Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo: An Accounting
|U.S. State Department Report December 1999|
The following is a general account of atrocities committed by Serbian forces against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo primarily between March 1999 and late June 1999. Most of the information is compiled from victims and witness accounts provided to KFOR, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and other international organizations, supplemented by diplomatic and other reporting available as of early November 1999.
Since the signing of the military withdrawal agreement and departure of Serbian forces from Kosovo, earlier reports of Serbian war crimes in Kosovo, including the detention and summary execution of military-aged men and the destruction of civilian housing, have been confirmed by journalists and international organizations. According to press reports, Serbian troops and militias continued to rape women, loot property, burn homes and mosques, and murder Kosovar Albanians while withdrawing from Kosovo. Since the Serbian withdrawal, virtually all Kosovar Albanian survivors have returned to their villages and towns. However, there has also been a mass exodus of Serbian civilians who--despite KFOR efforts to protect them--are fearful of retribution from returning Kosovar Albanians and the influence of former members of the UCK. KFOR troops have intervened on numerous occasions to prevent further violence in Kosovo.
War crime investigators and forensic teams from a number of countries and staff of the ICTY have begun investigating the numerous sites of mass graves and mass executions in Kosovo. KFOR has established security at many of the locations of alleged atrocities and requested returning family members not to disturb the potential evidence at any of the sites. Many family members choose to rebury their relatives without waiting for forensic investigations, however.
Kosovar Albanians have reported mass executions and mass graves at about 500 sites in the province. As of early November 1999, the ICTY has conducted site investigations at about 200 of these and has confirmed finding bodies at over 160 of the sites. Numerous accounts indicate that Serbian forces took steps to destroy forensic evidence of their crimes. This included execution methods that would allow the Serbs to claim their victims were collateral casualties of military operations, and burning or otherwise disposing of bodies. Over 2,100 bodies have been found by the ICTY among the some 200 atrocity sites that have been field investigated so far. However, the total number of bodies reported to the ICTY at over 500 gravesites is more than 11,000. If the pattern established among these 200 sites holds for all of the remaining sites--claimed by all sources--that have yet to be field investigated, we would expect the total number of bodies to be found at the known gravesites to be over 6,000. To this total must be added three important categories of victims: (1) those buried in mass graves whose locations are unknown, (2) what the ICTY reports is a significant number of sites where the precise number of bodies cannot be counted, and (3) victims whose bodies were burned or destroyed by Serbian forces. Press reporting and eyewitness accounts provide credible details of a program of destruction of evidence by Serbian forces throughout Kosovo and even in Serbia proper. The number of victims whose bodies have been burned or destroyed may never be known, but enough evidence has emerged to conclude that probably around 10,000 Kosovar Albanians were killed by Serbian forces.
As a result of Serbian efforts to expel the ethnic Albanian majority from Kosovo, almost one million Kosovar Albanians left the province after Serbian forces launched their first security crackdown in March 1998, with most having fled after March 1999. Based on the scope and intensity of Serbian activities throughout the province, as many as 500,000 additional Kosovars appear to have been internally displaced. In sum, about 1.5 million Kosovar Albanians (at least 90 percent of the estimated 1998 Kosovar Albanian population of the province) were forcibly expelled from their homes. Virtually all Kosovar Albanians who desired to return to Kosovo have done so at this time.
Thousands of homes in at least 1,200 cities, towns, and villages were damaged or destroyed. Victims report that Serbian forces harassed them with forced extortion and beatings, and that some were strafed by Serbian aircraft. Reports of organized rape of ethnic Albanian women by Serbian security forces during the conflict continue to be received. According to the victims, Serbian forces conducted systematic rapes in Djakovica, and at the Karagac and Metohia hotels in Pec.
With the return of international organizations to Kosovo in late June 1999, an unambiguous picture has unfolded, showing the scope and intensity of the ethnic cleansing campaign waged in the province.
Refugees have reported that Serbian forces systematically separated military-aged ethnic Albanian men--ranging from as young as age 14 years to 59 years old--from the population as they expelled the Kosovar Albanians from their homes. An exact accounting of the number of men killed is impossible because of Serbian efforts to destroy bodies of their victims, but clearly it includes civilians, combatants who were killed while prisoners of war as defined under the laws of armed conflict, and combatants killed while participating in hostilities. Forensic investigations will provide some, but not all, of the answers as to the relative proportions of each category.