(Pristina, Kosovo) - Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his inner circle of political and military leaders are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Kosovo, Human Rights Watch said today, three days before Milosevic's next hearing at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
The 593-page report released today, "Under Orders: War Crimes in Kosovo," uses innovative statistical methods and comprehensive field research to document the torture, killings, rapes, and forced expulsions committed by forces under Milosevic's command against Kosovar Albanians between March 24 and June 12, 1999, the period of NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia. More than 600 victims and witnesses of atrocities were interviewed for the report.
"This report implicates the former leadership of Serbia and Yugoslavia in numerous atrocities," said Elizabeth Andersen, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "The 1999 Kosovo campaign was clearly coordinated from the top, and some of these people still hold important positions today."
War crimes committed by Serbian and Yugoslav security forces did not occur in isolation, the Human Rights Watch report says. Three chapters of the report document abuses committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army, which abducted and murdered civilians during and after the war, as well as violations by NATO, which failed to minimize civilian casualties during its bombing of Yugoslavia. A background chapter analyzes Kosovo's recent history and the international community's failure to stop what is dubbed a "predictable conflict."
"For a decade the international community tolerated human rights abuses in Kosovo in the name of regional stability," Andersen said. "This report stresses the importance of promoting human rights before a conflict erupts, as well as accountability for past abuses to halt the cycle of violence."
"Under Orders" breaks new ground in the depth and breadth of its documentation, including detailed case studies of dozens of villages, a statistical analysis of the abuses, photographs of perpetrators, a strategic overview of the Belgrade government's offensive, and the organizational structure of the Serbian police and Yugoslav army, both controlled by Milosevic.
A statistical analysis of executions in Kosovo, prepared in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), reveals the coordinated nature of the offensive. Three distinct waves of killings suggest the executions were not the result of random violence by government forces. Rather, "they were carefully planned and implemented operations that fit into the [Belgrade] government's strategic aims," the report concludes.
Witness and survivor testimonies in village after village describe how Serbian and Yugoslav troops systematically burned homes, looted businesses, expelled civilians, and murdered those suspected of participating in or harboring the KLA, including some women and children. At some sites, witnesses reported that bodies were removed to conceal the crimes. This cover-up was apparently confirmed in 2001, when seven mass graves were discovered in Serbia proper containing the bodies of Kosovar Albanians.
Rape and sexual violence were also components of the campaign, the report says, used to terrorize the civilian population, extort money from families, and push people to flee their homes. Human Rights Watch documented ninety-six cases of rape and sexual assault in Kosovo, although the total number of sexual assaults is certainly much higher. Human Rights Watch has urged the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to include rape charges in the indictment against Milosevic.
A chapter entitled "Forces of the Conflict" details the various government troops involved in the conflict, as well as key members of the KLA. Important commanders in the Serbian police and Yugoslav Army, all listed in organizational diagrams, include:
- Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, former Chief of the Yugoslav Army General Staff
- Col. Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic, former head of the Yugoslav Army's Third Army
- Maj. Gen. Vladimir Lazarevic, former head of the Third Army's Pristina Corps
- Vlajko Stojiljkovic, former Serbian Minister of Internal Affairs
- Col. Gen. Radomir Markovic, former head of Serbia's state security service (SDB)
- Col. Sreten Lukic, former head of Serbian police in Kosovo
- Col. Gen. Vlastimir Djordjevic, former head of Serbia's public security service (RJB)
- Lt. Gen. Obrad Stevanovic, former head of Serbia's police department
Despite his direct involvement in the 1999 campaign, Nebojsa Pavkovic is currently chief of the Yugoslav Army General Staff. Sreten Lukic is currently chief of public security in the Serbian police. Ojdanic and Stojiljkovic, both indicted by the ICTY for crimes in Kosovo, are still at large, as are two other Kosovo-related indictees, Nikola Sainovic, former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister, and Milan Milutinovic, still the President of Serbia.
The report also documents violations by NATO and the KLA. NATO bombs killed approximately 500 Yugoslav civilians between March and June 1999, and NATO did not take adequate steps to minimize this number, the report concludes. NATO's use of cluster bombs, although halted in the course of the conflict, is also criticized in the report.
Human Rights Watch also charged the KLA with committing serious abuses in 1998, in the course of fighting that led up to the NATO bombing. KLA abuses during this period included abductions and murders of Serbs and ethnic Albanians considered collaborators with the state. Elements of the KLA are also responsible for post-conflict attacks on Serbs, Roma, and other non-Albanians, as well as ethnic Albanian political rivals.
As many as one thousand Serbs and Roma have been murdered or have gone missing since NATO bombing ceased on June 12, 1999. Criminal gangs or vengeful individuals may have been involved in some incidents since the war, but KLA members are clearly responsible for many of these crimes. By late-2000 more than 210,000 Serbs had fled Kosovo; most of them left in the first six weeks of the NATO deployment. Those who remain are concentrated in mono-ethnic enclaves.
The international community's slow response after the bombing campaign is partially to blame for the post-war violence, the report concludes. The United Nations and NATO failed to take decisive action from the outset to curb the forced displacement and killings of Kosovo's non-ethnic Albanian population, which set a precedent for the post-war period. Two years after the war, a functioning judiciary system has not been established and an atmosphere of impunity persists.
The report welcomes Milosevic's April 2001 arrest and his subsequent transfer to the ICTY. But Human Rights Watch urged further action by the Serbian authorities and the international community to hold accountable all those responsible for crimes committed during the war in Kosovo, as well as during the wars in other parts of the former Yugoslavia.
"Holding Milosevic accountable is a first step," Andersen said. "But he is only one on a long list."