Abuses After June 12, 1999



The adoption of Security Council Resolution 1244 on June 10, 1999, and the conclusion of the Military Technical Agreement between NATO and the Governments of Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia brought an end both to the NATO bombing and mass expulsions and killings by Serbian and Yugoslav security forces. In accordance with the terms of the agreement, the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) entered the province on June 12, and the Yugoslav Army and Serbian police (and paramilitaries) began a phased withdrawal from Kosovo, followed by a suspension of NATO air strikes. By June 20, all Serbian and Yugoslav security forces had withdrawn, leaving Kosovo under the control of KFOR.

The departure of Yugoslav and Serbian security forces brought an end to more than a decade of increasingly bloody and systematic persecution of Kosovar Albanians. But it did not bring an end to violence or gross violations of human rights in Kosovo. The province's Serb and Roma minorities-who many ethnic Albanians collectively regarded as active or complicit in atrocities by government forces-were immediately targeted for revenge. Thousands had already departed with the government's forces. Those who remained were forced to leave the province or concentrated in enclaves after widespread and systematic arson of Serb and Roma homes, beatings, detentions, and murders. As of July 2001, an estimated 1,000 Kosovo Serbs and Roma were missing and unaccounted for.1

Violence soon spread to include attacks on other minorities, particularly Muslims who spoke Slavic languages rather than Albanian, Croats, and ethnic Turks. Kosovar Albanians regarded as collaborators with the Serbian or Yugoslav state and their families were also attacked. At the same time, political violence between Kosovar Albanian political parties and factions and rivalries among former Kosovo Liberation Army officers (both sometimes linked to economic issues and corruption) led to some high-profile killings, even after the October 28, 2000, municipal elections.


The KLA and ethnic Albanian civilians carried out widespread burning and looting of homes belonging to Serbs, Roma and other minorities, and destroyed many Orthodox churches and monasteries in the immediate aftermath of KFOR's arrival in Kosovo. Attackers combined this destruction with killings, harassment and intimidation designed to force people from their homes and communities, a pattern which continues today. Members of minority groups in Kosovo have been detained, beaten, and sometimes tortured, with as many as 1,000 Serbs and Roma reported unaccounted for after abductions since the end of the conflict. The elderly and infirm who remained in their homes have frequently borne the brunt of this violence and intimidation, and many now live as virtual prisoners in their homes. The demographic consequences have been profound: At least 150,000 members of Kosovo's minorities fled the province for Serbia and Montenegro, most within the first six weeks of KFOR's initial deployment.2 In addition to those non-Albanians who fled the province, there has been substantial internal displacement inside Kosovo, with the majority of Serbs and other minorities concentrated into enclaves like Northern Mitrovica or Kosovo Polje.

Although a desire for revenge and retaliation provides some of the explanation for the violence, especially in the cases of arson and looting of property, Human Rights Watch's research suggests that a great deal of the violence is politically motivated; namely, the removal from Kosovo of non-ethnic Albanians in order to better justify an independent state. There is also clear evidence that some KLA units were responsible for violence against minorities beginning in the summer of 1999, and continuing throughout 2000 and early 2001. Human Rights Watch has no evidence, however, of a coordinated policy to this end of the political or military leadership of the former KLA, which has made public statements condemning attacks against minorities.3

The willingness of almost all Kosovar Albanians to remain silent about such attacks, either from fear of speaking out or because of a belief in the collective guilt of Serbs and Roma, has created a permissive environment for violence against minorities. Human Rights Watch interviews with Kosovar Albanians from all walks of life suggest a widespread acceptance of the view that wartime atrocities now mean that Serbs have forfeited the right to remain in Kosovo and to retain their property and goods, irrespective of their involvement in abuses. On the other hand, many of the same respondents privately expressed their revulsion at the violence perpetrated against minorities.

No estimates exist for the number of minority homes destroyed in the postwar period, but Human Rights Watch researchers visiting formerly mixed communities throughout Kosovo during the summer of 1999 observed wide-spread arson and looting of homes. Seventy-six Orthodox churches, monasteries, or religious sites have been damaged or destroyed since June 1999 according to the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo.4 Human Rights Watch researchers visited a number of the sites.

The intent behind many of the killings and abductions that have occurred in the province since June 1999 appears to be the expulsion of Kosovo's Serb and Roma population rather than a desire for revenge alone. In numerous cases, direct and systematic efforts were made to force Serbs and Roma to leave their homes.5 Human Rights Watch documented the harassment of elderly Serb women in formerly mixed communities in Prizren and Gnjilane municipalities, for example, and received reports of widespread efforts to remove Serbs from their homes in Pristina and Lipljan. Roma have been driven from their homes in Pristina and elsewhere by intimidation and other harassment.

Grenade and rocket attacks on minority homes are another method of "persuading" residents to leave. Such attacks against Serbs have been reported in the municipalities of Lipljan, Vitina, Gnjilane, Obilic, Orahovac, Kosovo Polje, Pec, Prizren, and Vucitrn. Attacks against Roma have been reported in Stimlje, Pristina, and Pec municipalities. The homes of the Gorani, another ethnic group of Slavic Muslims, have been subjected to grenade attacks in Gora municipaliy and other Muslim Slavs (Bosniaks) have suffered grenade attacks in Prizren, Pec, and Istok. In Pristina, Serbs and Roma have received threatening telephone calls and visits by armed men in civilian clothing and KLA uniforms in which they are flatly told to leave. The double grenade attack on a marketplace full of Serb civilians in the town of Kosovo Polje in September 1999, which killed two and left forty-seven wounded, can be understood in the same context. Even those who do choose to leave are not immune from violence: in October 1999 a KFOR-escorted convoy of 150 Serbs leaving Kosovo was attacked in Pec. Vehicles were stoned and their occupants pulled out and beaten before the vehicles were set on fire. At least fifteen Serbs were wounded during the attack.

According to a survey carried out by UNHCR, more than 150,000 of the 210,000 displaced persons from Kosovo in Serbia and Montenegro fled after June 12.6 Approximately 143,000 of the 210,000 displaced persons from Kosovo in Serbia and Montenegro are Serbs and more than 25,000 are Roma. Several thousand Roma and Serbs also entered Macedonia during the same period, and an unknown number fled to other third countries. In addition, as noted, there has been substantial displacement of the remaining minority populations within Kosovo into mono-ethnic enclaves (sometimes consisting of a single apartment building), generally under KFOR protection. Significant numbers of minority populations not associated with abuses against Albanians, including Gorani, Muslim Slavs, and Croats have also been displaced from their homes by harassment and intimidation, including violent attacks. The explanation as to why those not implicated in attacks against Albanians should be targeted is complex: part of the explanation appears to be that, as speakers of Slavic languages, these minorities are associated with Yugoslavia in general and with Serbia in particular. In addition, such minorities may also be perceived to have had a privileged status in Kosovo, notably during the crackdown against Albanians in the 1990s.

Most of the Serb populations in the municipalities of Pristina, Pec, Prizren, Urosevac, and Istok have fled their homes, as have large numbers from the town of Gnjilane. According to a February 2000 report of the inter-agency Ad-Hoc Task Force on Minorities, only 700 to 800 Serbs remain in Pristina, compared to an estimated 20,000 in 1998.7 The Task Force also reported that only 120 Serbs remain in the town of Prizren and twenty-three in the town of Urosevac. Those Serbs displaced inside Kosovo are mostly concentrated in towns and villages which had an historic Serb majority and which were fairly quickly assigned KFOR protection, including Kosovo Polje, Babin Most (Babimoc), Plemetina (Plementine), Strpce, Gracanica (Pristina municipality),Velika Hoca (Orahovac municipality), Dobrotin and elsewhere in Lipljan municipality (where the Serbs population is estimated at 9,500), Gnjilane municipality (estimated at 12,500), the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, and the northern municipalities of Leposavic and Zubin Potok.8 In addition, only a few hundred of the 6,000 Serb refugees from Croatia resettled in Kosovo remain, according to UNHCR, after two collective centers for such refugees were burned.

As noted above, there are at least 25,000 Roma displaced from Kosovo in Serbia and Montenegro, as well as several thousand in camps in Macedonia. There has also been substantial internal displacement, but the size of the remaining population is unknown.9 The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), a Budapest-based Roma rights organization, reported in July 1999 that none of the Roma communities it had visited held more than half of their pre-conflict Roma population. February 2000 estimates from the Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities indicated that between 115 and 140 Roma remained in Pristina town. The November 1999 report from the Task Force estimated that there were a further 300-600 Roma elsewhere in Pristina municipality at that time.10 Other areas with significant Roma populations as of early 2000 included Kosovo Polje (between 1,700 and 2,800), Obilic (around 1,200), Lipljan (around 1,500), Urosevac (4,200), and Prizren (4-5000).11

Violence against the Albanian-speaking Ashkali Roma continued after the October 28, 2000, municipal elections. On November 8, four Ahkali men were murdered execution-style by unknown assailants outside the village of Dosevac (Dashevc) near Srbica. The men, living in tents, had just returned to their homes with the assistance of UNHCR.12 In response to the killings, Head of UNMIK Bernard Kouchner said "Somewhere in Kosovo, extremists want to undermine the return of decent people to their homes."13

Members of other minorities have also been displaced inside Kosovo or have left the province altogether. In November 1999, 293 ethnic Croats were evacuated from Kosovo to Zagreb, after they complained of harassment, arson, and not being permitted to speak Croatian.14 The ethnic Croat population in Janjevo was placed under heavy KFOR protection and appeared stable. Attacks against the Croat and Roma communities in the village intensified in March 2000 however, following the removal of the permanent KFOR guard, and decreased only after the permanent protection was renewed.

The Muslim Slav population of Kosovo (sometimes referred to as Bosniaks) have also fled Pristina in significant numbers, mainly for Bosnia, leaving around 1,600 to 1,800 out of a pre-war population between 3,500 and 4,000.15 The estimated 23,000 to 25,000 Muslim Slavs in Prizren municipality (who sometimes refer to themselves as Torbesh) have come under significant pressure to leave, including grenade attacks and the murder of a Torbesh family of four in January and of a Muslim Slav man in February, which led to some departures.16 The Muslim Slav population in Pec appears relatively secure but members of the community have nevertheless come under attack: in April, a group of fifteen Albanian men attacked and beat a seventy-year-old Bosniak woman. (The woman had reportedly been mistaken for a Serb.) There have also been attacks on the homes of Gorani, who are distinct from the Muslim Slav/Bosniak community.

Generally unidentified groups of armed ethnic Albanians have carried out abductions of Serbs and Roma throughout Kosovo since early June 1999. In some cases, these forces have detained, questioned, beaten, and then released those abducted. However, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as of April 2001, approximately more than 500 of those abducted remain unaccounted for.17

According to Ranko Djinovic, president of the Association of the Families of the Missing and Kidnapped in Kosovo and Metohija, 1,230 non-Albanians went missing in Kosovo between January 1998 and November 2000. Twenty percent of these people went missing before the NATO intervention, Djinovic said, 5 percent during the air war, and 75 percent after NATO's entry into Kosovo.18 This number may be too high, however, as some names on the association's list are reported twice and others who were reported missing were in detention and have been subsequently released.

In May 2000, the ICRC published a book listing missing persons from Kosovo registered up to that point. According to the ICRC, 450 persons went missing between June 10, 1999, and March 31, 2000. Human Rights Watch reviewed the ICRC list and, according to the names, at least 309 of these people were clearly members of minorities (non-Albanian.)19 This matches closely with figures from the Humanitarian Law Center which, between March 24 and August 10, 1999, registered 318 missing non-Albanians.20 The ICRC figure of total missing as of April 2001 was 3,525, but no ethnic breakdown was available.21

The rape of women from minorities has also been reported since June 1999. Roma women have suffered in particular. The European Roma Rights Center has documented three incidents of rape of Roma women by persons in KLA uniform. The center interviewed an eyewitness who reported that his sister and wife had been raped by four uniformed men in Djakovica on June 29, 1999. They also interviewed the relative of a woman from Kosovska Mitrovica who had been raped on June 20, 1999 by six men in KLA uniforms.22

On July 26, 1999, KFOR received a report from a middle-aged Serb woman in Gnjilane that she had been raped by two Kosovar Albanian men.23 Two Kosovar Albanian woman witnessed the two men entering the woman's apartment. The OSCE recorded the rape of a Roma woman in Prizren in October 1999 by several Albanian men.24 One of the perpetrators, who was subsequently arrested by KFOR, had allegedly raped another Roma woman in the area. The February Task Force on Minorities report also documented the rape of a pregnant Ashkali woman in Urosevac in November 1999, and the rape and attempted rape of several Roma women that same month in the Djakovica area.25

According to KFOR statistics, in the approximately five months between KFOR's arrival on June 12 and early November 1999 there were 379 murders in Kosovo, with 135 victims of the Serbs. No separate figures were kept for persons from other minorities, but the figures underscore both the scale of the lawlessness in post-war Kosovo and the violence between Albanians and Serb paramilitaries and civilians that continued in Kosovska Kamenica, Kosovska Mitrovica, and several other areas over the summer. Between January 30 and May 27, 2000, KFOR reported ninety-five murders in Kosovo.26 Twenty-six of the victims were Serbs, seven were Roma, two were Muslim Slavs, fifty-two were Albanians, and eight were of unknown ethnicity. Although, the statistics show a steep decline in the murder rate, it is important to emphasize that murder (together with other serious crimes such as aggravated assault, arson and kidnapping) still disproportionately affect minorities, who now comprise far less than 10 percent of Kosovo's resident population.27

Some of the worst violence against minorities has occurred in and around the divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica, which has also been the scene of extensive internal displacement. Following the wartime displacement of around 8,000 Albanians from the (now predominantly Serb) northern side of the Ibar river, more than 2,000 Serbs have been displaced from the (now predominantly Albanian) southern side of the river. Between 8,000 and 10,000 Roma have also been forced from the southern side of the river. Despite the somewhat belated efforts of KFOR and U.N. police to secure the city, incidents of harassment and intimidation have reduced the minority populations on both sides of the Ibar.

The city has been effectively partitioned, with a heavy deployment of KFOR peacekeepers designed to keep communities apart and to protect isolated pockets of Serbs and Roma in the southern part of the city and Albanians, Muslim Slavs, and Turks in the northern part (most of them concentrated in the so-called "Bosniak" quarter). Some of the worst violence in Mitrovica followed a February 2, 2000, rocket attack on a UNHCR bus under KFOR escort traveling from a Serb enclave, the village of Banja, to Kosovska Mitrovica. The attack left an elderly Serb man and woman dead and three others wounded, and sparked a wave of tit-for-tat violence in northern Mitrovica that left eight non-Serbs dead and forced more than 1,700 Albanians, Muslim Slavs, and Turks to flee to the southern part of the city. UNHCR bus lines connecting minority enclaves were suspended for two months after the attack.

After the events of the spring of 2000 minorities remained a target, with much of the violence designed to force them to leave Kosovo. The Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities report from May stated that "the last remaining Serb in Klobukar [a village in Novo Brdo municipality] was stabbed in the chest on 14 February, and her body was discovered the next day in her burning house."28 On February 26, Josip Vasic, a prominent doctor and member of the Serb National Council was shot dead on the street in Gnjilane.29 A twenty-nine-year-old Serb man was shot dead on March 11 while working in his fields in the village of Donja Brnjica (Bernica e Poshteme), near Pristina. On March 27, a Roma man was found strangled in Istok. On March 28, an elderly Serb women was beaten in her home in Prizren. The woman subsequently died of her wounds. On April 3, 2000, Metodije Halauska, an eighty-six-year-old ethnic Czech was kidnapped from his home in Pristina, beaten and shot in the back of the head. On April 8, the body of an unidentified elderly woman was found in the burned remains of a Serb house in Pec.30 Two Roma teenage boys aged seventeen and eighteen and a forty-eight-year-old Roma woman were also found shot dead in Pec on the same day. On April 9, a Serb man was shot dead in a restaurant in Gnjilane. Three other Serbs were also killed during that same week.

The weeks surrounding the first anniversary of NATO's entry into Kosovo were particularly bloody with a series of grenade and landmine attacks and "drive-by" shootings targeting Serbs that left eleven dead and more than a dozen wounded. On May 22, a seventy-year-old Serb farmer was shot dead in Gojbulja (Gojbuja) village (Vucitrn municipality).31 Two days later a fifty-one-year-old Serb man was shot dead in the town of Vitina. On May 28, two men and a four-year-old boy were killed and two men were wounded in a "drive-by" shooting in Cernica (Gnjilane municipality).32 A May 31 "drive-by" shooting in Babin Most village left one Serb man dead and another wounded. On June 1, a group of Serbs returning from a funeral were fired upon by ethnic Albanians in the village of Klokot (Gnjilane municipality), killing one woman and wounding three men.33 On June 2, two Serb men driving on a road connecting two Serb villages were killed after their car hit a landmine. A woman and two children in the car were wounded. The road had previously been cleared of mines, the mine.34 A grenade attack in the Serb enclave of Gracanica on June 6 left a further five wounded.35 On June 15, two Serb men were killed and another man was wounded after their vehicle drove over a landmine near the village of Lepina (Lipljan municipality) in what a KFOR spokesperson described as a "deliberate, carefully planned, attack."36

Service with an international organization has not been sufficient to provide minorities with immunity from violence. In October 1999, a U.N. official from Bulgaria was shot dead on Pristina's main street, after reportedly being mistaken for a Serb. The same month, a grenade was thrown into the Pristina apartment of a Serb interpreter working for the U.N., slightly wounding her. She had earlier been forced to move apartments because of harassment. On May 15, the body of twenty-five-year-old Petar Topoljski, a Serb UNMIK translator, was found in the village of Rimaniste, near Pristina.37 Topoljski had not appeared for work for the previous week, after his name, photograph, and address were published in the Kosovo daily newspaper Dita, together with allegations that he was a Serb paramilitary who had participated in the mass expulsions of Albanians from the province. (The newspaper was temporarily shut down by UNMIK for eight days after the paper's editor refused to apologize for publishing the story, print a retraction, or agree to refrain from making similar accusations in the future. The paper also reprinted the article when the ban was lifted.)

Violence Against ethnic Albanians

As the events in Mitrovica and the murder statistics make clear, violence has not been confined to non-Albanians. On June 12, 2000, two ethnic Albanians were killed and a third injured in an attack by Serb assailants in the village of Cubrelj (Qubrel). As noted above, the violence in northern Mitrovica that followed the February rocket attack on a UNHCR bus left eight non-Serbs dead and forced almost two thousand others to flee their homes. In addition to Serbian attacks on Albanians in Mitrovica, there has also been considerable Albanian-on-Albanian violence. Albanians accused of "collaboration" with Serbian authorities have been beaten and forced from their homes, notably in the municipalities of Prizren, Djakovica, and Klina. Albanian Catholics and the families of Albanians who worked for the Serbian state have encountered particular difficulties.38

Albanian political moderates have also been threatened. In October 1999, Veton Surroi and Baton Haxhiu, the publisher and editor of a leading Albanian language daily, Koha Ditore, were accused of being "pro-Serb vampires" who "should not have a place in free Kosovo" by KosovaPress, the official news agency of the KLA. The article stated that "it would not be surprising if they become victims of possible and understandable revenge acts"-a clear incitement to violence against the two journalists. The attack followed the publication of editorials in Koha Ditore and a strong commentary by Surroi condemning attacks against minorities, which concluded that the climate created by such attacks was likely to have profound and negative consequences for democracy in Kosovo, and would affect all of its inhabitants, minority and Albanian.

The struggle for primacy among the factions of the former Kosovo Liberation Army and Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) have also led to violence. The murder of an LDK politician and the kidnapping and interrogation of another in the Drenica region in November 1999 was followed by a spate of execution-syle murders of prominent KLA fighters.39 According to the New York Times, twenty-three KLA members were killed between June 1999 and May 2000.40 Although the killings are frequently attributed to rivalries within organized crime, some of the murders, including the killing in May of political moderate and prominent former-KLA leader Ekrem Rexha (known as Commander "Drini"), have a clear political dimension.41 On June 15, 2000, gunmen wearing the KLA insignia killed Alil Dresaj, a senior LDK politician.42

Violence against members of political parties continued after the October 28, 2000, municipal elections, although it was not always clear whether the killings were politically motivated. A member of the LDK in Klina, Hazir Raci, was killed three days after the elections.43 On November 16, an LDK member of Pec's new Municipal Council, Shkelzen Hyseni, was attacked and wounded in his home.44 On November 23, a founding member of the LDK and advisor to Ibrahim Rugova, Xhemail Mustafa, was killed by two unknown gunmen at 3:00 p.m. outside his apartment in the Dardania neighborhood of Pristina.45

Response of the International Community

Statements by the leaders of NATO countries and the U.N. in the crucial first months after NATO entered Kosovo asserted that what was happening there was different than the violence in the spring; that the world was witnessing individual acts of revenge; that there was no equivalence between Serbia's persecution of its Albanian minority and the post-war persecution of minorities in Kosovo. In his introduction to a 400-page OSCE report detailing postwar abuses against minorities in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, the head of UNMIK wrote, "It is not fair to make comparisons with the situation before or during the war. . . . it is no longer a matter of a policy . . . the crimes we see are the acts of individuals."46 Condemnation of attacks on minorities was frequently equivocal. During a July 29, 1999, visit to Kosovo, U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright was asked about the killing of fourteen Serb farmers in the village of Gracko. Her response was that it "was obviously a dreadful incident. We can't forget that there were some pretty disgusting things that took place before, but the system is set up in order to protect them. They should stay."47 The ambiguity of her response typified the ambivalent reaction of Western leaders to violence against minorities in Kosovo.

NATO failed to take decisive action to curb the forced displacement and killings of Kosovo's minorities in the first months. Initially, KFOR was solely responsible for security, but it balked at civilian policing tasks and detained few suspects. Most were released quickly, their freeing justified by the absence of a legal framework to warrant their continued detention. Thus, from the earliest days of the U.N. and NATO presence in Kosovo, violence and criminality (including attacks on minorities) were effectively undeterred. More recent efforts by U.N. police have been hampered by a flawed local judiciary that is reluctant to detain or convict Albanian defendants, particularly in cases involving violence against minorities. The inevitable result has been a climate of impunity in the province.

The issue of violence against minorities has commanded considerable attention among international actors in Kosovo. The creation of the UNHCR and OSCE-led Ad Hoc Task Force on July 14, 1999, has undoubtedly played a crucial role in the development of these humanitarian initiatives and in advocating better protection of minorities. A report of the task force from November 1999 listed a variety of measures designed to improve the security for at-risk populations in Kosovo, including: "reinforcement of doors, installation of emergency calling devices in homes, and the establishment of a hotline between lead agencies and KFOR."48 The report also notes that "UNHCR has designed a special humanitarian distribution network for needy minority groups, and interim systems for providing medical care to minority groups who are otherwise denied access."49 There is also little doubt that without KFOR protection, minority enclaves in Orahovac, Gracanica, and Prizren would no longer exist.

Nevertheless, the overall response of the international community to abuses against minorities has been belated and inadequate, particularly in the area of security. The withdrawal of Serbian police and Yugoslav military units, while bringing a welcome end to widespread abuses against Kosovar Albanians, left a security vacuum for Serb and other minority civilians that has only been partially filled by KFOR peacekeepers and U.N. police. In the crucial first two months of the international intervention, there were no more than a handful of U.N. police, leaving KFOR troops to perform civilian policing functions. In order to bridge the gap, France and Italy deployed paramilitary police units and other contingents utilized military police to perform civilian policing functions, including investigations of complaints.

KFOR's response to attacks and threats against minorities during the first months of the operation was uneven, with minorities receiving round-the-clock protection in some areas, while those in others were forced from their homes. KFOR's overall record on preventing the abduction, detention, and murder of Serbs and Roma during that crucial period was poor. A KFOR officer in eastern Kosovo told Human Rights Watch at the end of June 1999 that his unit did not even try to keep track of the abductions because of their frequency. In many cases, KFOR officers from all contingents expressed the view that the commission of such crimes was inevitable. Efforts by a Human Rights Watch researcher to report an incident of harassment in Ljubizda village on June 30, 1999, to the German KFOR contingent required multiple visits to local posts, and then to the contingent headquarters in Prizren, where a civilian-military implementation cell (CMIC) officer appeared uninterested in the details of the case.

KFOR's lack of consistency and frequently inadequate response can be explained in part by concern about protecting its own forces, differing interpretations of the mandate by each national contingent, and lack of experience in civilian policing. It is also important to recall that prior to its entry into Kosovo on June 12, 1999, KFOR was prepared to encounter resistance from armed Serb military and civilians. This is evidenced by the preponderance of heavy weapons, including tanks and artillery, that NATO amassed on the Macedonian and Albanian borders, and that were later deployed throughout Kosovo. It is reasonable to assume that such a fighting force was not psychologically prepared immediately to protect the population they had expected to have to subdue, and which they regarded as responsible for creating the refugee crisis. In addition, with much of the initial force consisting of heavy armor, KFOR was not initially equipped to perform small patrols in villages with a mixed population, nor to respond quickly to violent protests or other civil unrest.

Civilian policing resources were not provided by U.N. member governments during the crucial first months of the operation. At the end of July 1999, there were only around 200 international police in Kosovo, most of them engaged in establishing a headquarters and training procedures. While the failure to deploy police quickly may have been partly the result of logistical constraints on the part of contributing governments, the failure to arrest and prosecute criminal acts against minorities and others during the first few months of the international civilian mission created a culture of impunity for such violence. As of October 19, 2000, UNMIK had deployed 4,162 civilian police officers, including border police, just below the authorized strength of 4,718.50 On December 16, 2000, the OSCE-administered police academy (an eight-week basic training course) graduated its eleventh class of trainees for the Kosovo Police Service (KPS), raising the total number of graduates to 2,851. Forty-five percent of the new class' 312 cadets are non-Albanian. Fifty-nine members of the graduating class are women.51

As the United Nations police and Kosovo Police Service have belatedly begun to carry out their duties, their efforts have been frustrated by delays in establishing an effective judiciary. Part of the delays was due to UNMIK's wrangling with Albanian judges over which legal system should apply. Although several hundred local judges have now been appointed, the inability of the United Nations to persuade minority judges to take up their positions, and pressures on ethnic-Albanian judges have resulted in a nascent court system that is reluctant to detain or pass guilty verdicts on Albanian defendants, no matter how serious the charges or strong the evidence. On the other hand, Serb and other minority defendants frequently find themselves in pre-trial detention and eventually convicted even where cases are very weak.52 Some U.N. officials in Kosovo now admit that just as the Kosovo Police Service requires a high-degree of international control and supervision, the courts system also demands international judges and prosecutors to ensure equal access to justice for all plaintiffs and due process for all defendants. At present, the flawed functioning of the judiciary is doing little to check Kosovo's cycle of impunity and insecurity.53

The familiar refrain from the United Nations is that the poor security situation is the result of a lack of resources. It is true that there is still a shortfall of civilian police and insufficient funds to pay judges and prosecutors adequately. But the United Nations and OSCE have hundreds of personnel in their Pristina headquarters, and KFOR maintaisn the presence of more than 42,000 troops, including 32,000 from NATO countries. The more fundamental shortcoming is the lack of political will. Senior NATO and U.N. officials are well aware that persons linked to the former KLA and the KLA's successor, the Kosovo Protection Corps54 are implicated in violence against minorities and in criminal activities, but have chosen to do little about it.55 NATO officials have been at pains to avoid accusing former members of the KLA of such violence. Indeed, General Wesley Clark, the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces in Europe, went so far as to state in August 1999 that there was no evidence of KLA involvement in attacks, saying "I'm not going to point fingers at the KLA."56

Notwithstanding General Clark's exhoneration of the KLA, NATO officers on the ground told Human Rights Watch that their intelligence revealed precisely the opposite. United Nations police have also gathered ample evidence of abuses by persons linked to the KLA and KPC, which were compiled in an internal UNMIK report in February 2000.57 Despite this evidence, few people have been arrested or charged for their role in such activities, nor has significant pressure been brought to bear on the political leadership of the former KLA or the KPC to curb such abuses in their ranks.

With the exception of concerns about ongoing attacks by Albanian armed groups in southern Serbia and Macedonia,58 NATO governments are generally unwilling to confront the ambiguous role played by elements of the former KLA in Kosovo since June 1999. It took almost a year before international officials, including U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson and U.S. State Department special envoy James O'Brien were finally willing to concede that attacks against minorities in Kosovo were systematic in nature.59 The unwillingness of the world's most powerful military alliance even to suggest that local KLA units might be involved, and its failure to take action against those units, strongly suggests that its political leaders in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, and elsewhere, as well as those in the United Nations, wish to avoid any confrontation with the political and military leadership of the former KLA. Their failure to do so is especially striking given that the Security Council authorized the U.N. and NATO to administer and secure Kosovo. Unless NATO governments are prepared to hold all persons accountable for acts of violence and crime in Kosovo, irrespective of their political connections, the cycle of impunity and insecurity looks set to continue.

Kosovar Albanian Prisoners in Serbia Since War's End

On June 10, 1999, just after NATO and the Yugoslav Army signed the Military Technical Agreement that ended the war, an estimated 2,000 Kosovar Albanians were transferred from prisons in Kosovo to prisons in Serbia proper, notably in Sremska Mitrovica, Nis, Prokuplje, and Pozarevac.60 The majority of the prisoners were civilians unlawfully arrested by Serbian security forces during the war. According to the Serbian press, the Serbian Ministry of Justice ordered the prisoners' transfer "for their own safety."61

As of March, 2001, approximately 1,400 of these Kosovar Albanian prisoners had been released, an estimated 150 of them under a Yugoslav Amnesty Law passed in February 2001.62 The remaining detainees registered and visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross- approximately 480 people- were in different stages of their legal proceedings.

Some of the Kosovar Albanians in Serbian prisons on political charges may have been involved with the Kosovo Liberation Army. But the vast majority were picked up in sweep actions by the Serbian police who were clearly on orders to arrest large numbers of Albanian men. As emerged in the Spring 2000 trial of the 143 men from Djakovica, the police arrested people who were hiding in their houses.63 Beatings at the time of arrest were common, including during the April 27, 1999, arrest of former student activist and KLA spokesman Albin Kurti, although later treatment in the Serbian prisons was better.64

Prisoners transferred to Serbia from Lipljan prison on June 10 told Human Rights Watch how prison guards tied their hands and loaded them onto buses, beating those who moved. One prisoner said:

They tied us with ropes and put us in groups of fifty. We could not sit. They started withdrawing and shooting in the air. We were afraid they would kill us there. At 6:00 a.m., June 10, they held us until 12:00 p.m. without food or water. Then they put us onto buses with our heads down. Half of us were on the floor. It was cold. They beat those who moved.65

The Serbian government sporadically released some of the prisoners throughout 1999 and 2000, usually after they had been found innocent at trial. On June 25, 1999, 166 men were released and brought back to Kosovo by the ICRC.66 Another fifty-four men were released from Sremska Mitrovica prison on October 4.67 Between January 27 and 29, forty-nine men were released, after seventeen or more months in custody, among them the author and journalist Halil Matoshi.68

On the other hand, convictions in Serbian courts continued throughout 1999 and 2000. On May 22, 2000, the 143 men from Djakovica were convicted and sentenced to a combined 1,632 years in prison for conspiracy against the state and terrorism in a trial that failed to meet international standards, according to human rights groups based in Serbia.69 (On April 23, 2001, the Serbian Supreme Court released the defendants pending a review of the case by the district court.) On July 10, 2000, five Kosovar Albanian students from Belgrade University were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to twelve years for terrorist acts, despite court testimony that they had been tortured to extract confessions.70 Human Rights Watch monitored three days of the trial and observed numerous procedural violations, such as collusion between the prosecution and the chief judge, the admission of dubious evidence, and the broadcast on state television of taped confessions.71 On the third day of the trial, November 25, 1999, after one of the defendants gave a detailed and graphic account of the torture inflicted upon him in detention, president of the chamber, Judge Dragisa Slijepcevic responded: "Since the public is at this trial, I would like to say: Do you think that the police in European countries deal with detainees any differently?"

The political prisoners were routinely denied the right to a fair trial. Courts sentenced Kosovar Albanians on the basis of forced confessions, and judges frequently refused to allow the introduction of evidence that could have disproved the charges. The prosecution's primary evidence against those convicted was often the highly unreliable and discredited "paraffin test," which checks for traces of gunpowder on defendants' hands.

Two Belgrade-based organizations, the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) and Group 484, conducted extensive monitoring of the trials that continued throughout the spring and summer of 2000. In a press statement demanding the release of Kosovar Albanians unlawfully detained during the Kosovo conflict, the HLC highlighted:

[G]rave violations of due process by Serbian judicial bodies and correctional institutions against ethnic Albanians who were arrested in the 24 March-10 June period this year on charges of terrorism and other criminal acts against the constitutional order of FR Yugoslavia . . .72

The HLC reported that, in many cases it monitored, detention periods were excessive, lawyers were denied access to their clients, and trials were scheduled before the defense had even seen the indictment. The HLC also appealed for the release of twenty-five minors, eleven women, approximately 200 wounded, and fifty ailing prisoners among the Kosovar Albanians who were in Serbian prisons at the end of 1999.73

Some prominent cases were also tried in Serbian courts. On December 9, 1999, a well-known Albanian pediatrician and poet, Dr. Flora Brovina, was sentenced to twelve years in prison by a Nis court for anti-state activities.74 She was accused of providing food, clothing, and medical supplies to the KLA, as well as planning terrorist acts. In June, the Serbian Supreme Court ruled that her case should be retried by the Nis municipal court, and a retrial began on September 14, 2000. On November 2, 2000, newly elected Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica granted her an amnesty, and she returned to Kosovo.

Dr. Brovina, founder and head of the League of Albanian Women, was arrested by Serbian police in civilian clothes in front of her Pristina apartment on April 20, 1999. Originally held in Kosovo's Lipljan prison, Brovina was transferred to Pozarevac prison on June 10. She was allowed visits by the ICRC, her lawyers, and her husband, but meetings had to be held in the Serbian language.75 Her trial was also reported to have numerous procedural irregularities.76

Reports have also emerged of Kosovar Albanian families paying bribes for the release of family members in Serbian prisons. An article in the Washington Post claimed that families had paid more than $10,000 per prisoner.77 A report on prisoners by the International Crisis Group (ICG) claims that Serbian lawyers have promised to secure the release of Kosovar Albanians for fees ranging between 10,000 and 50,000 DM.78

Some lawyers in Serbia who represent Kosovar Albanian defendants encountered threats and physical violence. On December 3, 1999, an ethnic Albanian lawyer working with the Humanitarian Law Center, Teki Bokshi, was abducted from the highway near Belgrade as he drove back from visiting Kosovar Albanian clients in Sremska Mitrovica prison. According to the Humanitarian Law Center, Bokshi was stopped along with two colleagues by police in civilian clothes in a gray Mercedes car with official plates.79 He was released after one week.

On March 16, another Humanitarian Law Center lawyer, Husnije Bytyqi, and his wife were seriously beaten by unknown assailants in their Belgrade apartment. Bytyqi, who was scheduled to defend six Kosovar Albanians facing terrorism charges the following day, required surgery due to his head injuries. Bytyqi had reportedly received threats from Serbian lawyers in Kosovo, whom he had accused of taking bribes to secure the release of Albanian prisoners.80

In February 2001 the newly elected Yugoslav parliament passed an Amnesty Law to allow for political prisoners to be released, although the law did not apply to those acussed of having committed terrorist acts. By mid-March 2001, 157 Kosovar Albanians had been released under the law.81

Despite these releases, the issue of Kosovar Albanian prisoners in Serbia remains a highly sensitive issue in Kosovo, especially among the families of detainees. According to the International Crisis Group report, their continued imprisonment has "a corrosive effect on both international and local peace-building efforts in Kosovo."

Clearly, Milosevic tried to use the prisoners as a bargaining chip and as a means to undermine the international administration in Kosovo. Throughout 1999 and 2000, Albanians became increasingly frustrated with the international community's inability to secure the prisoners' release.

After his election in October 2000, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica pledged to respect human rights and reestablish the rule of law in Yugoslavia. Correcting miscarriages of justice such as those perpetrated against Kosovo Albanian political prisoners is an essential part of upholding that pledge. According to the Yugoslav constitution and federal law, the Yugoslav president is empowered to pardon those indicted or convicted of federal crimes, such as hostile activity against the state and terrorism.

1 The Kosovo Liberation Army also abducted, killed, and drove Kosovar Serbs and Roma from Kosovo, as well as ethnic Albanians accused of being "collaborators," in 1998 and early 1999. See section on "Abuses by the KLA" in the Background chapter, as well as Human Rights Watch, "Humanitarian Law Violations in Kosovo," October 1998, pp. 75-87.
2 Between February and April 2000, UNHCR registered 180,000 displaced persons from Kosovo in Serbia and 30,000 in Montenegro respectively. More than 150,000 of the 180,000 displaced persons in Serbia reported that they had fled after June 12, 1999. (See UNHCR Refugees Daily, May 23, 2000.)
3 The Kosovo Liberation Army was officially demilitarized in September 1999, and many of its members subsumed into the Kosovo Protection Corps, a civil defense organization headed by former KLA Commander Agim Ceku.
4 "Crucified Kosovo-Destroyed and Desecrated Serbian Orthodox Churches in Kosovo and Metohija (1999-2000)," expanded electronic edition. See: (March 21, 2001).
5 By June 2000, international officials were finally willing to concede that attacks against minorities in Kosovo were systematic in nature. In his June 6 report to the Security Council on UNMIK (S/2000/538), U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote that attacks on minorities, "appear to be orchestrated." U.S. State Department special envoy James O'Brien stated on June 8 that the violence "seems to be systematic." "Anti-Serb Violence Condemned," AP, June 8, 2000. On May 31, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson termed the violence as "ethnic cleansing," noting that "We did not stop ethnic cleansing one year to see ethnic cleansing of another kind take place today." "Kosovo: NATO's Patience Wearing Thin," NATO press release, May 31, 2000.
6 UNHCR Refugees Daily, May 23, 2000.
7 UNHCR-OSCE Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities "Overview of the Situation of Minorities" (February 11, 2000). UNHCR is the source of the 1998 Pristina population estimate.
8 Information compiled from "Overview of the Situation of Minorities" (February 11, 2000) and from Human Rights Watch field research (June-November 1999).
9 The 1991 Yugoslav census indicated a Roma population of between 30,000 and 40,000 in Kosovo but the real figure is likely to be higher due to non-participation in censuses and continued migration.
10 UNHCR-OSCE Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities, "Overview of the Situation of Minorities," November 3, 1999.
11 UNHCR-OSCE Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities "Assessment of the Situation of Ethnic Minorities in Kosovo," February 11, 2000.
12 The victims were Hajzer Ahmeti, Ibush Ahmeti, Isret Bajrami, and Agron Mehmeti.
13 "Ashkali Murder to Have a `Chilling' Effect on Return of Refugees, Says UNHCR," KosovaLive, November 10, 2000.
14 "Ethnic Croats from Kosovo evacuated to Croatia," Associated Press, November 1, 1999. Quoted in UNHCR Refugee Daily, 11/1/99.
15 UNHCR-OSCE Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities "Assessment of the Situation of Ethnic Minorities in Kosovo," February 11, 2000.
16 Ibid.
17 ICRC statement, "Person Unaccouted for in Connection with the Kosovo Crisis," _April 10, 2001.
18 Press conference of the Association of the Families of the Missing and Kidnapped in Kosovo and Metohija, Belgrade, Yugoslavia, November 10, 2000.
19 "Persons Missing in Relation to the Events in Kosovo From January 1998," ICRC, May 2000. The book of the missing can be searched by name on the ICRC website at:
20 Humanitarian Law Center report, Kosovo-Disappearances of Non-Albanians 24th March-10th August 1999. Available at, (March 22, 2001).
21 ICRC Statement, April 10, 2001.
22 European Roma Rights Center, "Press Statement: The Current Situation of Roma in Kosovo," July 9, 1999.
23 OSCE/ODIHR, Kosovo/Kosova: As Seen, As Told-Part II, pp.?.
24 Ibid.
25 UNHCR-OSCE Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities "Assessment of the Situation of Ethnic Minorities in Kosovo," February 11, 2000.
26 UNHCR-OSCE Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities, "Update on the Situation of Ethnic Minorities in Kosovo (Period Covering February through May 2000)," May 31, 2000.
27 Statistics for aggravated assault over the same period include forty-nine cases of charges against Serbs, two against Roma, two against Muslim Slavs, ninety against Albanians and nine against persons of unknown ethnicity. "Update on the Situation of Ethnic Minorities in Kosovo (Period Covering February through May 2000)."
28 UNHCR-OSCE Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities, "Update on the Situation of Ethnic Minorities in Kosovo (Period Covering February through May 2000)," May 31, 2000.
29 "U.N. Kosovo Head Condemns Killing of Serb Doctor as `Sabotage,'" Reuters, March 2, 2000.
30 "Upsurge in Violence in Kosovo in past week: UN," Agence France Presse, April 10, 2000.
31 "Kosovo Farmer Gunned Down in Northern Kosovo," Associated Press, May 22, 2000.
32 KFOR Press Update, May 29, 2000.
33 "Albanians Attack Serbs in Kosovo," Reuters, June 1, 2000.
34 "Landmine Kills Two Serbs in Latest Kosovo Attack," Reuters, June 2, 2000.
35 "Five Serbs Injured in Kosovo Grenade Attack-KFOR," Reuters, June 6, 2000.
36 KFOR Press Update, June 16, 2000; For additional information see: "Two Serbs killed, one injured as car hits landmine in Kosovo," Agence France Presse, June 15, 2000.
37 "Serb Working for UN Killed in Kosovo," Reuters, May 17, 2000.
38 For examples of attacks against Albanian "collaborators" in the months following June 1999, see: OSCE/ODIHR, Kosovo/Kosova: As Seen, As Told-Part II.
39 Paul Watson, "Extremist Albanians Target Moderates in Kosovo Strife," Los Angeles Times, November 20, 1999.
40 Carlotta Gall, "Kosovo Towns Mourn a Slain Guerrilla Army Commander," New York Times, May 12, 2000.
41 For background on Rexha's murder, see Granit Guri, "Elimination of Former KLA Commanders," AIM Pristina, May 18, 2000.
42 "Senior Politician Killed in Kosovo," Agence France Presse, June 19, 2000.
43 "Police Arrest Suspects in Raci Killing," KosovaLive, November 3, 2000.
44 "Peja Municipal Council Member Attacked," KosovaLive, November 16, 2000.
45 R. Jeffrey Smith, "Advocate of Nonviolence Gunned Down in Kosovo," Washington Post, November 24, 2000.
46 OSCE/ODIHR, Kosovo/Kosova: As Seen, As Told-Part II.
47 Secretary Albright, KFOR Commander General Jackson, and UN Special Representative Kouchner, press remarks, July 29, 1999.
48 UNHCR-OSCE Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities, "Overview of the Situation of Minorities," November 3, 1999.
49 Ibid.
50 UN Mission in Kosovo, Status Report, October 19, 2000., (March 22, 2001).
51 "Class 11 graduates from OSCE Kosovo Police Service School," OSCE press release, December 15, 2000.
52 See, for example, Roy Gutman, "Bias Seen in Judicial System in Kosovo: UN Refuses to Appoint Judges Above the Fray," Newsday, April 2, 2000.
53 For more information on Kosovo's post-war judicial system see the following reports: Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, A Fragile Peace: Laying the Foundations for Justice in Kosovo, October 1999; United States Department of State, Kosovo Judicial Assessment Mission Report, April 2000.
54 The KPC, publically intended for civic defence and emergency relief, is headed by former KLA General Agim Ceku, composed mostly of former KLA combatants, structured along military lines (including special forces units), and supervised by KFOR rather than international civilian authorities. The KPC is widely regarded in Kosovo as the successor force to the KLA.
55 The New York Times quoted an unnamed "senior UN official" in February of this year saying that "the unwillingness of the West and KFOR to read the riot act to the KLA remains a central problem here." Steven Erlanger, "Torn Mitrovica Reflects West's Trials in Kosovo," New York Times, February 27, 2000.
56 "Clark Sees No Evidence KLA Behind Attacks On Serbs," Reuters, 13 August 1999.
57 The existence of the report was first reported in the Observer newspaper in March 2000. See John Sweeney and Jens Holsoe, "Revealed: UN-backed Unit's Reign of Terror-Kosovo `Disaster Response Service' Stands Accused of Murder and Torture," Observer (London), March 12, 2000.
58 In late 2000 and early 2001 a group of armed ethnic Albanians calling itself the Liberation Army of Preshevo, Medvedja and Bujanovc (UCPMB) had occupied the buffer zone between Kosovo and southern Serbia in which, based on the Military Technical Agreement, neither KFOR nor Yugoslav forces were allowed to enter. In March 2001, another group called the National Liberation Army (Ushtria Clirimtare e Kombit, or UCK in Albanian) began occupying villages in north western Macedonia, where ethnic Albanians form a majority.
59 See Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (S/2000/538), June 6, 2000; "Anti-Serb Violence Condemned," AP, June 8, 2000; "Kosovo: NATO's Patience Wearing Thin," NATO, May 31, 2000.
60 Neither the Military Technical Agreement nor UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which established the U.N.'s post-war presence in Kosovo, mentioned the prisoners' issue. According to a report by the International Crisis Group, early drafts of the Agreement did contain provisions regarding the prisoners. See International Crisis Group, Kosovar Albanians in Serbian Prisons: Kosovo's Unfinished Business, January 26, 2000.
61 "Zatvorenici sa Kosova Izmesteni u Srbiju," Glas Javnosti, June 18, 1999.
62 ICRC News 01/10, "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: Detainees released under amnesty act return home," March 15, 2001.
63 See detailed trial monitoring reports by two Serbian-based organizations: Group 484's Volunteer Group on Human Rights and the Humanitarian Law Center (Communique from July 13, 2000).
64 Kurti was sentenced to fifteen years in prison on March 13, 2000, after ten months in detention. He was still in prison as of April 2001.
65 Human Rights Watch interview with M. K., Barane, Kosovo, November 17, 1999.
66 "Fifty-four Kosova Albanians Released from Serbian Prison," Reuters, October 4, 1999.
67 Ibid.
68 Humanitarian Law Center Communiques, January 29, 2000, and the Associated Press, January 29, 2000.
69 See the trial monitoring reports by Group 484's Volunteer Group on Human Rights (April 2000) and the Humanitarian Law Center (Communique from July 13, 2000.).
70 See Human Rights Watch release, "Belgrade Tries Ethnic Albanian Students For `Terrorism'-Defendants Allege Torture," December 16, 1999, and "Ethnic Albanian Tells Court He Was Tortured," Reuters, November 23, 1999.
71 See trial monitoring reports by Group 484's Volunteer Group for Human Rights report (April 26, 1999) and two Humanitarian Law Center releases (December 21, 1999, and June 23, 2000.)
72 Humanitarian Law Center Communique, November 8, 1999.
73 Humanitarian Law Center Communique, October 10, 1999. Many of the minors in detention were subsequently released.
74 Brovina was sentenced for seditious conspiracy, according to Article 136 of the Yugoslav Criminal Code, in conjunction with terrorism during a state of war, according to Article 125. On April 10, 2000, Flora Brovina was awarded the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom-to-Write Award.
75 Human Rights Watch interview with Ajri Begu, Pristina, Kosovo, November 2, 1999.
76 See trial monitoring reports from Group 484.
77 Peter Finn, "Jailed Albanians Walk for a Fee for Freedom," Washington Post, October 9, 1999.
78 International Crisis Group, Kosovar Albanians in Serbian Prisons: Kosovo's Unfinished Business, January 26, 2000.
79 "HLC Attorney Arrested on Highway After Visiting Detained Clients," Humanitarian Law Center release, December 4, 1999.
80 "Ethnic Albanian Lawyer Beaten by Unknown Assailants," Agence France Presse, March 17, 1999.
81 ICRC News 01/10, "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: Detainees released under amnesty act return home," March 15, 2001.