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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal David Scheffer, Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues
On-the Record Briefing on Atrocities in Kosovo released by the Office of the Spokesman, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, April 9, 1999
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AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Thank you, Jim. Welcome. My purpose this afternoon is to provide a better understanding of the overall context in which the crimes unfolding in Kosovo have been and are being committed.

Briefly, I want to remind everyone here of our recent statements to this effect so that you can see the chronology of how we have been speaking of this within the last couple of weeks. On Friday, March 26th, the spokesman, Jamie Rubin, issued a statement, indicating at that time within day or two of the start of the bombing, that we are using national technical means to observe the activity on the ground with respect to possible atrocities; and that we put the Yugoslav Army and Ministry of Internal Affairs on notice that attacks are, indeed, being observed.

On Monday, March 29th, spokesman Rubin from this podium described what we concluded were ethnic cleansing, war crimes, crimes against humanity and indicators of genocide occurring in Kosovo. On Wednesday, April 7th, again, spokesman Rubin from this podium put named commanders of the VJ and the MUP, the police, on notice that we are extremely cognizant of what is occurring with the armed forces and the police on the ground. We know that they're undertaking criminal activity; and that the responsibility of command of those forces is with those named commanders. They have a duty under international law to prevent and punish the actions of their subordinates.

I think I can show you today six of the nine individuals -- photos of those individuals -- who were named by Jamie Rubin on Wednesday. I won't take your time to list through them all, but these are six of the nine that we're able to provide you with visual images of and obviously invite you to take some snapshots of that if you wish.

Also, on Wednesday, April 7th, my report of my trip to the region was released by the State Department, and that's now available on the State website. Finally, I need to note for all of you that the ethnic cleansing and KVM/KDOM reports issued through our facilities are also on the State website. So there's actually quite a bit out there that can be looked at for purposes of specific actions that we've observed and heard reports about on the ground.

Finally, I just want to remind everyone of prosecutor Louise Arbour's letter of March 26th to -- she addressed this letter to 13 top Yugoslav authorities, including President Milosevic. In that letter, she put them on notice that they are responsible in terms of command responsibility for the actions of their forces, their police on the ground in Kosovo; and that she is, in a sense, aggressively investigating those actions on the ground. She also publicly announced the indictment of Arcan on March 31st.

Now, we have sought to provide you what we can, in real time, of what we know from refugee interviews and other sources of information about the criminal actions being perpetrated in Kosovo. I want to place this afternoon those events in a larger context for you, particularly in terms of the criminal conduct of primarily the Serb military, paramilitary and police.

I want to start that context with a quick drop back to 1998, because the criminal conduct that we're concerned about stretches back to March of 1998. It intensified during May and early June of 1998. The Office of the Prosecutor of the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal affirmed its jurisdiction on March 10th of 1998, and again on June 12th of 1998, and again in July of 1998, to the Contact Group that it had jurisdiction over the events in Kosovo; and that those events constituted an internal armed conflict, which is the factual prerequisite for bringing indictments for crimes against humanity or violations of the laws and customs of war. The United States agreed with the prosecutor's statement to the Contact Group that Belgrade's attempt to deny the Tribunal's jurisdiction on grounds that Kosovo is a "police action" is simply wrong both in law and in fact.

In May of 1998, the United States provided $400,000 to the Yugoslav Tribunal to investigate Kosovo crimes. In late July, August, September and early October 1998, that assault on Kosovo by Serb military, paramilitary and police clearly established the pattern which has now been shown in a much more accelerated and intensified manner in the last few weeks. During that period in 1998, KDOM and NGOs were actually on the ground to report the pattern as it unfolded.

I, myself, reported in September of 1998 that actions by Serb authorities in Kosovo have resulted in widespread burning of settlements, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians and the deaths of many innocent civilians and humanitarian aid workers; and that we concluded serious violations of international humanitarian law were occurring.

Quickly listing those, we saw a scorched earth policy unfolding. We saw over one-third of the villages being damaged. At least an estimated 4,000 houses were severely damaged or destroyed during that period. At least 59 town sustained 50 percent or more damage. There was crop burning, the slaughter of livestock. The level of destruction in September of 1998 rose dramatically. Serb forces also delayed relief convoys, conducted protracted shelling of targets in areas of no military necessity, forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Kosovars. Then in November, I visited Kosovo, saw the destruction myself, as well as recent killings.

We concluded that these attacks served no military objective; and that that points toward the kind of activity prohibited under well established customary international law. The conduct of last year demonstrated a clear capacity and intent on the part of the Yugoslav authorities to commit war crime and crimes against humanity against the Kosovar Albanians. We need to remember this when we examine the ferocity with which similar actions have been undertaken in the last few weeks.

The pattern was established in 1998. Indeed, one might consider what happened in 1998, as a practice run for what was unleashed with remarkable speed and thoroughness in the last few weeks. Milosevic and the Serb leadership are trying to bring to closure what they began in 1998.

Now, the events of the last few weeks exceed in magnitude and ferocity all that occurred in 1998. Without question Serb assaults on the civilian population of Kosovo are widespread and systematic. Let me point you to the definition as provided in the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal Statute of crimes against humanity. That definition is not very hard to understand:

"Persons can be prosecuted -- those who are responsible for the following crimes when committed in armed conflict, whether international or internal in character, and directed against any civilian population. It includes: murder; extermination; enslavement; deportation; imprisonment; torture; rape; persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds and other inhumane acts."

Many of these crimes are being committed in Kosovo. There are also clear violations of the Geneva Conventions and of the Laws and Customs of War. In particular, I would point you to destruction of civilian property as a major factor.

A consistent pattern of reports from refugees and other sources of information indicates that Serb forces have been responsible for criminal violations of international humanitarian law throughout much of Kosovo. These violations include -- first, forced expulsion of large segments of the ethnic Albanian population on a scale not seen in Europe since World War II. Serb forces are systematically expelling ethnic Albanians from both villages and the larger towns of Kosovo, including from many places that had not been scene of any previous UCK or KLA activity or fighting. At least 800,000 Kosovars probably are internally displaced.

At this time, I would like to point to the map the my colleague, Pierre Prosper, is putting up. This ethnographic map shows you about 20 sites, which are the blue triangular sites, that we have been able to locate internally displaced sites of significant magnitude. Also on this point -- also on this map, I'd like to point out that it's interesting if you -- and this will pertain both to what I'll be talking about in a minute which are the yellow dots that the destruction of towns, as well as the internally displaced sites which are the blue triangles -- you'll notice that eastern Kosovo, as well as the very northeastern quadrant of Kosovo, as well as these two areas here, are generally devoid of either destruction or internally displaced persons. You'll notice that those are areas where there is a relatively small percentage of Kosovo Albanians in residence.

So the dramatic, I think, feature of this map is the systematic character of going after the Kosovar Albanian areas of Kosovo without much appreciable damage or internally displaced populations from those areas that are largely populated by Serbs.

Now, under this issue of forced expulsions, I can give you some details if you wish of more details about that particular violation, but it does include forced removal of Albanians from their homes at gun point; destruction of all official and identifying documents; cramming of Albanians into trains; infliction of unsanitary conditions on the trains, et cetera.

The second major category, I would describe as detention and summary execution of military-aged men and mass executions. Refugees have provided accounts of summary executions in at least 50 towns and villages throughout Kosovo. Some accounts refer to large numbers of Kosovars being killed in apparent massacres. At least one report appears to have been corroborated. The summary executions of approximately 100 men at Velika Kruska. The bodies of some 70 ethnic Albanians ranging in age from 14 to 50 were discovered by internally displaced persons on April 1st.

Now some of the details are killings of intellectuals and leaders; separating fighting-aged men from the group; killing of fighting-aged men; causing of serious bodily harm; and mass executions.

Now the third major category brings us to burning and destruction of civilian homes and villages. This brings us back to this map. The yellow dots, we've been able to confirm with overhead imagery, are villages and towns that have been torched or otherwise destroyed by gunfire during this most recent conflict. You can see the large number. We have counted about 220 sites indicated on this map. But as of today, we've counted 250. It is a dynamic number that continues to rise.

I'd like to show you just a couple of photographs, imagery. This is damage to buildings. This graphic illustrates systematic destruction of a neighborhood around a mosque in Grejkovce. The mosque is also heavily damaged -- and that's located right here -- but you can actually still see the smoke rising from the burned area of the town. The next image is a damage to buildings in Kosovska Mitrovica, and the graph illustrates before and after imagery of the systematic destruction of residential homes at that location. The homes are on the edge of a village. They were originally built of concrete and stone.

Of course, you'll notice here the absence of any battle damage, any cratering or any damage to any of the land around these homes. Clearly, it's not a battle scene. These homes would have appeared to have been simply because of the nature of the occupancy of those homes.

I believe there's one other photo or image that we did not get up during my reference to internally displaced persons, but it's a very interesting one. Let's go back to IDPs for a moment because I want to describe this to you. This graphic illustrates numerous tents and campsites in central Kosovo. Some of the many sites located throughout five valleys within the Laupusnik Mountain range, sheltering tens of thousands of IDPs. This is actually a more narrow shot of what is present in the larger area. These IDPs stretch throughout this valley. They're without permanent shelter. What you are seeing are some of their vehicles, tents, et cetera that they have been able to bring with them. They are exposed in this area. Typically, one can discern VJ or police who are in the area around these IDPs and placing them at obvious risk.

With respect to the destruction of civilian property, the third category that I pointed to you, I just want to point to what we believe we have incontrovertible evidence of the burning of residential areas in most of the larger towns and cities of Kosovo and in many of the villages, i.e., those areas of Kosovo that I outlined on the map that I showed you earlier.

Now, if you take the totality of this information that we have acquired so far, we believe that it creates the basis for stating that there are indicators of genocide unfolding in Kosovo. Now, some questions have been raised recently about the provision of evidence to the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal. Let me confirm to you that we are providing information as quickly as we possibly can to the Yugoslav Tribunal during a period of very dynamic action on the ground.

The procedures that were established several years ago were procedures that related typically to events that had occurred some time in the past. Therefore, there was a very methodical procedure of cataloging and providing that information to the Yugoslav Tribunal. Under these circumstances, with a situation that is happening so quickly, we have accelerated those procedures, and we are starting to flow that information to the Tribunal as quickly as you can.

I have spoken directly with the deputy prosecutor, Graham Bluett. I've spoken with the chief of investigations to confirm to them and to obtain their confirmation that this information is starting to come in, in real time, and as quickly as we can possibly get it to them. But we do need to follow the necessary provisions under Rule 70 and other procedures to provide information to the Tribunal, and they understand that.

I would also like to say that the United States Government, as part of its contribution to the Kosovo Verification Mission, is assisting in the collection of information for the Tribunal in the field with respect to interviews with refugees. We thus have people on the ground doing those interviews. Their interviews are being given to the Tribunal -- the records of those interviews.

The Tribunal, in my opinion, seems fully committed to a vigorous investigation of the events in Kosovo. I have just recently confirmed that with the officials of the Tribunal to my satisfaction. So with that I think I will leave the formal briefing. Jim, how would you like to proceed?

QUESTION: There are so many questions that could and should be asked. So let me try to just ask one or two. When you hold these commanders up as potentially responsible -- the nine -- is it based on them giving orders or setting a climate, an atmosphere, permissive? Do they actually tell the troops to go out and kill civilians? I ask that for a purpose, because then how and why don't you bring your same accusation against Milosevic, who is the ultimate commander? Why do you stop short? I ask this against the back-drop of a government that made a big fuss over Bosnia and the major accused are still free in Bosnia. So your track record suggests some lack of resolve once the firing stops.

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: No, I would beg to differ, Barry. The answer is really quite simple. On March 26th, Prosecutor Arbour named Milosevic directly in her communication to not only Milosevic but the 12 other top leaders of the government in Belgrade. We firmly support what she did. We look primarily to the prosecutor of the Tribunal to take actions of this character.

So therefore, what I can confirm to you is that we found Prosecutor's Arbour's communication on March 26th to be an entirely appropriate communication by the prosecutor of the Tribunal, alerting Mr. Milosevic and other leaders of exactly the points that we then found it useful to alert the Kosovo-level commanders of precisely the same points.

QUESTION: So is it the U.S. Government view that Milosevic is potentially guilty of war crimes?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: President Milosevic has political responsibility for the conduct of these forces. Let me just say this --

QUESTION: Political sounds like a cop-out.

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: No, there's nothing contradictory here, Barry. Neither these commanders that we've identified, nor Mr. Milosevic, nor anyone else is being fingered by the United States Government for criminal responsibility as individuals. That's the job of the prosecutor. We have not identified these individuals as anything other than commanders of forces that we believe are committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kosovo.

So therefore, we're simply stating the facts. These guys are commanders. Under the laws of war, they have command responsibility. We've stated very clearly that the responsibility for what takes places in Kosovo does stretch back to Belgrade and to the leadership in Belgrade.

QUESTION: Isn't that tantamount to an accusation?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Not at all. The job of indicating someone for criminal culpability is the job of the prosecutor --

QUESTION: But that's an indictment. I mean, anyone can accuse anyone of anything else. That doesn't take a Tribunal to do that.

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: But we're not accusing anyone in any of these statements.

QUESTION: Why not, though?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Why should we? That's the job of the prosecutor.

QUESTION: But -- well, the prosecutor's job is to take an accusation and turn it into an indictment --

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Look, from 1993, we've strongly supported the establishment of an international criminal tribunal for Yugoslavia, whose job and responsibility is to do precisely that, to investigate, draw up indictments and prosecute. That is not the job of the United States Government.

QUESTION: Why is it taking so long? I mean, Milosevic's track record -- as the Secretary of State herself has said -- is long and quite demonstrable. Why is there not an indictment today?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Prosecutor Arbour has actually answered that many times on the public record. I think if you look at her public statements, we would be very understanding and supportive of what she has said publicly about this. She will undertake investigations as she sees fit in the most professional manner possible. We have a very high degree in confidence in how she is actually conducting her investigations.

QUESTION: Can I just follow-up? Your statements were quite dramatic in its indictment of the Serb forces for a pattern of abuses. It seems to me that if it is quite so certain that a year ago we saw what is now a practice run for this -- what's going on now and -- I mean, aren't your words also an indictment of the international community for not acting sooner?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Absolutely not. The United States Government in early August initiated discussions and actions within NATO that resulted in an ACTORD in early October to respond to what was occurring on the ground. So it wasn't as if we were sitting aside and not reacting to the criminal activity that was occurring on the ground. We were reacting to it.

We also -- in terms of the judicial side of the matter -- the investigative side, in May of 1998, we were the first country to commit a very large, voluntary contribution to the Yugoslav Tribunal to initiate Kosovo investigations -- exclusively Kosovo investigations. We have been at the forefront of the international community in encouraging the Tribunal to continue to focus on Kosovo. So I don't see us not acting. In fact, I see us acting.

QUESTION: Well, I'm not saying that the United States didn't act. I mean, obviously, you have been at the forefront of a lot that's gone on. But on the other hand, the international community did not seriously move with military action to try to stop this -- the Serb offensive in Kosovo until now.

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Well, I will leave actually to others to comment more broadly on your point. I would only say that I have a great deal of confidence in how our government acted in 1998 to respond as quickly as we could to these actions, both in terms of our engagement with NATO and in terms of our effort to get talks underway with President Milosevic.

QUESTION: You said -- in preface to your remarks -- that the conduct last year demonstrated a clear capacity and intent. How does that fit in with the Administration's line in the last several weeks that they were surprised at how quickly this unfolded and how ferociously the acts are committed on the ground?

If you all were so clearly aware of the capacity and the intent, how was it that you were surprised when this actually came out?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: No, the intent that I was describing for 1998 was not some specific intent that in March and April of 1999 within a two-week period he would sweep through Kosovo with this kind of ferocity. But I think that what was demonstrated in 1998 is that the Serb authorities clearly demonstrated a will and a capacity to assault the civilian population of Kosovo in an egregious and criminal character. But it is true that no one could have predicted -- I think -- with a great deal of accuracy that within a two-week period he would have unleashed his army with this kind of ferocity.

QUESTION: Ambassador Scheffer, given what you said earlier following up on that, why couldn't they predict? Wouldn't there be human intelligence on the ground? I mean, this isn't North Korea; it isn't Iraq. Why wouldn't you know he would be doing something like this?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Well, all I will say is this, that I, myself, recognized before March 24th and 25th when the bombing began that the massing of the forces and the village by village decimation that was going on by units of the Yugoslav Army and police that were coming into Kosovo, clearly started to demonstrate to me that the horror of 1998 was starting to be repeated.

Now if we had not launched that bombing campaign, I have every degree of confidence that we would have seen the sweep occur anyway.

QUESTION: But not on that, but just that element -- were you surprised or not surprised by what has taken place?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: I don't understand why the issue of surprise is so pertinent to everyone. The fact is it happened, and we're trying to respond to it happening. It's just hindsight analysis.

QUESTION: I want to go back to the role the US is playing with the tribunal. If it's not the US role to investigate, how is it exactly that you've been able to come up with these nine names? I mean, surely that takes investigation, so the US has been doing some investigation. You've gone there yourself and interviewed these people. So I don't understand why the US is not in a position to directly accuse whoever it wants or whoever it thinks is doing this stuff to the Tribunal.

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: It's the job ofd the prosecutor to investigate precisely an individual's relationship to criminal activity. We can provide the prosecutor with a great deal of information. It is not the job of the United States Government to make that determination. It is the job of the prosecutor, looking at the evidence, to make that determination.

What we can do is set the context for the prosecutor by ourselves as a government, concluding that the facts on the ground clearly demonstrate criminal activity. We can point to who commands these forces, but then we leave it to the prosecutor to actually arrive at determinations that would results in indictments.

QUESTION: The Pentagon, today, talked about an incident in which Serb forces gathered women at Dakovica barracks and apparently raped them and killed them. Do you know anything about that?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: I really don't. I've only heard the report. I know nothing further than what has been reported and as you have stated it.

QUESTION: Can you give us a breakdown of percentage -- the map that you had up there earlier -- the villages burning -- what percentage of villages, what percentages of the towns; and also, displacement internally and externally, just a bigger picture of that.

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: We're trying to determine that percentage as you speak. We don't have it yet because there's so much coming in. All I know is with what percentage we had in September of 1998, and I, myself, will be interested to compare now what percentage. We know it's much greater. We just don't actually know what that percentage is. In terms of -- did you ask for percentages of IDPs, was that it?

QUESTION: Yes.

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: I actually don't have the figure, other than the IDP number -- I just don't have it for you. I just know it's in the hundreds of thousands. What percentage that is of the Kosovo population, which was 1.7 million the last time I heard, we're looking at about 330-340,000 IDPs that we're guestimating at this time.

QUESTION: Refugees -- I mean I heard a figure earlier of 1.1 million?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Yes, there the numbers reached to a million or so, but I would leave that to others in this building to get you the exact figures on those.

QUESTION: Also, one other thing, you mentioned that you're now getting this information -- I think you were referring to villages burning or whatever -- real time, so you can actually -- can you explain that a little more?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Well, we're using, obviously, national technical means. I can't go into any details of that, other than to say within the last couple of weeks, we've been able to determine with a great deal of accuracy, what's burning.

QUESTION: I'm sorry you said 330-340 in internally displaced -- because I thought earlier you said 800,000?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: No. That's a total number -- well, can we have someone else check those figures, Jim, because 800,000 is a total internally displaced in their totality in this conflict.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit -- you had the map earlier with the blue triangles, and you made the point how you didn't see some of this destruction and expulsion activities in places where there aren't ethnic Albanians. The stated goal of the Serbian forces is to go after the KLA, which some officials have called a terrorist organization. To what degree is the discrepancy between the areas where there are expulsions and the areas that you pointed out that weren't expulsions a factor of where the KLA is? Wouldn't one think that the KLA would be dispersed within the ethnic Albanian populations as opposed to the Serbian populations of Kosovo?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: I think all I will say on that is there's an enormous number of non-KLA civilians living in these areas. What we've noticed both in August and September as well as in this campaign is that villages are being destroyed long after we've seen any indication of KLA activity anywhere near that village. It's very much long after their presence, that the destruction is actually taking place. In fact, in some of the extreme areas in the north and in the south, where there has never been any record of KLA activity, the villages are being torched anyway.

QUESTION: In your opinion, is it fair to say that the sweep of the VJ and the MUP that began with the bombing was primarily undertaken uproot ethnic Albanians, as opposed to targeting the KLA? Is that their primary intention?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: I don't see how you can reach any other conclusion. When you assault a civilian population with this severity and so systematically -- as I described in my April 7th report -- that is not a military action against a guerrilla force. That is an assault, wholesale on a civilian population. I can't think of a better example of it, frankly, than what has unfolded in Kosovo in the last two weeks.

MR. FOLEY: Other questions?

QUESTION: What indication do you have about the extent of the planning of this sweep that existed, you know, right prior to the bombings? Does this seem to you something that was meticulously planned weeks or months in advance?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: I don't care to comment on that other than to say if you look at how it has unfolded on the ground, it's very, very difficult -- if not impossible -- to conclude that what happened on the ground was anything other than planned. This was not a spontaneous action -- village-by-village. It was a sweep. In fact, within villages and towns, it was neighborhood by neighborhood. I, for one, don't see how that could happen without it having been planned and pursuant to a policy.

QUESTION: How much does that make a difference -- the extent of the planning in terms of the severity of possible charges -- possible charges that could come against?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Let's just say that obviously, if you can demonstrate a well thought out plan that has an intent behind it, then -that's why we point to indicators of genocide. But I want to emphasize that regardless, you can have a very well planned campaign of crimes against humanity, and there is no question that that's what's unfolded in Kosovo.

QUESTION: Do you have any estimates, how many ethnic Albanians have been killed? I though before the international observers were forced to leave that the number was about 2,000. I wonder if you have any estimates now?

AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: That was the number that really rose from 1998, when we actually had monitors on the ground and were able to keep a far more accurate count. I think it would be very problematic to speculate at this time on a number. It simply -- I fear -- would be too low if I did speculate. I think we have to wait to find what the death count is.

QUESTION: Thank you.

[end of text]

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