(New York) - The Yugoslav National Army (JNA) and Serbian special police forces are committing violations of humanitarian law in Kosovo.
Attacks on civilians and the systematic destruction of villages have effectively cleansed Kosovo's western region of ethnic Albanians.Human Rights Watch has strong evidence of summary executions and rape. At the same time, the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) has detained at least thirty Serb civilians and allegedly forced many others from their homes. As the conflict continues, abuses by the KLA seem to be increasing
Human Rights Watch recently completed a four-week fact-finding mission in Kosovo and Northern Albania. A detailed report will be published soon, but some of the preliminary findings include:
Powerful evidence that Serbian police forces summarily executed ethnic Albanians in the villages of Likosane and Cirez (Feb. 28-March 1), Prekaz (March 5-6), Poklek (May 31), and Ljubenic (May 30). Eyewitnesses report the rape of three women in Ljubenic.
The JNA and Serbian special police have fired on civilians fleeing their homes in the western region, including those attempting to cross the border into Albania. Helicopters marked with the red cross have shot at refugees near the Albanian border on at least two occasions in early June.
A large number of ethnic Albanians have been detained throughout Kosovo over the past two months. The precise number is impossible to determine because Serbian officials do not disclose the names or locations of those taken into custody. Doctor Hafir Shala has been missing since April 10, when he was taken into custody by the police near Slatina. Zahrida Podrimcaku, a local human rights activist, was arrested in Prishtina on June 8, one hour after speaking with a Human Rights Watch researcher, and charged with committing terrorist acts.
Access is still severely restricted in the western area of Kosovo for journalists and humanitarian aid organizations. Aside from blocking much needed food and medical supplies, restricted access prevents outside experts from investigating human rights violations, including allegations of a mass detention center in the Dekor company near Decan and a possible mass grave in the nearby forest.
The international community has issued strong statements but failed to apply the pressure that would convince President Slobodon Milosevic to stop his abusive campaign. With Serbian forces beginning what looks like a major offensive near Obilic, it is critical for the United States and the international community to exert strong and sustained pressure on the Yugoslav leadership. Non-military options include: the economic isolation of Milosevic and Yugoslavia's military establishment and full financial and logistical support for the War Crimes Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia, whose mandate covers Kosovo.
At the same time, the international community should condemn the increasing number of humanitarian law violations committed by the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA). Human Rights Watch has documented some violations, including detentions of and attacks on Serbian civilians, as well as the KLA siege of Kijevo, which effects civilians and other non-combatants in the town. Since Kosovo is an internal armed conflict, both government forces and the KLA are obliged to respect, at a minimum, the provisions of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which require that civilians and other protected persons be treated humanely, with specific prohibitions on murder, torture, or cruel, humiliating or degrading treatment.