons associated with the rebels. The experience
of the town of Djakovica is indicative: a wave of organized terror early
in the war left dozens dead and thousands as refugees in northern Albania
(see Djakovica Municipality). This first wave of violence in Djakovica
began on March 24, when NATO initiated its attack on Yugoslavia, and continued
until April 2.
Following the principles of "ethnic cleansing" in
Bosnia and Herzegovina, prominent residents, including doctors, lawyers,
and politicians, were targeted for death-a strategy designed to terrorize
the remainder of the population into believing that no one was safe and
to eliminate important sources of leadership in the community. Approximately
200 Djakovica residents are believed to have been killed between March
24 and April 2, 1999, many of them in a series of house-to-house operations
by Yugoslav soldiers, Serbian police, and paramilitaries.
Much of the population was expelled during this
period. Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch in northern Albania-most
of them women- described their forced expulsion at the hands of police,
paramilitaries, and the army. Many reported seeing clusters of dead bodies
as they left the city.68 According to one Djakovica resident:
It was all very organized. They went from one neighborhood
to another. Some soldiers are in charge of destroying things, while others
are in charge of accompanying people to the border.69
The widespread confiscation of identity documents
and car license plates by Serbian police and border guards from departing
Kosovar Albanian refugees also points to the systematic nature of the expulsions.
Hundreds of refugees arriving in Albania spoke of being forced to hand
over ID cards, passports, and birth certificates, which were often torn
up in front of them, before they were permitted to cross the border. Those
who crossed the border by car were given screwdrivers and ordered to remove
the license plates from their vehicles. By contrast, refugees who were
expelled to Macedonia generally were permitted to retain their documents,
even after having them inspected by Serbian police officers. (As noted
in the section discussing explanations for the "ethnic cleansing," the
difference in approach may reflect an expectation that those sent to Albania
could be more easily characterized as Albanians from Albania and blocked
from returning, whereas Macedonia was unlikely to tolerate the permanent
residence of large numbers of Albanians from Kosovo.)
Whatever the explanation, the practice of "identity
cleansing" was clearly not a random initiative by Serbian officials on
the border. After the war, piles of license plates and burned documents
were discovered by the border crossings into Albania and elsewhere in Kosovo.
Each one of these four factors (the timing of arrivals,
the means of departure, the use of terror and the practice of "identity
cleansing") strongly suggest that the flight of some 860,000 Albanians
from Kosovo in twelve weeks adds up to systematic forced expulsion. Taken
together, the evidence is overwhelming. The prosecutor of the ICTY was
in no doubt when her office prepared the indictment for Slobodan Milosevic,
Milan Milutinovic, Nikola Sainovic, Dragoljub Ojdanic, and Vlajko Stojiljkovic
(see Forces of the Conflict). The first of the charges reads:
The forces of the FRY and Serbia have, in a systematic
manner, forcibly expelled and internally displaced hundreds of thousands
of Kosovo Albanians from their homes across the entire province of Kosovo.
To facilitate these expulsions and displacements, the forces of the FRY
and Serbia have intentionally created an atmosphere of fear and oppression
through the use of force, threats of force, and acts of violence.70
Arbitrary Arrests and Detentions
the armed conflict in 1998 and early 1999, arbitrary arrests and detentions
of Kosovar Albanians were commonplace. Physical abuse and torture of detainees
was widespread.71 The practice intensified during the period March-June
1999. Thousands of Kosovar Albanians were detained during the NATO bombing.
Very often, men were separated from women and held in makeshift detention
centers, such as schools or factories, for a period of days, during which
time they were beaten and interrogated about the KLA. Some men were held
for longer periods in the prisons at Smrekovnica, Lipljan, Istok (Dubrava),
or Pristina. Most of the men in detention at the end of the war-between
1,000 and 2,000-were transferred out of Kosovo to prisons in Serbia proper;
as of March 2001, more than 400 Kosovar Albanians were still being held.
As an example, more than 300 men and women were
taken into detention from the streets and private homes in Djakovica between
May 7 and May 11 after fighting in the Cabrat neighborhood between government
forces and the KLA (see Djakovica Municipality). Women were held temporarily
in the Gorenje Elektromotor factory and then released. The men were held
in an unknown location on the edge of the city along the Djakovica-Pec
Approximately half of the men were released after
six days but the rest-an estimated 150 people-were transferred to the jails
in Pec, Lipljan, and then Dubrava (prior to the NATO bombing of that prison).
Most, if not all, of the detainees were transferred to prisons inside Serbia
just before NATO troops entered Kosovo on June 12. On May 22, 2000, a court
in Nis sentenced 143 men from Djakovica to a total of 1,632 years in prison
for acts of terrorism. The Serbian Supreme Court released them on April
More than 300 ethnic Albanians were held in Prizren's
prison beginning in April. One man, who spent two months in detention,
spoke about the treatment he and others received:
I went straight to the prison; they never brought
me to the police station. There they tortured me for breakfast, lunch,
and dinner. The first thing they did to me when I arrived was beat me using
rubber police batons. They hit me on the palms of my hands and in my groin.
There were more than 300 Albanians there. Every time they served us food,
they beat us. During my first four days, they beat me every day in the
hall. Other inmates got the same treatment.72
In the town of Glogovac, police raided neighborhoods
and detained large groups of adult men in the local police station for
one week beginning April 22 (see Glogovac Municipality). Almost all of
the men were beaten in front of their homes or on the way to the station,
and some were forced to sing Serbian nationalist songs. Most of the detainees
were questioned about the KLA and then released after no more than one
day in custody. One month later, hundreds of Glogovac men were detained
and held in the basements of local shops. The majority of the men were
released after three days, but only after interrogations and beatings with
sticks, shovel handles, and metal bars. Approximately ninety men were transferred
In some villages, women were held in makeshift detention
facilities, such as barns or abandoned homes, where they were sexually
abused or raped (see section on rape).73 A few women were reported to have
been held in Kosovo's prisons, such as the doctor Flora Brovina, who was
transferred to Serbia proper after the war, sentenced to twelve years in
prison, but released in November 2000 (see Abuses After June 12, 1999).
More than 2,000 Kosovar Albanian men were detained
in Smrekovnica prison near Mitrovica in May (see section on Smrekovnica
prison in Vucitrn Municipality). Human Rights Watch interviewed more than
thirty of these men; all of them reported regular beatings by police during
their detention, especially during interrogations about the KLA. Signs
of physical abuse, such as black eyes, severe bruises, and skin abrasions
were visible on their bodies when they were interviewed as refugees in
Albania. Most of the men were forced to sign confessions that they were
engaged in terrorist activities before being released.
Human Rights Watch also spoke with former detainees
from Lipljan prison, who testified to the beatings and indecent conditions
at the prison, including a cordon of policemen and prison guards who beat
new arrivals. One former prison from Glogovac, who was in Lipljan for fifteen
days before being transferred to Sremska Mitrovica prison on June 10, said:
At first when we got out of the bus [at Lipljan
prison] we had to walk thirty meters through two columns of police, and
they beat us with bars and sticks. Inside they told us to disrobe. And
they beat us again. They took us to another room with about 500 prisoners-in
a sports hall. We all stayed together.74
Another detention facility was Dubrava penitentiary
near Istok-Kosovo's largest prison. Between 900 and 1,100 prisoners were
being held there when the NATO bombing began, including approximately thirty
ethnic Serbs, but additional prisoners were transferred to Dubrava after
the bombing had begun (including the 150 men from Djakovica), some of them
from prisons in Serbia proper.
NATO bombed the prison on May 19 and May 21, killing
at least nineteen ethnic Albanian prisoners (see section on Dubrava prison
in Istok Municipality). On May 22, Serbian security forces lined up the
approximately 1,000 prisoners in the courtyard and fired on them with snipers,
machine guns, and grenades from the prison walls and guard towers, killing
at least seventy people. At least another twelve prisoners were killed
over the next twenty-four hours as prison guards, special police, and possibly
paramilitaries attacked prisoners who were hiding in the prison's undestroyed
buildings, basements, and sewers. The injured were taken away in trucks,
while the remaining prisoners were transported to Lipljan prison, where
they were beaten. On June 10, they were transferred to prisons in Serbia
On June 10, two days before NATO's entry into Kosovo,
an estimated 2,000 ethnic Albanian prisoners were transferred from Kosovo
to prisons inside Serbia proper. More than 1,400 of these people were released
at different times in 1999, 2000, and 2001, some of them under a Yugoslav
amnesty law passed in February 2001. As of March 2001, approximately 400
Kosovo Albanians were known to be in Serbian prisons. (See Abuses After
June 12, 1999.)
Destruction of Civilian Property and Mosques
and June 1999, Yugoslav soldiers and Serbian police and paramilitaries
destroyed thousands of Albanian homes throughout Kosovo with the use of
artillery, bulldozers, explosives, and arson. There was also widespread
looting. In some areas, especially those with close ties to the KLA, entire
villages were destroyed. A number of towns, including Pec and Glogovac
were also badly damaged. Albanian-owned shops and businesses, schools,
and mosques were also targeted for destruction and were frequently looted.
In addition, there was widespread contamination of water wells in the province
(see following section).
These actions were the continuation of policies
carried out by security forces in Kosovo during 1998 and early 1999, notably
in the Drenica region and Orahovac municipality (particularly in the town
of Malisevo) and Decani municipality.75 A UNHCR shelter survey released
in November 1998 demonstrates the widespread nature of the destruction
during 1998.76 The survey assessed 285 villages, of which 210 had been
affected by the conflict. In the 210 affected villages with an estimated
pre-conflict population of 350,000 persons, 28 percent of the homes-9,809
out of a total of 35,185 homes-had been completely destroyed. Another 15
percent of the homes (5,112 homes) had severe damage, while an additional
6,017 homes sustained moderate to minor damage, leaving only 40 percent
of the homes in the affected regions undamaged.
Much of the remaining housing stock in Kosovo was
destroyed in 1999. According to a November 1999 UNHCR survey, almost 40
percent of all residential houses in Kosovo were heavily damaged (categories
III and IV) or completely destroyed (category V).77 Out of a total of 237,842
houses, 45,768 are heavily damaged and 46,414 are destroyed. Municipalities
with strong ties to the KLA were disproportionately affected (probably
in part because they began to be attacked in 1998): almost half the 12,887
houses in Orahovac municipality were heavily damaged (4,334 houses) or
completely destroyed (1,943 houses); in Suva Reka, 4,552 homes were heavily
damaged and 2,018 destroyed, or more than 55 percent of the total number
(11,622). In the Drenica region, out of a total housing stock of 17,340
units, 7,155 were heavily damaged and 6,209 completely destroyed, or 77
percent of the total. The city of Pec was also hit especially hard, with
more than 80 percent of the city's 5,280 houses heavily damaged (1,590)
or destroyed (2,774).
Schools and mosques were similarly affected. According
to a United Nations damage assessment of 649 schools in Kosovo, more than
a fifth of the schools surveyed were heavily damaged and more than 60 percent
were completely destroyed.78 After June 1999, Human Rights Watch observed
damaged and destroyed mosques in Djakovica, Pec, Istok, and Cirez (Srbica
municipality). Field visits by Human Rights Watch over the summer of 1999
also revealed extensive damage to shops and businesses in Suva Reka, Urosevac,
Pristina, Pec, Glogovac, and Djakovica. An August 1999 report by Physicians
for Human Rights documented 155 destroyed mosques throughout Kosovo, based
on refugee accounts.79
Contamination of Water Wells
One of the
more blatant forms of civilian property destruction in Kosovo during 1998
and 1999 was the widespread practice of water well contamination, which
is forbidden by the laws of war.80 Throughout Kosovo, Serbian and Yugoslav
forces deliberately rendered water wells unusable by disposing of chemicals,
dead animals, and even human corpses into the water. According to the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which ran a water-sanitizing operation
in Kosovo, "Of the 20,000 wells in Kosovo, over half are believed to have
been contaminated with animal or human remains or with rubbish, or have
simply grown stagnant through lack of use." Between January and September
1999, the ICRC cleaned over 1,700 wells.81
Human Rights Watch documented a number of villages
in Kosovo where murder victims were dumped into a local well. In one village
in Suva Reka-which is not named because of the rape that occurred there-eleven
men were killed in April 1999 and thrown into the well (see Suva Reka Municipality).
As noted in the above discussion of the death toll, at least four of the
estimated forty-seven members of the Muqolli family, executed in the village
of Poklek in April 1999, were thrown into a well in the yard of the family
compound. In another village in Drenica region (that will also remain nameless
to protect the identity of the victims), eight women were raped, shot,
and then thrown into a well.82 Human Rights Watch has also received reports
that human remains were found in water wells in the villages of Donji Streoc
(Strellc i Poshtem) and Dubovik in Decani municipality, the village of
Damjane (Dehje) in Djakovica municipality, and Studenica (Studenice) in
Istok municipality. The two wells outside the village of Kotlina, into
which twenty-three men were thrown together with hand-grenades in April
1999, were not used by the villagers for water and the decision to put
the men into the wells appears to have been an attempt to conceal their
murders rather than to contaminate the water.
Secondary sources also reported that wells had been
contaminated, both prior to and during the NATO bombing. According to an
article in The Washington Post
on December 10, 1998, at least fifty-eight villages had informed foreign
aid organizations that their wells contained "dead dogs, chickens, horses,
garbage, fuel oil, flour, detergent, paint and other contaminants." In
one village, Ovcarevo, 70 percent of the wells "might be contaminated."83
After the NATO bombing, The Los Angeles
Times cited UNHCR statistics on the Djakovica
area indicating that the wells in thirty-nine of forty-four villages were
contaminated with "either human or animal bodies."84 According to the Council
for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms in Pec, human remains were
found in wells in the villages of Donja Luka (Lluke e Eperme), Banja (Banje),
and Kosuric (Kosuriq).85 The Italian newspaper Corriere
Della Sera also reported on the contamination
of the Donja Luka well, in which a villager found thirteen relatives and
neighbors, aged twelve to seventy.86
Robbery and Extortion
and mass expulsion in Kosovo in the spring of 1999 was often accompanied
by robbery and extortion. Typically, Albanians were robbed immediately
prior to or during their expulsion from Kosovo. Those who refused were
threatened with death, or their children were snatched and threatened until
they complied. Serbian paramilitaries or persons in unknown uniform were
most often implicated in the crimes, although there are also reports of
the involvement of Serbian police. Incidents of robbery were not confined
to any particular area: there are notable examples in regions with significant
KLA activity and widespread killings, such as Glogovac, Suva Reka, and
Pec, and in regions that experienced fewer killings and relatively light
destruction, such as Lipljan, Pristina, and Gnjilan. As in Bosnia and Herzegovina,
robbery and extortion may simply have been motivation and reward for Serbian
paramilitaries, although the widespread nature of the abuses and the involvement
of the police in at least some cases suggests complicity by, and possibly
profit to, the state.
One of the most egregious cases of mass robbery
occurred in the village of Belanica in Suva Reka municipality (see Suva
Reka Municipality). On March 31, Serbian police and paramilitaries entered
the village and rounded up residents and the large number of internally
displaced persons from the surrounding area. Serbian paramilitaries and
police then repeatedly demanded money, threatening those who refused or
their children with death. They made good on their threats: at least a
dozen Albanians were killed. A woman who was in the village at the time
told Human Rights Watch:
At one point, the police came up to a man on the
tractor in front of me. They said, "Give us money!" He didn't have anything
for them. He was from Ostrozuk village. So they pulled him off the tractor
and killed him. When he didn't give them anything they [four policemen]
pulled him off the tractor by his arms and legs. They brought him around
to the back of a house, then I couldn't see him anymore. I heard shooting
and I could see one of the policemen aiming his gun and firing. The man
didn't come back to his _tractor.87
In the weeks leading up to the mass expulsion from
Glogovac at the start of May 1999, the town's residents and displaced persons
suffered persistent visits to their homes by Serbian paramilitaries and
police demanding money and valuables (see Drenica Region). In some areas,
demands for money by paramilitaries were so frequent that residents took
the unusual step of going to the police on April 23 to request protection.
Protection was provided only intermittently and did little to curtail criminal
activity, suggesting a degree of official complicity.
The robberies followed a similar pattern: one or
two paramilitaries or police officers would break in the door of a private
apartment, sometimes wearing masks, but always carrying automatic rifles.
The families were physically threatened until they handed over everything
of value. A fifty-nine-year-old man from Glogovac, A.H., described what
happened when men with "green uniforms and red bandanas on their arms"
came to the four-house compound he shared with his three brothers in early
Two days before we left, at around 9:00 or 10:00
a.m., they [the police] came into the house and searched us . . . They
pointed their guns at us . . . They asked me for money . . . [then] they
forced me to strip to my underwear - looking for money. One of them said,
"If I find any money on your body, I'm going to shoot you . . ." They took
rings and gold from the women . . . The next day . . . they took two radios
from my brother and a small TV.88
During some of the robberies, paramilitaries and
police reportedly threatened children with knives and automatic guns in
order to extort money from their parents. According to H.M., a forty-six-year-old
man, from Glogovac: "A week before we left [paramilitaries] started to
take very strong action to take money. They would take your daughter and
say, `Give me money or I won't let her go.'"89 Another man from Glogovac
in his late fifties said that "paramilitaries came, they took children,
held a knife against their throats [and threatened to kill them] unless
they were given money."90
Areas that escaped multiple killings and widespread
destruction were nonetheless targeted for robbery and extortion. Residents
of Pristina reported frequent robberies as they were forced from the city
at the end of March. The municipality of Gnjilane, which was among the
least affected by the war, also experienced robbery and extortion as its
population was forced to flee toward Macedonia. The experiences of the
residents of Malesevo village are typical of the pattern in Gnjilane. After
green-uniformed paramilitaries with "a white eagle with four C's"91 insignia
entered their village on the morning of April 16, Malesevo residents were
given two hours to leave. Two villagers were shot in a field as the rest
of the village stood by. The villagers were beaten, robbed of cars, money,
and jewelry, and threatened with death before they were forced to walk
to nearby Gnjilane. Later, on the road between Gnjilane and Urosevac, the
villagers were repeatedly robbed by bands of paramilitaries. One villager
said that the column had been stopped nine times between Gnjilane and the
town of Klokot (Kllokot), approximately ten kilometers by road. Each time
the villagers were stopped they were slapped, beaten, and threatened with
death if they did not hand over all their foreign currency, jewelry, and
other valuables. Several witnesses indicated that paramilitaries had threatened
to detonate hand grenades if their demands were not met. According to one
witness: "They took hand grenades and were threatening that they would
throw them in the midst of the children if they didn't get anything."92
Detentions and Compulsory Labor
There is clear
evidence that between March and June 1999, Yugoslav and Serbian security
forces detained adult males and compelled them to dig trenches, clear bunkers,
and perform other manual work. The majority of the work appears related
to the Yugoslav Army's strategic objectives. The most notable incidents
occurred in Glogovac municipality during May and June 1999. Human Rights
Watch also documented the compulsory labor of detainees in Prizren municipality
during April 1999, where on at least two occasions, Serbian police and
Yugoslav soldiers rounded up men in Prizren town and transported them to
the Albanian border where they were forced to serve on trench-digging brigades
(see Prizren Municipality). There are also reports of work brigades in
Orahovac, Suva Reka, and Djakovica, where Roma were allegedly compelled
to dig trenches on the border with Albania during the month of April 1999.93
Human Rights Watch received detailed accounts of
compulsory labor from the group of prisoners who were detained at the mosque
in Cirez in Drenica on April 31, 1999. While many of the detainees were
executed at the Shavarina mine near Cikatovo on May 1, 1999, the remainder
were transferred to Glogovac (see Drenica Region). Around seventy-six of
the survivors were taken by Serbian police from Glogovac to the villages
of Krajkovo (Krajkove), Vukovce (Vukofci), and Poturk on May 5 and 6 and
handed over to Serbian soldiers. According to seven witnesses interviewed
by Human Rights Watch, the men were then forced to work for approximately
six weeks until the withdrawal of Serbian security forces from Kosovo in
mid-June. Tasks included digging trenches and bunkers. Witnesses reported
incidents of beating and torture of prisoners at the hands of the soldiers,
although some noted that they were fed and received better treatment than
they had at the hands of Serbian police and paramilitaries in Cirez and
and June 1999, Yugoslav and Serbian security forces compelled some Albanian
civilians to remain close to them or situated them between Serbian positions
and those of the KLA. Both strategies were designed to create a human shield
to protect Yugoslav and Serbian forces from attack from NATO aircraft or
the KLA. The use of such "human shields" is prohibited by Article 28 of
the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that "The presence of a protected
person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military
In some cases, the use of human shields was direct,
with Albanian civilians compelled to march alongside Yugoslav soldiers
and Serbian police in order to protect them from attack by NATO aircraft
or the KLA. Human Rights Watch interviewed witnesses from Suva Reka, Klina,
and Lipljan who described being held as human shields. Witnesses reported
to the OSCE that they were detained as human shields in Djeneral Jankovic
(on the Macedonian border), in Djakovica municipality, in Pristina, and
on the road between Cirez and Stutica.94 There are also allegations that
the displaced Albanian civilians killed in the Korisa woods by NATO bombs
had been compelled by Serbian forces to remain there as "human shields"
but the evidence is inconclusive (see The NATO Air Campaign).95
There is also evidence of the indirect use of human
shields, through efforts to create barriers of civilians between Serbian
security forces and the KLA, thereby limiting the ability of the KLA to
attack, or defend from attacks by, Serbian positions. Most of the reports
are from the Drenica region. The case of Staro Cikatovo village is a notable
example (see Drenica Region). One witness from the village told Human Rights
Watch, "We were between the KLA and Feronikel. [Serbian forces] started
grenading from Feronikel to attack [KLA] soldiers."96 The OSCE reports
a similar incident in the village of Trnavce (Trnoc) in Srbica municipality,
as well as in Belanica village in Suva Reka municipality.97 A witness from
Malisevo (Orahovac municipality) interviewed by Physicians for Human Rights
reported being in a group of 500 civilians who were detained close to the
Albanian border and used as human shields by Yugoslav soldiers as they
attacked a nearby KLA position.98
1998 and the first six months of 1999, Serbian and Yugoslav forces placed
an estimated 50,000 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines in Kosovo, especially
along the borders with Macedonia and Albania.99 The KLA also placed mines
in areas under its control during this period. In addition, NATO's use
of cluster bombs during at least six weeks of the air war resulted in some
civilian deaths and unexploded ordinances (UXO) scattered in Kosovo and
elsewhere in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia after the war.
Mines and UXO represent the deadliest legacy of
the conflict in Kosovo. According to the U.S.-based Vietnam Veterans' Foundation,
from the end of the war to mid-November 2000, 103 people were killed and
394 wounded in accidents with mines and unexploded ordinance.100 This differs
only slightly from a July 2000 report of the U.N. secretary general, which
said that 101 people had been killed and 395 injured in mine or unexploded
ordnance incidents between June 12, 1999, and July 2000.101 The U.N. Mine
Action Coordination Center (MACC) established in Kosovo after the war,
reported that by mid-July 2000, 1.1 million square meters of land had been
demined or cleared of unexploded ordnance.102 The secretary general's report
also noted that teams coordinated by MACC had cleared 3,405 anti-personnel
mines, 3,768 anti-tank mines, 3,066 cluster bombs, and 9,327 items of unexploded
ordnance. In addition, KFOR had cleared over 16,000 homes, 1,165 schools,
and almost 2,000 kilometers of roads during the same period.103
The Yugoslav government, one of the world's largest
producers of anti-personnel mines, is not a signatory to the 1997 treaty
banning the use of landmines, but Yugoslav officials have stated that landmines
are used only for the purposes of training.104 In fact, landmines were
used extensively by Yugoslav forces during the 1998-99 conflict as a tactical
measure against the KLA and NATO. According to the International Campaign
to Ban Landmines 2000 report, the Yugoslav Army primarily placed barrier
minefields along the southern border with Macedonia. Serbian Ministry of
Internal Affairs forces and paramilitaries laid anti-personnel mines in
and around civilian population centers.105 According to a report by the
HALO Trust, a non-profit demining group, "[M]any villages are afflicted
with random mines laid with the sole aim of causing civilian casualties
and thereby discouraging the return of refugees."106 According to a U.S.
Agency for International Development report, more than 900 schools needed
In the Military Technical Agreement signed between
NATO and the Yugoslav government on June 9, 1999, the Yugoslav authorities
agreed to "mark and clear minefields, booby traps and obstacles."108 The
Yugoslav Army informed NATO of 616 mined areas. Mines placed by Serbian
paramilitaries, however, were generally unrecorded and are therefore difficult
The same is true for many of the mines planted by
the KLA. The KLA is known to have placed mostly anti-tank mines but also
some anti-personnel mines around regional bases, headquarters, and safe
houses. In late September 1998, a Canadian armored car from KDOM and a
vehicle from the ICRC both hit anti-tank mines laid by the KLA in central
Drenica. A Kosovo Albanian doctor, Dr. Shpetim Robaj, was killed and three
ICRC medical workers were injured.
Cluster bombs dropped by NATO forces during the
air war also pose a continued risk to civilians in post-war Kosovo. Both
U.S. and British forces have acknowledged the use of cluster bombs in the
bombing campaign.110 The White House issued a directive to the Pentagon
in May 1999 to restrict cluster bomb use (at least by U.S. forces) after
fourteen civilians were killed and twenty-eight were injured in a May 7
cluster bomb attack on an airfield in Nis (see The NATO Air Campaign).111
According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines,
"[T]he U.S dropped 1,100 cluster bombs of the type CBU-87/B, each containing
202 BLU-97/B bomblets and the UK dropped 500 RBL/755 cluster bombs, each
containing 147 Bl-755 bomblets."112 Because of the high failure rate of
the submunitions inside cluster bombs-estimated conservatively at 5 percent113-
these "bomblets" in effect become anti-personnel landmines.
1 According to UNHCR statistics,
the total number of refugees from Kosovo on June 9 was 862,979. This figure
excludes those who had sought asylum in Europe prior to March 1999. No
precise figures exist for the total population of internally displaced
in Kosovo between March and June 1999 but most estimates range between
500,000 and 600,000, which includes the more than 200,000 persons internally
displaced prior to March.
2 The expulsion of virtually all
foreign journalists from Pristina on March 25 completed the removal of
all foreign witnesses from Kosovo.
3 OSCE/ODIHR, Kosovo/Kosova:
As Seen, As Told, Part I, p. 37.
4 See the following press accounts:
"[T]he death toll from Kosovo's war was about 2,000 at the end of last
year , but that figure is substantially higher now," Anne Thompson,
"A worsening terror: Disappearances Grow in Kosovo," Associated Press,
March 18,1999; ". . . more than 1500 people have been killed," Charles
Trueheart, "Kosovo Delegation Vows Anew to Sign Peace Agreement; West to
Reapply Pressure on Belgrade," Washington
Post, March 16, 1999; ". . . more than 2,000
deaths," Kurt Schork (Reuters), "A Year Ago, Serb Attack Kicked Off Kosovo
War," Seattle Times,
March 5, 1999. See also, The Kosovo Report,
The Independent International Commission on Kosovo, October 2000.
5 UNHCR Press Briefing Note: Kosovo,
Tuesday, February 2, 1999.
6 According to a November 1998 survey
of 285 villages in Kosovo carried out jointly by UNHCR and a group of humanitarian
NGOs, 210 villages had been affected by the fighting in 1998. Twenty-eight
percent of the homes in those villages (9,809) had been completely destroyed,
and 15 percent (5,112) of the homes had severe damage. [UNHCR Pristina,"IDP/Shelter
Survey Kosovo: Joint Assessment in 20 Municipalities," November 12, 1998.]
7 Out of an estimated Kosovo population
of 1.8 million, 850,000 Kosovars were refugees, and as many as 600,000
were internally displaced. Given that approximately 200,000 of the total
population were Serbs, Roma, and other minorities, the percentage of displaced
Albanians from Kosovo may have been as high as 90 percent.
8 UNHCR contingency plans prepared
by the UNHCR Special Envoy for the Former Yugoslavia prior to March 24
put the maximum number of refugees from Kosovo that could be expected as
a result of intensified hostilities in the province at 100,000. "The Kosovo
refugee crisis: an independent evaluation of UNHCR's emergency preparedness
and response," UNHCR Evaluation and Policy Analysis Unit, February 2000.
9 OSCE/ODIHR, Kosovo/Kosova:
As Seen, As Told, Part I, pp. 21-30.
11 For a Seselj statement on forced
expulsions published in The Greater Serbia Journal on October 14, 1995,
see: www.alb-net.com/cleansing.htm, (accessed March 2001).
12 Human Rights Watch found few cases
of "identity cleansing" among refugees arriving in Macedonia. This may
be due to the weaker base of support for the KLA in eastern Kosovo (the
point of origin for most refugees arriving in Macedonia). Another possibility
is that Macedonia, unlike Albania, would not permit such a large influx
of Kosovo Albanians to remain indefinitely.
13 Bolstered by four years of a United
Nations preventive deployment of peacekeepers, Macedonia had avoided the
civil conflict that engulfed the other republics of the Socialist Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia. The election of a multi-ethnic government coalition
had mitigated tensions between the large ethnic Albanian community, whose
experience of persistent discrimination had strengthened calls among many
of its members for greater autonomy, and the larger ethnic Macedonian population,
whose fears of a greater Albania were inflamed by such calls.
For more on human rights
in Macedonia, see Human Rights Watch, "Police Violence in Macedonia," April
1998, and Human Rights Watch, A Threat
to Stability: Human Rights in Macedonia (New
York: Human Rights Watch, 1996).
14 The Macedonian government periodically
closed its borders to Kosovo refugees until the international community
agreed to transfer out of the country some of those already present in
Macedonia. For more on the Macedonian government's treatment of refugees
during the war, see a Human Rights Watch statement, "Macedonia Must Keep
Border Open To Refugees," April 1, 1999.
15 After the end of the war, some
western politicians even claimed that the return of refugees was the original
objective of the NATO action-a temporal impossibility, further contradicted
by NATO's own predictions about possible refugee flows that might follow
the start of the bombing.
16 Human Rights Watch interviews,
Bogovine, Macedonia, April 5, 1999; Neprosteno, Macedonia, April 10-11,
1999; Kukes, Albania, April 17 and April 26, 1999; Kukes, Albania, May
12-13 and May 22, 1999; Kukes, Albania, June 6, 1999.
17 Prior to March 1999, more than
90 percent of the population of Leposavic and approximately 75 percent
of the populations of Zubin Potok and Zvecan were Serbs.
18 Human Rights Watch interviews,
Bogovine, Macedonia, April 4, 1999.
19 Human Rights Watch interviews,
Kukes, Albania: April 16-19, 1999; April 23, 1999; April 26, 1999; May
10, 1999; May 11, 1999; May 13, 1999; May 22, 1999; June 2, 1999 and June
20 Many of them were displaced again
during the forcible expulsion of large sections of Pristina in March and
April 1999. (Human Rights Watch interviews, Dzepciste, Macedonia, April
21 Human Rights Watch interviews,
Podujevo town, Dobratin village (Podujevo municipality), July 13, 1999;
Kukes, Albania, May 22, 1999.
22 For more information on events
in Kosovo Polje and Obilic municipalities during 1998, see: OSCE/ODIHR,
Kosovo/Kosova: As Seen, As Told,
pp. 235-239 and pp. 268-273. Some details on the KLA's brief capture of
the Belacevac mine, and the nine Serbs who went missing, can be found in
a Human Rights Watch report, Humanitarian
Law Violations in Kosovo, October 1998.
23 Human Rights Watch interviews,
Bogovine, Macedonia, April 4, 1999; Kukes, Albania, April 4 and April 14,
1999; Kukes, Albania, June 8, 1999.
24 Human Rights Watch interviews,
Bogovine, Macedonia, March 31, 1999 and April 5, 1999; Kukes, Albania,
April 29, 1999 and May 10, 1999.
25 For more information on Ade see:
Human Rights Watch, Kosovo Human Rights
Flash #32, April 29, 1999.
26 Human Rights Watch interviews,
Morina, Albania, April 28, 1999; Kukes, Albania, April 29, 1999; Tetovo,
Macedonia, April 30, 1999.
27 Human Rights Watch interviews,
Krume, Albania, April 2, 1999; Kukes, Albania, April 8 and 9, 1999.
28 Human Rights Watch interviews,
Morina, Albania, April 4, 1999; Kukes, Albania, April 8, 1999; Morina,
Albania, April 28, 1999.
Kosovo/Kosova: As Seen, As Told, pp. 216-226.
30 Human Rights Watch interviews,
Neprosteno, Macedonia, April 8 and 11, 1999; Zelino, Macedonia, April 12,
1999; Orasje, Macedonia, April 14, 1999; Senekos, Macedonia, April 16 and
17, 1999; Gostivar, Macedonia, April 18, 1999.
31 Human Rights Watch interviews,
Orasje, Macedonia, April 12 and 14, 1999; Kotlina, Kosovo, August 8, 1999.
See also, Amnesty International, "FRY: Killings in the Kacanik Area," April
32 Human Rights Watch interviews,
Senekos, Macedonia, April 16, 1999; Gostivar, Macedonia, April 18, 1999;
Kukes, Albania, April 18, 1999; Kukes, Albania, May 14, 1999.
33 Human Rights Watch interviews,
Neprosteno, Macedonia, April 8, 1999; April 10-11, 1999.
34 "Yugoslavs are Crying `Crocodile
Tears': Cohen - 100,000 Kosovars May be Dead, Says Defense Secretary,"
May 17, 1999; David E. Rosenbaum, "Crisis in the Balkans: the Dead: U.S.
Official Calls Tallies of Kosovo Slain Too Low," New
York Times, April 19, 1999.
35 U.S. Department of State, "Erasing
History: Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo," May 1999; Transcript of Press Conference
by Jamie Shea and Brigadier General Giuseppe Marani, NATO Headquarters,
April 17, 1999.
36 "UN Sets Kosovo Dead at 11,000,"
Reuters, August 3, 1999, and "Kouchner's Spokeswoman Comments on Kosovo
Death Figures," Agence France Press, August 3, 1999.
37 See, for example: Charles A. Radin
and Louise D. Palmer, "Number of missing Kosovars is challenged," The
Boston Globe, April 21, 1999.
38 For transcripts of the program,
plus two other reports on war crimes in Kosovo, see: www.americanradioworks.org,
(accessed March 2001).
39 "Milosevic Tried to Cover up Kosovo
Crimes: Official," Agence France Presse, May 26, 2001, and "A Dark Secret
Comes to Light in Serbia," by Carlotta Gall, New
York Times, June 1, 2001.
40 Beta News, July 17, 2001, and
Madame Carla Del Ponte, Prosecutor, ICTY, "Remarks to the Security Council,"
November 10, 1999.
41 ICRC Statement, "Persons Unaccounted
for in Connection with the Kosovo Crisis," April 10, 2001. Prior to this
statement, ICRC had said that 3,368 persons from Kosovo remained missing
as of June 27, 2000. The majority of the missing are Kosovo Albanians,
but also include 400 Serbs, one hundred Roma and persons from other minorities.
Seventy-four percent disappeared between March and June 1999. ICRC, "Update
00/01 on ICRC activities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia," June 27,
42 Madame Carla Del Ponte, Prosecutor,
ICTY, "Remarks to the Security Council," November 10, 1999.
43 Address to the Security Council
by Madame Carla Del Ponte, prosecutor, International Criminal Tribunals
for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, November 21, 2000, New York.
44 Human Rights Watch interview with
N.B., Studencane, Kosovo, August 29, 1999.
45 Paul B Spiegel and Peter Salama,
"War and mortality in Kosovo, 1998-99: an epidemiological testimony," The
Lancet, Vol. 355, No. 9222, June 24, 2000.
46 Political Killings in Kosova/Kosovo,
Central and East European Law Initiative of the American Bar Association
and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington
D.C., October 2000.
47 Other known lawyers killed during
the war were Urim Rexha from Djakovica, Mehdi Elshani from Suva Reka, and
Ismet Gashi from Prizren.
48 Human Rights Watch interview with
Nekibe Kelmendi, Pristina, Kosovo, July 25, 1999.
49 OSCE/ODIHR, Kosovo/Kosova:
As Seen, As Told, Part I, p. 236.
50 May 7, 1999, Announcement, MUP
website, www.mup.sr.gov.yu/domino\mup.nsf/_pages/index, (accessed March
51 OSCE/ODIHR, Kosovo/Kosova:
As Seen, As Told, Part I, pp. 151-152.
52 For a tribute to Mehmeti and Dervishi,
see Robert Elsie, "Gone but not Forgotten,"
Guardian, April 3, 1999.
53 The findings of this research
are set out in full in a separate Human Rights Watch report: "Kosovo: Rape
as a Weapon of Ethnic Cleansing," A Human
Rights Watch Report, vol. 12, no. 3, March 2000.
54 Human Rights Watch received credible
reports of rape from the Center for the Protection of Women and Children,
based in Pristina (Prishtina) (twenty-nine cases); the Albanian Counseling
Center for Women and Girls, an NGO in Albania (twenty-eight cases); the
Yugoslavia-based Humanitarian Law Center (four cases) and; the Kosovo-based
Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms (four cases). Médécins
Sans Frontières (MSF), with offices in Kosovo before and after the
war, reported four cases, and other medical personnel working in Kosovo
and Albania confirmed an additional eight cases. Physicians for Human Rights
interviewed four victims of sexual violence, and Amnesty International
documented another three cases of rape, although two were also counted
by Human Rights Watch.
55 Human Rights Watch interview,
R.G., Kukes Refugee Camp, Albania, June 5, 1999.
56 Human Rights Watch interview,
P.J., Kukes Refugee Camp, Albania, June 5, 1999.
57 UNHCR Press Briefing Note: Kosovo,
Tuesday, February 2, 1999.
58 UNHCR Press Briefing Note: Kosovo,
April 13, 1999.
59 UNHCR Press Briefing Note: Kosovo,
May 13, 1999.
60 Statistic from: "The Kosovo refugee
crisis: an independent evaluation of UNHCR's emergency preparedness and
response," UNHCR Evaluation and Policy Analysis Unit, February 2000. This
figure excludes those who had sought asylum in Europe prior to March 1999.
61 No precise figures exist for the
total population of internally displaced in Kosovo between March and June
1999 but most estimates range between 500,000 and 600,000.
Kosovo/Kosova: As Seen, As Told. pp. 98-99.
63 The American Association for the
Advancement of Science, East-West Management Institute and the Institute
for Legal and Policy Studies, Policy
or Panic: The Flight of Ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, March-May 1999,
May 2000. The report is available at: http://hrdata.aaas.org/kosovo/policyorpanic/,
(accessed March 2001).
64 Human Rights Watch interview with
M.B., Skopje, Macedonia, April 2, 1999.
65 Human Rights Watch interview with
X.P., Skopje, Macedonia, April 2, 1999.
66 Human Rights Watch interview with
N.J., Tetovo, Macedonia, March 31, 1999.
67 Human Rights Watch interview with
S.K., Skopje, Macedonia, April 2, 1999.
68 See Human Rights Watch, Kosovo
Human Rights Flash # 16, "Violent Ethnic Cleansing in Djakovica," April
69 Human Rights Watch interview,
name unknown, Krume, Albania, April 2, 1999.
70 International Criminal Tribunal
for the former Yugoslavia, "Prosecutor of the Tribunal against Slobodan
Milosevic and others: Indictment," June 1999.
71 See Human Rights Watch, "Detentions
and Abuse in Kosovo," A Human Rights
Watch Report, vol. 10, no. 10, December 1998.
72 Human Rights Watch interview with
A.S. Prizren, Kosovo, June 13, 1999.
73 See Human Rights Watch, "Kosovo:
Rape as a Weapon of `Ethnic Cleansing'."
74 Human Rights Watch interview with
R.N., Glogovac, Kosovo, November 5, 1999.
75 For more information on destruction
during 1998, see Human Rights Watch, A
Week of Terror in Drenica, February 1999. pp.
76 UNHCR Pristina, "IDP/Shelter Survey
Kosovo: Joint Assessment in 20 Municipalities," November 12, 1998.
77 UNHCR GIS Unit, Pristina, Kosovo,
"UNHCR Shelter Verification: Agency Coverage," November 9, 1999.
78 Status Report, United Nations
Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, July 14, 2000.
79 Physicians for Human Rights,
War Crimes in Kosovo: A Population-Based Assessment of Human Rights Violations
Against Kosovar Albanians, August 1999.
80 Protocol II, Article 14, of the
Geneva Conventions states: "It is therefore prohibited to attack, destroy,
remove or render useless, for that purpose, objects indispensable to the
survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas
for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations
and supplies and irrigation works."
81 "Balkan Crisis: Cleaning Wells
in Kosovo," ICRC News 99/37, September 8, 1999.
82 For more information on the case,
see: Human Rights Watch, "Kosovo: Rape as a Weapon of `Ethnic Cleansing'."
83 R. Jeffrey Smith, "Carcasses Dumped
in Wells as Serb Crackdown Ended," Washington
Post, December 10, 1998.
84 Valerie Reitman, "Kosovo Wells
Emerging as Mass Graves," Los Angeles
Times, August 10, 1999.
85 Human Rights Watch interview with
Dr. Asllani, Pec, Kosovo, July 23, 1999.
Corriere Della Sera, July 6, 1999.
87 Human Rights Watch interview,
Kukes, Albania, April 4, 1999.
88 Human Rights Watch interview with
A.H., Cegrane, Macedonia, May 15, 1999.
89 Human Rights Watch interview with
H.M., Stenkovac II refugee camp, Macedonia, May 10, 1999.
90 Human Rights Watch interview with
I.X., Cegrane, Macedonia, May 15, 1999.
91 The four C's insignia is a Serbian
nationalist symbol, comprising a cross and four Cyrillic S's. It is derived
from the slogan "Only Unity Saves the Serbs" (Samo Sloga Srbina Spasava).
92 Human Rights Watch interview with
H.S., Neprosteno, Macedonia, April 22, 1999.
93 International Crisis Group, Reality
Demands: Documenting Violations of International Humanitarian Law in Kosovo
1999 (Brussels: International Crisis Group,
Kosovo/Kosova: As Seen, As Told, pp. 94-96.
95 See also, Ian Fisher, "Refugees
`Human Shield' Witnesses Say They Were Held in Targeted Village,"
New York Times, May 31, 1999.
96 Human Rights Watch interview,
Stenkovac II refugee camp, Macedonia, May 9, 1999.
97 OSCE/ODIHR, Kosovo/Kosova:
As Seen, As Told, Part I, pp. 94-96.
98 Physicians for Human Rights, War
Crimes in Kosovo: A Population-Based Assessment of Human Rights Violations
Against Kosovar Albanians, August 1999.
99 International Campaign to Ban
Landmines, Landmine Monitor Report 2000,
100 "103 Killed and 394 Disabled
by Mines," KosovaLive, November 20, 2000.
101 Report of the Secretary General
on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, June 6,
102 Status Report, United Nations
Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, July 14, 2000.
103 Lord Robertson of Port Ellen,
secretary general of NATO, "Kosovo One Year One-Achievement and Challenge,"
March 21, 2000.
104 Basic Points of the Statement
by the Representative of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the International
Seminar on Anti-Personnel Mines, Budapest, March 26-28, 1998. For details
of statement and the FRY government's position, see Human Rights Watch,
Humanitarian Law Violations in Kosovo.
105 International Campaign to Ban
Landmines, Landmine Monitor Report 2000,
106 Consolidated Minefield Survey
Results: Kosovo, the HALO Trust, Pristina, August 14, 1999.
107 Kosovo Crisis Fact Sheet #133,
U.S. Agency for International Development, December 10, 1999.
108 Military Technical Agreement
Between the International Security Force ("KFOR") and the Governments of
the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Serbia, Article
II, Paragraph 2.
109 Press Briefing by the Secretary-General's
Special Representative for Humanitarian Affairs in Kosovo, September 29,
110 See Human Rights Watch, "Ticking
Time Bombs: NATO's Use of Cluster Munitions in Yugoslavia," A
Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 11, no. 6 (D),
111 See Human Rights Watch, "Civilian
Deaths in the NATO Air Campaign," A Human
Rights Watch Report, vol. 12, no. 1 (D), February
112 International Campaign to Ban
Landmines, Landmine Monitor Report 2000,
August 2000. See also Human Rights Watch, "Civilian Deaths in the NATO
Air Campaign," Cluster Bombs: Memorandum
for CCW Delegates, December 16, 1999, and "Ticking
Time Bombs: NATO's Use of Cluster Munitions in Yugoslavia."
113 Estimates of overall dud rates
vary from the conservative 2 to 5 percent claimed by manufacturers, to
up to 23 percent observed in acceptance and operational testing, to some
10 to 30 percent observed on the ground in areas of Iraq after the Gulf
War. Human Rights Watch has used a conservative estimate of 5 percent mechanical
and fuse failures to estimate the humanitarian effect. For details, see
Human Rights Watch, "Ticking Time Bombs: NATO's Use of Cluster Munitions
114 NATO, "Teaching Kids to Stay
Away-Cluster Bomb Fact-Sheet," http://kforonline.com, July 6, 2000.
115 BBC News, "Kosovo Mine Expert
Criticizes NATO," May 23, 2000.