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Human Rights Watch Statement to the Contact Group

The international community has repeatedly vowed to prevent "another Bosnia" from happening in Kosovo. Yet indiscriminate shelling, summary executions, and the razing of villages that marked the war in Bosnia are now taking place in Kosovo on a daily basis. Human Rights Watch is dismayed that despite the mounting evidence of widespread humanitarian law violations in the region, the international community has repeatedly failed to follow through on warnings to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.  

A large-scale offensive by Serbian special police forces and possibly paramilitary units is currently under way in the western part of Kosovo along the border with Albania. Humanitarian aid organizations, journalists, and human rights researchers have been denied access to the region between Pec and Dakovica. Although information on human rights and international humanitarian law violations therefore remains incomplete, there is substantial and credible evidence that serious violations of humanitarian law are taking place. As many as fifty people are reported dead and many more are reported missing from the most recent offensive in the border region around Decan. At least 11,000 people have fled across the mountainous border to Albania. Eyewitnesses report the shelling of civilians by Serb forces, as well as cases of summary execution, in the villages of Ljubenica on May 24, and Poklek in the Drenica region on May 31. Many villages around the town of Decan have been looted, shelled, and set on fire.

Given the mounting evidence of serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch calls on all member states of the Contact Group to intensify their pressure on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. While we welcome the reimposition of economic sanctions by the US and member states of the European Union, it is important that these sanctions be tailored expressly to target the Serbian government, President Milosevic, and his associates. Further, it it crucial that the sanctions not be lifted until real improvements in the following areas are met.

Specifically, the Contact Group should demand:

  • An immediate withdrawal of the Serbian special police forces and any paramilitary units operating in Kosovo;
  • That the government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia halt all long-range artillery shelling and other military operations that are being used to target or indiscriminately fire on civilians;
  • Unrestricted access to the affected areas in Kosovo by humanitarian organizations, the media, and forensic specialists who can investigate allegations of summary executions, as well as access for diplomats and military attaches from the countries of the Contact Group;
  • Full disclosure of the names of those currently detained as a result of the conflict, their ages, where they were captured, where they are being detained, and other relevant details;
  • Full and ongoing access to these detainees for the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations;
  • That the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to investigate alleged violations of international humanitarian law in Kosovo. Western governments should guarantee ongoing financial and political support to ensure that the ICTY can immediately undertake such an investigation. Further, all governments conducting intelligence operations in and around Kosovo should provide the ICTY with any evidence they obtain relating to the commission of war crimes.
  • Unrestricted access for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Former Yugoslavia to investigate violations of humanitarian law by both sides in the crisis region. Further, independent human rights monitors must immediately be granted full access to the crisis region in order to investigate allegations;
  • The readmission of the OSCE long-term monitoring mission to Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Human Rights Watch also calls on the Contact Group to appeal to the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law. In particular, the KLA should release Serbian civilians in detention, refrain from attacks on members of the civilian population and from using any detainees or civilians as hostages, and treat humanely Serbian soldiers or policemen in custody.

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