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Kosovo/Albania: Investigate Alleged KLA Crimes

Credible Accusations of Disappearances, Executions, and Organ-Trafficking

(New York) - The United States and European governments should demand thorough and impartial criminal investigations in Kosovo and Albania into allegations of serious crimes by former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) members, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Albanian judiciary should conduct the investigation in Albania, while in Kosovo the European Union mission should take the lead, Human Rights Watch said.

A Council of Europe draft report alleging abductions, disappearances, executions, organ trafficking and other serious crimes coordinated by leading Kosovo politicians will go before the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly's legal affairs and human rights committee on December 16, 2010.

"The international community can no longer ignore credible allegations of serious crimes in Kosovo and Albania," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "The US and European governments must demand prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations, with prosecutions of those responsible."

The Council of Europe report prepared by Swiss Senator Dick Marty alleges an extensive criminal network in post-war Kosovo, in which, it claims, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci  played an important  role. Nearly 500 people have gone missing in Kosovo since the 1999 war, the draft report says.

According to the draft report, a group of former KLA members called the "Drenica group" are responsible for abductions, beatings, summary executions and, in some cases, the forced removal of human organs on the territory of Albania after the war ended on June 12, 1999. The victims were mostly Serbs and Roma from Kosovo but also ethnic Albanians suspected of having collaborated with the Serbian government before or during the 1998-1999 war, or members of rival armed groups.

The Kosovo government rejected the draft report yesterday as "despicable and bizarre actions by people with no moral credibility." Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha today called it "thoroughly unfounded in any fact, evidence or reality."

In Kosovo, the European Union's rule of law mission called EULEX must continue to take the lead in conducting the criminal investigations, Human Rights Watch said. EULEX includes international judges, prosecutors, and police officers and has a mandate to prosecute war crimes, terrorism, organized crime, corruption, and inter-ethnic crimes.

The Albanian government in Tirana should cooperate with EULEX and ensure its own justice system conducts an independent investigation into crimes committed on its territory. This includes into allegations of human organs being removed from executed prisoners in Albania and transported out of the airport near the capital, Tirana.

To date, the Albanian government has failed to ensure that any independent investigation takes place and has rejected detailed EULEX requests for cooperation, the report said.

"The US and European governments should give EULEX their full financial and political support so it can pursue these difficult investigations," said Roth. "And Washington and Brussels should make clear to the Kosovo and Albanian authorities that closer ties will depend on their commitment to justice."

The Council of Europe draft report highlights the ongoing issue of missing persons from the conflict and the lack of adequate international cooperation to address their fate, Human Rights Watch said. Approximately 1,900 people who went missing during the war are still not accounted for, the report said, about two-thirds of them ethnic Albanians. 

Four hundred and seventy people went missing after the 1999 war ended, and NATO troops had entered Kosovo. Ninety-five of these people are ethnic Albanians; the rest are non-ethnic Albanians, mostly Serbs.

The draft report's most gruesome allegation centers on organ trafficking. It claims that members of the KLA maintained an ad-hoc network of at least six detention facilities in northern Albania, where both Serbs and ethnic Albanian detainees from Kosovo were held. According to the draft report, one detention facility had a "state-of-the-art reception centre for the organized crime of organ trafficking" and a "handful" of prisoners were reportedly killed there for their kidneys.

The allegations of organ trafficking first arose publicly in 2008 in the memoirs of Carla del Ponte, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Human Rights Watch subsequently wrote in May of that year to Kosovo Prime Minister Thaci and Albanian Prime Minister Berisha to ask for an investigation into the fate of missing persons. Neither government replied.

The Council of Europe draft report suggested a connection between war-time organ trafficking and the case of alleged organ trafficking at a medical clinic in Pristina called Medicus that is currently before a Kosovo court. Seven men have been indicted by EULEX international prosecutors in that case. The draft report provided few details so as to avoid interfering in the EULEX prosecution.

Two additional indictees in the Medicus case, an Israeli, Moshe Harel, and a Turk, Yusuf Sonmez, are reportedly wanted by Interpol.

The Council of Europe draft report also raises questions about what the international community, and especially the US government, knew about serious post-war abuses and organized crime in Kosovo, Human Rights Watch said.

Since the end of the war in June 1999, Kosovo has seen a large presence of international organizations, first the United Nations and now the European Union, with NATO troops.

The US government led the military intervention against Yugoslavia on behalf of Kosovo Albanians in 1999 and has long supported the government in Pristina. US Vice President Joe Biden warmly received Thaci, the KLA's political head during the war, at the White House in July 2010.

The draft report notes that the international community has largely failed to investigate allegations of serious crimes by former KLA members. Instead, the report says, the UN, EU, and US government "favored a pragmatic political approach, taking the view that they needed to promote short-term stability at any price, thereby sacrificing some important principles of justice."

Human Rights Watch has long called on the local and international and local authorities in Kosovo to pursue war crimes and other serious crimes more aggressively, regardless of political and ethnic affiliation.

"This draft report does not alter the fact that, during the Kosovo war, many thousands of ethnic Albanian civilians lost their lives, and more than 1,000 remain missing," Roth said.  "But their suffering cannot justify tolerating additional crimes, either related to the war or organized crime."


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