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The Role of the International Community

Despite repeated promises not to “allow another Bosnia,” the international community failed to take adequate steps to stop the violence in Kosovo. The evidence suggests that the international community, afraid of the KLA’s rapid growth, may have given Milosevic a green light to proceed with a military offensive from July-September that involved serious breaches of humanitarian law.

On those occasions when the international community did condemn government abuses, words and symbolic actions proved meaningless, with deadlines postponed, conditions abandoned, and sanctions poorly enforced and even withdrawn, notwithstanding continued violence. Even less condemnation was directed towards Milosevic’s stifling of domestic dissent in the university and the media.

The Contact Group

Disunity was particularly evident among the members of the Contact Group dealing with developments in the Balkans—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia—where Russia in particular played the role of spoiler, although Russia’s resistance was at times used by Western states as an excuse for their own inaction, especially by those countries with business interests in the country. On March 9, in its first statement after the February 28 escalation of the conflict, the Contact Group called for Security Council consideration of a comprehensive arms embargo on FRY; refusal to supply to FRY equipment that might be used for internal repression or terrorism; denial of visas for senior FRY and Serbian representatives responsible for the repression; and a moratorium on government-financed export credit support for trade and investment in Serbia. Russia refused to support the last two measures, but committed to discuss additional measures if FRY failed to make progress toward fulfillment of the Contact Group’s conditions. When the Contact Group met again on April 29, it noted the on-going violence and the limited progress on conditions it had previously set, and in response, the Group decided to freeze funds held abroad by the FRY and Serbian governments. It warned if Belgrade continued to block dialogue by May 9, the Group would impose an investment ban on Serbia. Russia refused to endorse these sanctions. At a May 9 meeting of the G-8 (the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia), the gathered states agreed to implement the asset freeze and impose the investment ban, and once again Russia declared that it did not associate itself with the new sanctions.

United Nations

In the Security Council, China and Russia, both permanent members with veto power, maintained that the conflict was an internal matter, effectively blocking a forceful Security Council response to the conflict. Security Council Resolution 1160, adopted on March 31, did impose an arms embargo on FRY, a position reached with China abstaining and only after repeated warnings by the Contact Group had been ignored. Resolution 1199, a strongly worded resolution passed on September 23 (with China abstaining again), condemned acts of violence committed in Kosovo, reaffirmed the arms embargo, and, under authority of Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities. It called upon FRY and the Kosovo Albanian leadership to enter intoimmediate and meaningful dialogue and demanded that FRY implement immediately the measures contained in the June 12 statement of the Contact Group. The resolution called on the president of FRY to implement his own commitments made in a joint statement with the president of the Russian Federation on June 16, 1998; these included, among other things, not to carry out any repressive actions against the peaceful population, to facilitate refugee return, and to ensure full access for the ICRC and UNHCR. It stated that the Security Council would consider “further action and additional measures” if the measures demanded in its two resolutions were not taken.

U.N. Special Rapporteur for the Former Yugoslavia Jiri Dienstbier visited Kosovo twice in 1998.

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

The ICTY repeatedly stated its intention to investigate war crimes committed in the Kosovo conflict. Preliminary investigations began in September and were continued toward the end of 1998, despite the denial of some visas by the Yugoslav government. On March 13, the U.S. government committed $1.075 million to support the Tribunal’s investigation in Kosovo. Two ICTY investigators were in Kosovo in September when the atrocities in Donje Obrinje and Golubovac were discovered, but they did not visit the sites.

European Union

The E.U. response to the conflict in Kosovo was characteristic of the general failure of the international community to send a strong message and follow through with concrete action. The E.U. was slow to adopt even relatively weak measures and was particularly slow to implement and enforce the measures adopted.

The E.U. adopted a Common Position to freeze FRY and Serbian government funds on May 7, 1998, in response to the government abuses. The E.U. regulation formally imposing the asset freeze was not adopted until June 22, 1998. At the May 25 meeting of the E.U. General Affairs Council, the foreign ministers of E.U. member states concluded that, in light of the Milosevic-Rugova meeting in Belgrade, “the proposed measure to stop new investment in Serbia would not be taken forward.” That week Belgrade launched a major new offensive to create a cordon sanitaire along its border with Albania that involved serious breaches of international humanitarian law.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

On October 13, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke announced an agreement with Milosevic, by which 2,000 OSCE monitors, called “verifiers,” would be based in Kosovo to monitor compliance with Security Council Resolutions 1160 and 1199. As of October 25, the details of the OSCE mandate had not been finalized. Questions remained about the mission’s ability to monitor and report on continued abuses, and the international community’s response to FRY non-compliance.

Freimut Duve, the OSCE high commissioner for freedom of the media, spoke out on media restrictions in FRY, and he was denied a visa to the country in September.

Council of Europe

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe engaged itself in the Kosovo crisis, sending several missions to FRY and adopting resolutions calling for an end to the violence. The president of the assembly, Leni Fischer, was particularly outspoken. As of this writing, the Committee of Ministers had taken no action on FRY’s March 1998 application for admission to the organization.


On June 11, NATO defense ministers directed NATO military authorities to develop a range of options for possible military action. As a demonstration of military might, they also agreed to carry out air exercises over neighboring Albania and Macedonia. These exercises, known as “Operation Determined Falcon,” were carried out on June 15 and heralded as a “serious message to Belgrade.” Planes flew over Tirana, the Albanian capital, but not over North Albania where they would have been seen by Serbian forces and the KLA alike.

NATO threats followed the revelation of massacres in late September. An activation order cleared the way for air strikes unless Milosevic complied with Security Council resolution 1199. Miloševi was given until October 17 to withdraw his troops; on October 16, NATO granted him another ten days to comply. On October 16, NATO Secretary General Solana signed an agreement withMilosevic that allowed for non-armed surveillance flights over Kosovo.

United States

The United States played a leading role within the Contact Group and carried out intensive shuttle diplomacy during the year to bring about a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Kosovo. U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Christopher Hill dealt extensively with main actors on both sides, especially Milosevic . As of October 23, the U.S. had fifty-two members in the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission (KDOM), with another one-hundred due to arrive soon.

According to the U.S. government, it had provided more than U.S.$44 million for humanitarian relief by September. U.S. Ambassador for War Crimes David Scheffer was denied a FRY visa in August, but Under Secretary John Shattuck and former Senator Bob Dole visited Kosovo and issued very critical statements in September.

Despite high-level delegations and great verbal condemnation, the U.S. government failed to address the human rights violations adequately, due to continued reliance on Milosevic as the principal negotiating partner and a preoccupation with maintaining the territorial integrity of the country over all other concerns, including the safety and welfare of the people of Kosovo. Little criticism was expressed during the large-scale government military offensive from July to September, and the evidence suggests that serious human rights abuses may have been tolerated to, as one anonymous diplomat put it, “knock the KLA down a peg.”

Relevant Human Rights Watch report:
Humanitarian Law Violations in Kosovo, 10/98





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