Serbian Forces Removed Bodies after Release of Satellite Photos

(New York, July 2, 1999)–Three ethnic Albanian survivors of a large-scale massacre in Pusto Selo (Postoselo in Albanian), a village near the town of Orahovac, have described to Human Rights Watch how Serbian security forces shelled their village, captured surrendering villagers, and executed at least 106 men.

Two weeks after the massacre, which took place on March 31, NATO released satellite photos that showed a mass grave where local villagers had buried the dead. At present, however, the graves are believed empty. A survivor of the massacre said that Serbian forces returned to the site in late April with trucks and a small bulldozer, exhumed the bodies, and took them away.

B.K., fifty-seven, is one of the survivors who described the events in detail to Human Rights Watch. He explained how large numbers of Serbian security forces, including paramilitaries wearing red bandanas, attacked Pusto Selo on March 31 using tanks, artillery and mortar shells. The residents of Pusto Selo, joined by people from several other villages, took refuge in a nearby field down the hill from the village. Around 3:00 p.m. they surrendered by waving white bandages at the paramilitaries who had surrounded them.

The Serbian forces separated the adult males from the women and children, searched the women and confiscated their money and jewelry. The men were mostly older than fifty-five, as almost all of the younger men had fled into the hills. Around 4:30 p.m., the women were sent away from the village under orders to "Go to Albania!"

After the women left, the Serbian forces ordered the men to empty their pockets, stealing the several thousand German Marks that they found. "We begged them to spare our lives," said T. K., fifty-four, another survivor. "We gave them all of our money so that they wouldn't kill us." The Serbs also confiscated the villagers' identity documents. B.K. said that they took his papers, telling him: "You won't need any ID where you're going."

The Serbian security forces separated out a group of seven or eight younger men for interrogation and severe beatings. The group was then lined up nearby and shot with automatic rifles by seven or eight members of the Serbian security forces, believed by witnesses to be paramilitaries. Another group of about twenty-five men was then taken to the edge of a nearby gully and killed in the same manner.

"They came back to us and asked if we had seen what happened, telling us, 'you're going to go there too,'" B.K. said. In all, four groups, each consisting of between twenty-five and thirty men, were taken to the edge of the gully and executed using automatic weapons.

A Human Rights Watch researcher spoke separately to survivors from the second, third, and fourth groups, who brought the researcher to the field where the villagers had gathered and the nearby gully where the men had been killed. The three men each gave consistent accounts of the day's events. There was no visible blood at the scene but shreds of clothes and some shoes were scattered around in the gully amidst shrubs where the victims had allegedly been killed.

"I fell before they started to shoot," explained B.K., who was in the fourth group of men. "Two dead men fell on top of me. I didn't move. After a couple of minutes, someone said shoot again and I was hit. I stayed hidden under the bodies for another twenty minutes until I was sure that they were gone; then I escaped down the hill." Human Rights Watch saw the bullet scar on B.K.'s left buttock, as well as the bloody clothes he was wearing at the time.

Another man with the initials B. K., aged sixty, one of B.K's cousins, also escaped death. "They [the Serbian forces] were from somewhere else and they didn't know the terrain," he explained. "I was too quick for them; I slipped behind some rocks." In all, thirteen men survived the massacre, including one of the younger B.K's brothers, although a third brother, M.K., aged fifty-five, was killed.

The following day the Serbian forces removed between twenty and twenty-five bodies from the ravine and burned them in a house in the village, the three survivors said. Village men who later buried the remains of these men stated that they were unrecognizable, with little more than bones remaining.

Serbian forces abandoned the village that same day, but they left the remaining bodies, approximately seventy-five in total, in the gully. Returning villagers spent two days transporting the bodies to a site by the village mosque, where they were buried. Serbian paramilitaries returned to the village once before the burial was complete, forcing the villagers to flee into the woods. The burial resumed that same day after they had left. "We were very afraid; we rushed to bury them," said R. K., a villager who assisted in digging the graves.

Four days after the burial, another Serb attack on the village forced villagers to flee again, with Serb forces temporarily occupying the village. "Every day we watched the village to see if the Serbs would leave," said T. K., who explained that they used binoculars to keep watch over the village. On April 13, the United States government released satellite imagery taken on April 9 that revealed a mass burial site in Pusto Selo (to view the photographs see: http://www.state.gov/www/regions/eur/rpt_9905_ethnic_ksvo_7b.html). T.K. claimed that on approximately April 24 he saw Serbs exhume the bodies, using a small tractor to dig up the burial site. "There were men wearing medical outfits and masks," he said. "They took the bodies away toward Orahovac in two civilian trucks."

Villagers showed a Human Rights Watch researcher the burial site next to the mosque in the village. There was a large patch of freshly tilled earth, although it was not possible, without digging, to determine if the bodies had been exhumed.

"Not to know where the bodies are hidden is, for us, as if they've been killed again." T.K. stated, articulating a sentiment expressed by several villagers.

Beatings, Killings and Rape Taking Place in Kosovo

(New York, June 25, 1999)—Human Rights Watch has compiled telling evidence that some members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) are committing violent abuses against ethnic Serbs and, in some cases, ethnic Albanians and Roma in Kosovo. A week of investigations in Orahovac, Prizren and Pec revealed KLA soldiers' involvement in five murders, four abductions, one rape, and fourteen detentions, twelve of which included physical abuse.

The abuses are apparently motivated both by a desire to retaliate for wide-scale atrocities committed by Serbian security forces, and a desire to force the remaining ethnic Serbian minority out of Kosovo. Ethnic Serbs continue to leave the province every day out of fear.

The evidence available to Human Rights Watch to date is insufficient to prove a policy of revenge or forced expulsion on the part of the KLA. But these documented abuses ó and widespread reports of others throughout Kosovo ó demand immediate action by the highest levels of the KLA leadership, who should order that abuses cease and discipline and punish perpetrators.

In Prizren, two elderly ethnic Serbs, Trifa Stamenkovic, an eighty-five-year-old man, and Marija Filipovic, a fifty-nine-year-old woman, described the June 21 murders of their respective spouses, allegedly by KLA soldiers. Stamenkovic and Filipovic, close neighbors in a traditionally Serbian area of Prizren, both went out to run errands in the mid-morning. When they returned home, Stamenkovic's seventy-seven-year-old wife, Marika, and Filipovic's sixty-three-year-old husband, Panta, had both been killed: they were stabbed, and their throats had been cut. The week prior to the killings, the couples had both received three threatening visits from uniformed KLA members armed with AK47s who demanded their weapons and money. Panta Filipovic was struck with a gun butt when he claimed not to possess any weapons, Marija said. The Stamenkovic family was robbed according to Trifa. Although neither Stamenkovic nor Filipovic witnessed the killings of their spouses, Filipovic's ethnic Albanian neighbors told her that the KLA was responsible.

Other apparent KLA killings took place recently in the village of Belo Polje (Bellopole in Albanian) near Pec. A Human Rights Watch researcher in the village viewed the bodies of three ethnic Serbian men, each of whom had been shot between the eyes, apparently at point blank range. The men were Radomir Stosic, age fifty, his uncle Steven Stosic, age sixty, and their friend Filip Kosic, age forty-six, all of whom were killed at approximately 5:30 p.m. on June 19.

Two ethnic Serbian villagers told Human Rights Watch that they saw ten uniformed KLA soldiers enter Belo Polje and execute the three men. Other villagers gave the same account to foreign journalists: one man was killed on the street in front of the Stosic home, another was killed by the front door of his house, and the third was killed inside his house, on the second floor. A fourth ethnic Serbian man, Milco Stosic, the brother of Radomir, was seriously injured in the attack. He was reportedly brought by helicopter to a hospital in Pristina by Italian KFOR, but Human Rights Watch was unable to ascertain his condition.

Local ethnic Albanian villagers interviewed by journalists claimed that the ethnic Serbian victims belonged to a paramilitary gang that had burned Albanian homes in the area. Ethnic Serbs from Belo Polje denied the allegation, insisting that no paramilitaries lived in the village.

Certain members of the KLA are also responsible for abductions, forced disappearances, and beatings of ethnic Serbian and Albanian civilians. Human Rights Watch has interviewed fourteen people who were abducted and detained by the KLA ó one man was held for thirty-three days. Most of the detainees were men over fifty years old.

Twelve of these detainees, most of them ethnic Serbs, described being beaten by KLA soldiers while in their custody. These victims, including four women, one of whom is seventy-seven years old, showed a Human Rights Watch researcher their black eyes and extensive purple bruising that was consistent with their allegations of abuse. Two of the victims displayed puncture wounds in their legs from being stabbed. Representatives of humanitarian organizations providing medical care in Prizren told Human Rights Watch that they have treated approximately twenty-five civilians for similar injuries, including apparent knife wounds, which the victims claimed had been inflicted by men in KLA uniform. Most of the victims were older men.

The KLA has also detained and abused some ethnic Albanian men. On June 18, German KFOR forces released approximately fifteen people from the police station in Prizren, among them some ethnic Albanians. The KLA had reportedly used the building as a detention center for a short period between the departure of Serbian troops and the arrival of NATO.

Some of the former detainees described brutal beatings and other mistreatment by KLA members. One badly beaten man was found dead in the building, according to German KFOR forces. The ethnic Albanian detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch claimed that KLA members had accused them of collaborating with or working for the Serbian authorities. One man stated that he had worked as a clerk in a government registry office handling marriage and birth certificates.

Four different ethnic Serbs from Orahovac and Prizren told Human Rights Watch that male members of their families had been forcibly abducted by members of the KLA, and that the men's whereabouts are currently unknown. Unconfirmed stories of many more abductions are common.

In some cases, ethnic Serbian men have simply disappeared, but Human Rights Watch has also interviewed several eyewitnesses to KLA abductions. In once case, an ethnic Serbian young man was abducted in front of his elderly mother by men in KLA uniforms with automatic guns. They had returned to their home in Prizren to pack their belongings before leaving town. One Albanian man released from the Prizren police station by German troops on June 18 stated that the KLA took his wife and four children away from the station just hours before the Germans arrived. He has no news about their whereabouts.

In the interest of protecting the identity of victims, Human Rights Watch is unable at this time to provide precise information about a rape allegedly committed by five masked men dressed in KLA uniforms. The victim, a young ethnic Albanian woman, provided a detailed and credible account of the attack, stating that the men abducted her from her house at 1:00 a.m. and took her to another house where they raped her. A female relative, interviewed separately, who was together with the victim when the abduction occurred, corroborated the victim's account and gave further details about the incident. She explained that, although the men were dressed in KLA uniforms and she believed them to be KLA members, they had said that they were members of an "international revenge organization." Both women agree that the rape was committed as a means of punishing the family for the activities of a male relative who had worked as a policeman under the Serbian authorities.

Freed Detainees Describe Mistreatment by Serb Forces

(New York, June 21, 1999)— Two emaciated Kosovar Albanian men described their time in a Serb prison to a Human Rights Watch researcher in Prizren, Kosovo. The two men were among a group of thirteen detainees freed by German KFOR troops on Sunday, June 13—the day KFOR entered the region. They stated that over the past month and a half more than two hundred other detainees had been taken away from the prison in which they were held by Serb security forces and they feared they had been taken to Serbia. The two men, whose heads were shaved, also described beatings and other mistreatment meted out by the Serb forces detaining them. They, along with eleven other detainees, were later rescued from captivity by Major Volker Shafer, a German KFOR officer based in Prizren.

The detainees reported that on the morning of June 13, Serb forces placed them in a truck with their hands tied. At the time, they said they had no idea that the armed conflict between Yugoslavia and NATO was over and did not know where they were being taken. "We thought they were taking us somewhere to execute us," said one. Major Shafer told Human Rights Watch that near noon on June 13, some ethnic Albanians informed him that a nearby yellow truck held a group of Albanian detainees. He ordered the Serb security forces to open the truck and, upon seeing the detainees, ordered them released. Major Shafer speculated to Human Rights Watch that the Serb forces had wanted to keep the men as hostages during their return to Serbia.

The former detainees, interviewed separately, both stated that they had been picked up from their homes by Serb state security police and accused of assisting the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). One of the men, Haki Cunaj, age 63, was arrested on March 19 in the early morning; the other, Abdyram Spahiu, age 43, was arrested on the afternoon of April 10. Both denied involvement in KLA activities.

The detainees stated that two days before their release by the German troops a group of approximately eighty detainees was taken away from the prison in two buses, and that on or around April 30, roughly 140 other detainees had been taken away. Neither man knew with any certainty where the detainees were taken, as the Serb forces did not inform the detainees of their intentions. However, they said that everyone held in the prison believed that the detainees had been taken to Serbia. Neither man had seen or heard from any of the transferred detainees since being released.

The former detainees described suffering beatings and other abuse at the hands of Serb forces. Spahiu stated:

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.

Spahiu also claimed that the Serb guards, who were often drunk, made inmates sing Serbian songs.

Conditions in the prison were poor. The inmates received insufficient food, no exercise, and some of them had to sleep on the concrete floor. Describing the single positive element of his detention, Spahiu did state that he was appointed a lawyer to defend him, but that he was never brought before a judge.

The possibility that Kosovar Albanian detainees have been shipped out of Kosovo to Serbia, as these former detainees suggest, is an alarming one. The question is not only a pressing one for the families of detainees who were held in Prizren, it has also been raised by numerous ethnic Albanians in the city of Djakovica (Gjakove). While the precise number of missing Albanian men from Djakovica has yet to be determined, it appears to be sizeable. Kosovar Albanians in Djakovica have given Human Rights Watch estimates ranging from hundreds to well over a thousand missing men who they fear may be detained in Serbia. Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of these detainees and calls on the Serbian Ministry of Justice to ensure that they are treated according to international human rights standards and to provide international monitors immediate access to these detainees.


(New York, June 18, 1999)— In four homes in Korenica (Koronic in Albanian), a village some 15 kilometers west of Djakovica (Gjakove), a Human Rights Watch researcher examined the burnt remains of a number of Kosovar Albanians reportedly killed by Serb security forces on April 27. Burnt beyond recognition—in some cases the remains were no more than charred bones—the bodies were identified by relatives or neighbors familiar with the deceased persons' personal belongs, such as jewelry and eyeglasses. The homes, all within easy walking distance of each other, were visited by Human Rights Watch on June 16. Although Human Rights Watch has not been able to find an eyewitness to the killings, our own inspection of the site leads us to conclude that reports that ethnic Albanians were summarily executed in the town are highly credible.

The largest single group of bodies was found in the burnt, looted, and pillaged home of Daniel Berisha, where a third story room held the gruesomely burnt and broken remains of five men. According to Tom Dedaj, who lived in a neighboring house, these people were most likely killed on April 27. He described to Human Rights Watch how he saw a large numbers of Serb security forces, made up of army, police, and paramilitaries, arrived in the village on April 26 in several buses. Some members of the forces wore red bandannas on their heads or tied on their arms. The following day, in the early morning, the Serb forces surrounded the area and began burning homes. Tom Dedaj and his family managed to escape to the mountains on April 27, but many others were not so lucky.

Anton Dedaj, also interviewed by Human Rights Watch, stated that the bodies in the house were those of his brother Gjoke Dedaj, age 40; Muse Dedaj, age 61, Gjoke's uncle; Nikolle Dedaj, age 18, Gjoke's son; Kole Berisha, age 43, the brother of the house's owner; and Mark Berisha, age 68, the uncle of the house's owner.

Tom Dedaj relayed additional details regarding the night the slaughter occurred, which he claimed to have from Daniel Berisha, age 40, the owner of the house. Daniel reportedly told him that the Serb forces arrived at 7:30 a.m. and made everyone leave the house, then separated the women and children from the men. The Serb forces initially agreed to allow Daniel's sixty-eight-year-old uncle to leave with the women and children, but they ordered him to drive away on a tractor. When he responded that he didn't know how to drive a tractor, they reportedly made him return to the house and go up to the third floor along with the other men.

When the men reached the third floor they began to plead for their lives. A local policeman whom Daniel identified by name reportedly ordered the men to turn their backs to him and shot them at close range with an automatic weapon.

Daniel told Tom Dedaj that he fell first, being hit twice in his leg, and was covered by other bodies. He said that he pretended to be dead while the Serb forces brought blankets upstairs, lit them, and threw them on the bodies. He escaped from the blaze as the Serbs left, displaying burns on his arms and forehead, as well as bullet wounds to his leg, when Tom Dedaj saw him. That evening, he showed up in the mountains and told Tom his story. The next day, attempting to escape this hiding place along with other villagers, he was captured by Serb forces. Daniel's body was found the following day with five additional bullet holes in it—two in the forehead and three in the chest—Tom and another villager buried him close to where they had found him.

After inspecting the five bodies, the Human Rights Watch researcher visiting Korenica on June 16 was brought by Tom Dedaj to three nearby houses in which bodies, or in one instance, small pieces of burnt bones, were found. The researcher was told that these remains belonged to Gjergj Mala, age 59, Pal Kabashi, age 41, Kol Palokaj, age 80, and Mire Palokaj, age 45. They too were reportedly killed on April 27 during the Serb attack on the village.


(New York, June 18, 1999)— A seventy-one-year-old Serb civilian who was interviewed by a Human Rights Watch researcher the evening before he fled Kosovo for Serbia has described how soldiers of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) tied him up, held him hostage for six hours, and brutally beat him. The elderly man had two black eyes, as well as large bruises on his body. His brother-in-law, an eyewitness to the incident, corroborated his account of abuse at the hands of the KLA. This case is consistent with a growing number of credible reports of KLA mistreatment of ethnic Serbs and other non-Albanians received during the past week by Human Rights Watch researchers based in Kosovo.

The elderly man, S.B., described how he had been staying with his brother-in-law while they prepared to leave Prizren, the southern Kosovar city where they had lived all their lives. He and his entire family were ready to leave the city on Monday, June 14, but he decided to return to his home one last time before departing in order to pick up his medicine and identification papers.

S.B. told Human Rights Watch that he reached his home at about 1 p.m. and that:

[The KLA soldiers] grabbed me, brought me down to the cellar and took turns hurting me. There were several of them, all in uniform. One had a black uniform, the official uniform of the KLA; the others were in green camouflage. They all had the KLA patch. They wanted weapons from me. While they were beating me they insulted me, called me "Chetnik," and told me to leave forever.

S.B.'s brother-in-law, who had been waiting at home for him, became worried when S.B. didn't return. At about 1:30 p.m., he went over to S.B.'s house. He told Human Rights Watch that he too was detained by KLA soldiers:

They took me down to the cellar with my brother-in-law. Two of them told me that I should think about where the guns were. They said that if I didn't have any guns, I should go find some, that they're cheap.

The KLA soldiers did not physically abuse the brother-in-law, who described to them how he had assisted some Kosovar Albanians who had fled the province during the recent conflict by protecting their shop.

The soldiers did, however, detain the brother-in-law for nearly two hours and beat S.B. in front of him. According to S.B., he was beaten most severely while his brother-in-law was watching. KLA soldiers reportedly kicked S.B. and hit him with the butts of their weapons. His brother-in-law described:

They took the old man's pants off and threatened him with a gun. They told him that they'd rip his eyes out of their sockets. Then they took the blunt end of a knife and gave him these two black eyes. They asked him: "Whose country is this?" When my brother-in-law answered that it's for everyone, they weren't satisfied. They said it belongs to the KLA, and they forced him to say this.

The soldiers held S.B. hostage, while they allowed his brother-in-law to leave the house to go find them a weapon. They secured S.B.'s hands behind his back with a belt and placed him face up on a table. After a while, they removed him from the table and let him sit in a chair, giving him some water to drink.

S.B. stated that while he was sitting in the chair a young ethnic Serb man was brought into the cellar by KLA soldiers, his hands tied behind his back with an electric cord. According to S.B., the young man was beaten even more severely than he had been. KLA soldiers demanded that he too give them weapons.

Meanwhile, S.B.'s brother-in-law had obtained a handcrafted pistol from an officer of the Yugoslav military. Afraid to return to S.B.'s house, the brother-in-law had his wife deliver the pistol to the KLA soldiers, who then released S.B. at about 7 p.m.

Human Rights Watch interviewed S.B. and his brother-in-law that same evening, roughly two hours after S.B.'s ordeal had ended. S.B., his family, and some 100 other Serb civilians had taken refuge on the grounds of a theological seminary in the center of Prizren. Everyone in the group feared that the KLA might take violent action against them and were desperate to leave the city as soon as possible. Early the next morning, they all left for Serbia.

According to the BBC, as of Wednesday, June 16, an estimated 32,000 Serb civilians had already fled from Kosovo. Human Rights Watch is gravely concerned about the security of those ethnic Serbs who remain in Kosovo, as well as other ethnic groups such as Roma who may be particularly vulnerable to KLA attacks, and urges the NATO forces present in Kosovo to take steps to ensure their safety.


(New York, June 18, 1999)—Accompanied by a local villager, a Human Rights Watch researcher yesterday inspected the site of a mass killing in Meja, northwest of Djakovica, and found the decayed remains of several men. The men were apparently killed by Serb security forces on April 27, 1999, victims of a massacre in which Human Rights Watch believes at least 100 men were killed. The site appears to confirm testimony that Human Rights Watch collected earlier, in interviews with Kosovar refugees in northern Albania.

The bodies were found on the edge of a field next to the road that runs through the village of Meja. One intact body and the top half of another body were located on the side of a ravine adjacent to the field, roughly thirty meters up from the road. Another two bodies were a few meters further up the ravine, and the bottom half of another body was located in the field near the ravine. All of the bodies were in an advanced state of decay. The bones of some of the bodies were broken, and they all appeared to be headless. Pieces of a skull were found next to one of the bodies.

Closer to the road, the researcher saw three large piles of straw and cow manure, which the villager said covered many more bodies. The villager also stated that the bodies of most of the men killed in the massacre had been collected by Roma (Gypsy) street cleaners. Having seen the bodies after the massacre, the villager estimated that they numbered well over 100.

In the field were clusters of burned documents and personal possessions ó items such as cigarette cases, keys, and family photos ó that apparently belonged to the dead men. Spent bullet casings were also littered about. There were four recently dug graves located in a small Catholic cemetery further up the hill. According to the villager, the remains of four local men who were killed in the massacre are buried there.

After nineteen separate interviews with eyewitnesses who had passed through Meja on April 27 (See Flash # 34), Human Rights Watch concluded that at least one hundred, and perhaps many more, men between the ages of sixteen and sixty were taken out of a convoy of refugees by Serbian forces and systematically executed in Meja on that day. The refugees who were interviewed had been systematically "cleansed" from neighboring villages by Serbian special police, paramilitary units, and soldiers of the Yugoslav Army (VJ). The refugees were then forced to follow the road to Meja, which many of them passed through around midday. They reported seeing security forces holding "hundreds" of men at gunpoint. Those who passed through Meja later in the afternoon reported having seen a "large pile of bodies."

For further information contact:
Holly Cartner (New York): 1-212-216-1277
Jean-Paul Marthoz (Brussels): 322-736-7838


(New York, June 15, 1999)—The Albanian-language newspaper Koha Ditore reported today that its publisher, Veton Surroi, and the editor of its English edition, Dukagjin Gorani, are safe and sound in Pristina. Mr. Surroi, who was a member of the Albanian delegation in Rambouillet, France, spent the past eleven weeks in Pristina. He is now under the protection of British NATO forces.

Koha Ditore was the largest and most influential Albanian-language newspaper in Kosovo. On March 24, the Serbian police shot and killed the guard at the newspaper's office in Pristina, and then ransacked the office. The paper resumed publication on April 22 out of Tetovo, Macedonia. Yesterday distribution began in Albania (10,000 copies) and into Kosovo (more than 2,000 copies).


(New York, June 7, 1999) — A Kosovar Albanian journalist reported arrested last week has turned up in Albania, beaten but safe, Human Rights Watch has confirmed.

Mr. Cerkin Ibishi, a long-time journalist, was reported missing last week by his newspaper, Rilindja. A May 28 letter from the paper's office in Switzerland said that Ibishi was being held in Smerkovnica prison near Mitrovica.

Mr. Ibishi arrived in Albania on May 30. He had been arrested near Mitrovica in the first week of May and then spent time in two different prisons. A journalist who spoke with Mr. Ibishi in Albania told Human Rights Watch that he had been beaten while in detention.

Hundreds of other men have been released from Smerkovnica prison over the past ten days and entered Albania -- many of them showing physical signs of abuse and torture (see HRW Flash #41).

Albanians in Kosovo at Risk From Withdrawing Troops

(New York, June 4, 1999) ó Ethnic Albanians who remain in Kosovo are particularly vulnerable to further atrocities by withdrawing Serbian and Yugoslav forces who, according to the proposed settlement, may soon leave the province, Human Rights Watch said today. The safety of these civilians must be a priority and steps must be taken to prevent an endgame of killing and destruction.

"The peace agreement must not forget those who are still in Kosovo," said Holly Cartner, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "We learned from Bosnia and a year of fighting in Kosovo that withdrawing troops often use the closing days of war to exact revenge and express their frustration through brutal attacks on civilians. Now is the time for particular vigilance to prevent another wave of atrocities."

Human Rights Watch also emphasized that any peace deal for Kosovo must make it a top priority to protect human rights and arrest indicted war criminals. The organization called on the international community to assist in efforts that would lead to the arrest of President Milosevic and other top Serbian Yugoslav officials who have been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

A political settlement for Kosovo, the organization said, must address a number of serious human rights concerns. These include:

    The Right to Return — The international community should take steps to ensure that all ethnic Albanians who have been internally displaced or expelled from Kosovo are allowed to return to their homes, and are provided safety guarantees by any future international military presence. At the same time, no one should be forced to return against their will and full international refugee protection should continue to be provided to those with a well-founded fear of persecution in Kosovo. Full and impartial information should be provided to all refugees and internally displaced persons so that they may best determine if and when they wish to return to their homes.

    Human Rights Protection in Kosovo — The international community must establish structures to guarantee human rights protections for all residents of Kosovo. Special attention must be paid to local ethnic Serbs, who may face reprisals from returning ethnic Albanians.

    Cooperation With the War Crimes Tribunal — The international community should cooperate fully with the war crimes tribunal to collect additional evidence of war crimes committed in Kosovo by all sides since March 1998. This includes assistance and protection for forensics investigations. The international military presence in Kosovo should have a mandate to arrest any indicted war criminals who may be present in the province.


For further information contact:
Holly Cartner (New York): 212-216-1277
Jean-Paul Marthoz (Brussels): 322-736-7838

(New York, May 26,1999)—Human Rights Watch today applauded the reported indictment of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

"It's about time Milosevic was indicted," said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "His troops are committing crimes against humanity in Kosovo as we speak. But he must also be held accountable for other terrible deeds: Vukovar, Sarajevo, Srebrenicaóthe list goes on and on. This indictment is particularly important because it shows that no political leaderóeven if still in officeóis immune from prosecution for atrocities," added Cartner.

Throughout the wars in the former Yugoslaviaófrom Slovenia and Croatia in the summer of 1991 to the end of the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1995óHuman Rights Watch documented the systematic slaughter, mutilation, rape and forced displacement of the civilian population by Milosevic's troops. In the worst single atrocity during the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina, as many as 7,000 Bosniak inhabitants were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces following the fall of Srebrenica on July 11, 1995. Again in Kosovo, beginning in 1998 and continuing to the present, there is abundant evidence that Yugoslav Army and Serb special police units under Milosevic's political leadership have been responsible for widespread atrocities, including the summary execution of civilians, massacres, rape, destruction of civilian property, and systematic "ethnic cleansing" of the region.

Cartner noted that even if Milosevic himself did not pull any triggers, he could still be held criminally responsible for crimes committed by people under his command. The Tribunal would have to show that he gave the orders to commit the crimes, or that he failed to take necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts or to punish the perpetrators.

Cartner rejected speculation that the reported indictment would make the search for peace more difficult. She pointed out that the Dayton Peace accords were signed in 1995, effectively ending the war in Bosnia, even though the Tribunal had already indicted Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic as war criminals.



(New York, May 26, 1999) -- Ethnic Albanian men held for several weeks in the prison of Smrekonica (about five kilometers south of Kosovska Mitrovica) described to Human Rights Watch their abusive treatment at the hands of the Serbian authorities. The former detainees, who were released last Saturday, reported that prison cells were grossly overcrowded, that prisoners were given insufficient food, and that the men, who were suspected of being members or supporters of the Kosovo Liberation Army, were almost without exception severely beaten during interrogation.

Human Rights Watch representatives in Kukes, northern Albania, interviewed six men late in the evening of Saturday, May 2, who had been released that day from the prison in Smrekonica. The men, all interviewed separately, were among some 500 detainees who, according to the UNHCR, had been released from prison on Saturday and taken to the Albanian border in seven batches. On Sunday, May 3, another group of over 400 detainees were reportedly released from the Smrekonica prison to cross the border into Albania. The accounts of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch, who ranged in age from twenty-seven to fifty-six, reveal a clear pattern of mistreatment by the prison authorities.

The men described how they had been held in the prison in Smrekonica for periods of two to three weeks. Some of the men had already been held for two weeks in a school in Srbica (Skenderaj in Albanian) before being transferred to the Smrekonica facility, while others were arrested in the Vucitrn (Vushtri in Albanian) region on May 2 or 3. Among those released were many of the men who had been separated from a refugee convoy in Vucitrn, an incident that Human Rights Watch described on May 20 (see Kosovo Flash #40) . In all, an estimated 3,000 men were reportedly being held in the prison as of May 22, when the first large group of detainees was released.

The prisoners were held in conditions that fell far short of minimal acceptable standards. All of the former detainees reported that the prison cells were so overcrowded that it was almost impossible for prisoners to sit down. A fifty-two-year-old man from Reznik said that seventy-six persons were crowded into his cell, which measured four by eight meters, while a forty-three-year-old man from the Podujevo area reported that his four-by-five-meter room held thirty-six men. The detainees were not provided with mattresses or blankets, but were instead forced to sleep on the concrete floor.

Without exception, the ethnic Albanian detainees were interrogated, some as many as five times, about their possible connections to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA, U«K in Albanian). During these interrogations, the men reported being beaten, some severely. A.K., age twenty-seven, was first held for two weeks in the school in Srbica and then transferred to the Smrekonica prison, where he was held for another two weeks. A.K. told Human Rights Watch: "I was interrogated five times: two times in the school in Skenderaj, and three times in the prison [in Smrekonica]. They asked me if I was a member of the U«K, who I knew in the U«K, whether I had given money to the U«K, if I had connections in the U«K, etc. Whenever I said I didn't know any U«K, they'd beat me up with [wooden] sticks, rubber police batons or the butt of a gun. They'd hit me in my back and on my hands."

Other interviewees also stated that they were severely beaten on their backs, heads, hands and knees during interrogations, some of which took place in technical and medical schools in Kosovska Mitrovica, which allegedly serve as the headquarters of the police after NATO bombed the police station in Mitrovica. The BBC has aired footage of numerous released detainees showing severe bruises on their backs and arms.

Two of the interviewees reported that the officers conducting the interrogations, none of whom they recognized, played loud Serbian folk music while they questioned and beat the ethnic Albanians. Moreover, one witness reported that men were forced to shout slogans such as "Long live Serbia." Two witnesses reported that the Serb forces had on occasion forced two ethnic Albanians to fight with each other. If the Albanians would not fight each other aggressively enough, they would be beaten by the Serb guards.

The detainees were forced to sign a document stating that they were notified that they were being held under suspicion of being a member of, or a supporter of, the KLA. Human Rights Watch is concerned that the arrest and detention of many of these men, particularly those picked up in Vucitrn and Srbica, was arbitrary and unjustifiable. Serb forces operating in these areas separated large numbers of able-bodied men, roughly those from ages sixteen to sixty, from civilian convoys, reportedly requiring no evidence of KLA membership apart from age and ethnicity. No detainees were brought before a judge or given the opportunity to challenge the legal basis of their detention.

Besides physical mistreatment, the men reported that prisoners were provided insufficient food, about 200 grams of bread per person per day. The men from the Vucitrn region all reported that they had not received any food at all for forty-eight hours, from the moment they were detained in Vucitrn on the evening of Sunday, May 2, until about 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 4. Some former detainees reported that the food improved about ten days into their detention, when the authorities began to serve warm meals.

On Saturday morning, May 22, the men were called up one by one and told to board buses waiting for them in the prison compound, without being informed where the buses were taking them. The buses then transported them to Zhur, a village some four kilometers away from the Kosovo-Albanian border crossing, near the Albanian town of Kukes, where the men were told to get off the buses. They were then told to walk the last kilometers to Albania, and not to stray from the main road, since the sides of the road were mined. Somewhere between Zhur and the border crossing at Morine, the men reported being robbed of all their valuables by members of the Yugoslav Army.

While the majority of the detainees were released, the witnesses claim that a number of men from the Kosovska Mitrovica area - men who were arrested in the days immediately prior to the witnesses' release - are still being held at the Smrekonica prison. Human Rights Watch is extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of those held in Smrekonica and other prisons, and calls upon the Serbian authorities to release as soon as possible those men against whom there is no evidence of KLA membership. Moreover, the Serbian authorities should guarantee the physical integrity of the detainees and provide them with basic items such as food, water, mattresses, and blankets.