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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Harold Hongju Koh, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; David Scheffer, Ambassador-At-Large for War Crimes Issues; and James F. Dobbins, Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State for Kosovo and Dayton Implementation
Briefing on the State Department's Report
Ethnic Cleansing In Kosovo: An Accounting
Washington, DC, December 9, 1999

Mr. Foley: As part of the overall U.S. Government effort to fully document the scope of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and highlight the plight of its victims, the State Department today has released the report, Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo, an Accounting. The report provides the location and details of approximately 500 towns where atrocities occurred until NATO's arrival in Kosovo and describes other nongovernmental organization efforts to document these violations and notes the more recent problems of retribution against Kosovar Serbs and the question of missing persons.

In releasing this report, we wish to highlight the extensive contributions of international organizations and NGOs to documenting what happened in Kosovo prior to and during NATO's air campaign. In particular, we commend the OSCE for releasing on December 6 its own extensive reports on human rights violations in Kosovo. The United States provided financial and political support for those reports.

Our report today in many ways complements the data provided by the OSCE human rights monitors. We would stress though that our information is not complete. By working together over time, we hope to provide a comprehensive overview of abuses perpetrated against Kosovars of all ethnicities.

Today, we have three distinguished speakers for you. We will first have Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Harold Koh, who is going to address the report itself; Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues David Scheffer will discuss the implications of what the report describes for our war crimes policy; and, finally, Ambassador Jim Dobbins, who is the Special Advisor to the President and Secretary Albright for Kosovo and Dayton Implementation, will discuss the implications of this report for Kosovo policy and take your questions.

So, without further ado, Assistant Secretary Koh.

Assistant Secretary Koh: Thank you.

Since February, we have all been witnesses to a brutal historical episode, the largest mass expulsion of people in Europe since the 1940s, the killing of thousands in a premeditated campaign of looting, burning and forced detentions.

When such a campaign of atrocities unfolds before our eyes, it is sometimes hard to fathom all of its facets. The report that we are releasing today, Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo, an Accounting, seeks to lay out in one place what we know about ethnic cleansing that occurred in Kosovo before NATO arrived in June of this year. This report, which has been prepared by the Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, my bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and the Office of War Crimes Issues, follows and builds upon an earlier State Department report by the same offices that was issued on May 10th, entitled Erasing History, Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo.

Together, the two State Department reports provide what data we have on ten broad categories of human rights violations that are listed on the cover: forced expulsions, looting, burning, detentions, use of human shields, summary executions, exhumation of mass graves, systematic and organized rape, violations of medical neutrality and a new type of ethnic cleansing, identity cleansing.

The reports seek to provide a comprehensive assessment of the scale and intensity of human rights and humanitarian law violations that occurred in Kosovo this past year. This second chapter in our effort to document ethnic cleansing in Kosovo should not be read in isolation but together with the contribution of many other nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations who have sought to document human rights violations in Kosovo. As Mr. Foley said, notable among these efforts have been the work of the OSCE which recently released two important documents addressing human rights violations both before and after NATO and the UN arrived on the scene. Executive summaries of both documents are available in the press office after the briefing.

We are proud to have provided the political and financial support to help make the OSCE reports a reality, and I also want to thank the essential contributions of numerous courageous nongovernmental organizations who have joined the effort to document what happened in Kosovo. The first function of human rights reporting is truth telling but human rights reporting is only part of the unfinished human rights business in Kosovo and Serbia as a whole.

As important as what we have learned is what we still do not know. Five months after the UN and NATO arrived in Kosovo, we are still piecing together what is undeniably a widespread and systematic attempt to cleanse Kosovo of much of its Kosovar Albanian population. As I speak, the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague has only exhumed about 200 out of 500 known crime scenes. This does not include the unknown, the uncountable and the destroyed - those buried in mass graves that are currently unknown, those that cannot be counted and those whose bodies were destroyed as Serbian military police and paramilitary forces destroyed evidence of their crimes.

Finally, it is our hope that this report will serve not just to disclose what we know but also to help answer the questions of families of missing persons in Kosovo about the whereabouts of their loved ones. At least 2,000 ethnic Albanians are reportedly still being held in Serbian detention facilities, some without charge. The United States calls upon Belgrade to account for and unconditionally return detained Albanians to their families in Kosovo.

Finally, the sheer scope of atrocities by Serb forces against ethnic Albanians has created bitter anger and resentment. The return of ethnic Albanians to Kosovo unleashed a wave of violent acts of retribution against the remaining Serbian population, which has been documented by the OSCE and others. It is our hope that the facts, questions and issues raised in this report can help to build the undisputed history that is necessary to prompt future inquiry, to promote accountability, to facilitate reconciliation and to spur a fuller discussion of the Kosovo conflict within Serbia itself.

Thank you.

Ambassador Scheffer: Let me address three key points in the report. First, we know Serbian forces made many efforts in Kosovo to destroy evidence of their crimes against humanity and war crimes. We expected this based on the well-orchestrated efforts by Bosnian Serb authorities in 1995 to conceal or destroy much of the evidence of the 7,000 men killed at Srebrenica. The efforts by Serbian forces to destroy evidence of their crimes in Kosovo in 1999 came as no surprise to us and we were prepared.

We determined we would try where possible to track and document the effort by Serbian forces to conceal their mass killings in Kosovo. In the several cases where we had unequivocal evidence of a mass burial site, as happened at Izbica, Pusto Selo and east of Glogovac, we made that imagery public. In the case of Izbica, for example, the 140 men and one woman that were buried at Izbica do not show up on the ICTY's list of confirmed mass graves but no one doubts their existence.

In addition to visual evidence, the US Government also tracked reports from refugees and other sources that pointed to a systematic campaign by Serbian forces to burn, destroy or otherwise conceal the extent of the killings in Kosovo. In many cases, the victims bodies were burned near where they died. In other cases, the burning, destruction or re-burial occurred on a wholesale scale, with bodies being shipped by truck away from the area where they were killed or first buried.

The second point I would like to make concerns the efforts by revisionists to suggest that the number of Kosovar Albanians killed was overstated. In the last few weeks, a number of scholars and historians have thoroughly debunked the revisionists. The number of actual whole bodies reported in the press tells only part of the story for three reasons. First, the Yugoslav tribunal's figure does not include graves that were not reported to the Yugoslav tribunal. Some grave sites will probably never be found.

Second, the Yugoslav tribunal reports a significant number of sites where they said the precise number of bodies found could not be counted or where there were credible evidence of tampering or destruction of evidence.

Third, there are the additional victims whose bodies were burned or destroyed by Serbian forces without being buried. All this tells us that we will never know the full extent of Kosovar Albanian victims of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Our best estimate is that the number of Kosovar Albanians killed is on the order of magnitude of 10,000. We may revise this as more is learned.

The third point I would like to make is that the data in the Yugoslav tribunal prosecutor's report show that the number of bodies found by the tribunal's investigations was reasonably close to the number of bodies reported by refugees in 108 out of the 134 sites. Based on what the prosecutor reported in November, we can say that four out of five Kosovar refugee reports of the number of bodies in mass graves turned out to have been correct.

In sum, today's report gives more details in the picture of Serbian forces' ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the judicial authorities of Kosovo deserve our continued support for their essential work to bring those responsible to justice.

Thank you.

Ambassador Dobbins: As Harold indicated, today's report that is being released by the State Department has to be seen in the context of the other two reports which were released by the OSCE earlier this week. It's clear that the international community is facing an ongoing challenge of ethnic violence in Kosovo. It's equally clear that the efforts of NATO and the United Nations have dramatically but not adequately or acceptably reduced the level of this violence.

From March to July of this year, as Harold and David have both indicated, some 10,000 Albanian Kosovars were murdered by Serbian military, paramilitary or police forces.

Another way of judging the scale of this is to look at how it affected the Albanian Kosovars still living in Kosovo, and a recent opinion poll indicates that 85 percent of the current population of Kosovo were touched in one way or another by this tragedy; that 82 percent of them were forced out of their homes; that 66 percent of them had their homes destroyed or damaged; that 19 percent of them had a family member murdered or injured. So that gives you a sense of the scale of the tragedy as it affected those who survived it.

It's natural that the current focus is on the ethnic violence which continues to take place in Kosovo as a result of the ethnic tensions which are - and the dimensions of this are spelled out in the OSCE report which was released this week. It's somewhat frustrating that attention has shifted from the massive damage which occurred earlier in the year as the result of Serbian armed forces, paramilitaries and police, but it's also natural. That is a problem that we have effectively solved, and the problem of ongoing violence against Serb civilians in Kosovo is a problem which we have reduced and brought under control, but not solved.

Let me just speak briefly about what we're doing about it, and by "we" here I mean the international community. KFOR has 42,000 soldiers deployed in peacekeeping activities in Kosovo, of which 8,300 are American. The United Nations has a staff of 3,000 deployed in Kosovo. In addition to that civilian staff, the United Nations has deployed 1,800 police in Kosovo, of which 450 are American. The United Nations has also trained and deployed the first class of local Kosovo police, 175, of whom 7 are Serbs. A second class is currently in session, another 175, this class including 27 Serbs.

As a result of these efforts, violence has significantly, dramatically - but not yet acceptably - reduced in Kosovo. I think the current rate of deaths in Kosovo is about 25 per 100,000, which makes it better than many metropolitan areas, but Kosovo is not a metropolitan area; it's an area of small villages, small towns, and small cities. And so that comparison is not really adequate and clearly indicates that we have a long way to go before the level of security, and particularly security for minorities, is considered adequate.

Thank you.

Q: Well, one question is a general one, whether in your estimate, from everything you've seen and gathered, you could say that Serb forces or Serbia was planning or had a genocide in the works or, in fact, whether the evidence demonstrates that there was a genocide?

Ambassador Dobbins: Why don't I let both of my colleagues address that. I mean, I think that both reports and, in particular, the OSCE report, but I think ours as well, addressed the question of the degree to which this violence was planned and directed by a central authority as part of a state policy, which I think is what you're after.

Assistant Secretary Koh: As you know, international lawyers think of genocide as a question of intent and that has to be established from the facts. What this report is trying to do is to establish the facts and to demonstrate that there was a concerted campaign of human rights violation which then provoked and, indeed, demanded a human rights response.

What we're trying to do is to lay out the different categories of human rights violation, as we do in all of our human rights reports, and I think the basic contours are clear: tens of thousands summarily executed, widespread looting and burning, 1.5 million forcibly displaced, destruction of the kind that Jim described in some 1,200 plus communities, use of human shields, and under-reported atrocity, widely under-reported atrocity, namely systematic and organized rape. And then identity cleansing, something which got a lot of attention during the conflict itself, now clearly affecting close to 50 percent of the population.

I think what we're trying to determine here is, of course, what we now know is not all we will know. As I said, there are bodies that are - grave sites unknown, uncountable or destroyed areas but, in fact, the net result is one of a very broad campaign, and that's the basis on which you need to look when you are going to make questions about inferring intent.

Ambassador Scheffer: I would just briefly add to that early on the assault on the civilian population of Kosovo we indicated that we saw indicators of genocide unfolding before us. That is still the case with this report and, as Harold said, it is a matter of intent. The prosecutor of the Yugoslav tribunal, Carla Del Ponte, has made it very clear publicly that she is looking at her existing indictments against the leadership of Serbia in terms of whether or not the crime of genocide was perpetrated by them.

So I think we've got to be a little bit patient on arriving at a judgment about genocide, but very important people, particularly the prosecutor of the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal, are focusing on that very issue, and we hope this report will help her in that respect.

Q: Have you reached your own judgment on this? I mean, you have a lot of data and you've been collating it from a lot of places and you've certainly been looking for this very thing. Is your own verdict then that you just don't know, or what?

Ambassador Scheffer: We don't think it would be appropriate because there is a prosecutor who is examining this very issue for us to actually be pronouncing on it in any respect. Let's let the facts unfold and her judgment take its due course.

Q: I have a question that is not so much related to this study that you have done but to the people who--the Kosovars who remain in prison in Serbia. There was a doctor, a woman whose name unfortunately I can't remember, who it was announced at a briefing here was being tried in Nis, I think. And this had to have been at least a month ago, maybe a little longer.

And I was wondering if you had any information about what happened to her and whether you see increasing numbers of these people being put on trial.

Ambassador Dobbins: Thank you. I think it's a good point. I went through a number of statistics about how people were affected, and one of the most important statistics which I neglected to mention is the number of people who are missing. There are thousands and thousands of people missing, of whom we believe at least 2,000 are currently being held by Serbian authorities somewhere in Serbia.

One of them is the individual you cite. Her name is Flora Brovina and she was, in fact, convicted and sentenced today. She was sentenced to 12 years in prison. She's a well known human rights activist. The United States has been steadfast in condemning the proceedings against Dr. Brovina. This action is an example of the bankruptcy that faces the Serbian state and the rule of law in Serbia.

We understand that the court proceedings in and of themselves were severely flawed. We urge Belgrade to reconsider this conviction and, finally, we urge and insist that the Belgrade authorities account for, release, and return the thousands of Kosovar Albanians that they are continuing to hold to Kosovo and to their families.

Q: Do you see an increase in these people being prosecuted, though? I mean, are they more systematically going after the--

Ambassador Dobbins: I think one of the difficulties with them, if they were being prosecuted at least we'd know who they are and where they are. The difficulty with most of them is that we don't know if they're alive or dead. There are many thousands missing, of whom we believe at least 2,000 are being held by Serbian authorities and others probably have died. But until we know who's being held, we don't know--you can't sort one from the other. And so I would say the average person in Kosovo believes the Serbs are holding like 10,000, and they have good reason because there's 10,000 people missing. And, again, until you have an identification system you can't actually establish the number of people who are missing.

So the problem, in a sense, is that they're not being tried, where at least, you know, you could fault that process but you would at least, you know, some family member would know, yes, my uncle is alive, he's in prison, he's sentenced to ten years, we're going to mount a campaign to get him out. For thousands and thousands of Kosovars, they just don't know whether their relatives are alive or dead.

Q: Is there anything that you all can do to try and sort of track where Dr. Brovina is? Are you going to ask the Red Cross to try and visit her in whatever facility she is held in? Is that an option? I'm not sure what the--

Ambassador Dobbins: Let me ask Harold to add something here, but the answer is we will do everything we can both to track and inform ourselves of her condition and to alleviate it and, ultimately, to get her released.

Assistant Secretary Koh: The problem with determining first how many are missing and then from there determining who is detained and who is dead is always a problem. What we understand from the International Committee on the Red Cross is that they have visited close to 2,000, which is where we get the number 2,000, at least 2,000 detained. But they, themselves, admitted to us that they don't know how many are in there. They're getting visitation, some access. They're trying to expand that access and that effort continues.

Also, the International Commission on Missing Persons has been doing some work on this area, focusing on the missing persons issue and the relationship and explaining the details to the families of the missing.

Ambassador Dobbins: Two thousand is also approximately the number of the capacity of the prisons that were empty when NATO went into Kosovo, so the 2,000 number has a certain logic to it. But the number could be larger and, until there is a full accounting, it leaves many people terribly uncertain.

Q: Can you tell from the evidence you have whether the NATO bombing itself, the atrocities accelerated or slowed on the whole process of the cleansing? How was it affected when the bombs started falling?

Ambassador Dobbins: Well, I think this was something that was discussed repeatedly through the conflict and, again, I will let Harold address it insofar as the report sheds any light on it. I think it's clear, and it's clear from the OSCE report, which has its database going from before the conflict, as I read it, that this was a concerted state-run campaign that began well before the conflict and was not initiated or caused by the NATO bombing decision.

Assistant Secretary Koh: Again, the report is really a snapshot of what was found when NATO troops entered in June and so it's hard to judge what happened during the conflict itself. I think the main thing that emerges from the report, which is confirmed by the two OSCE reports, is the scale and magnitude of the violations in all ten categories we described.

Q: One of the contentious issues is Trepca and, reading through the report, I can't come to much conclusion of what you think happened there. Clearly, you and the US and others had a lot of reports from refugees - rather, from deportees that Trepca was being used as a mass grave and worse. I am wondering what do you think now is the situation based on the preliminary research being done.

And, secondly, I don't have any sense here what role outsiders played in the ethnic cleansing and, in particular, the Russian volunteers. I don't see any reference to them here.

Ambassador Dobbins: Again, Harold can add. I don't think reports of Trepca's use as a mass grave have been substantiated by inquiries. And I honestly--I have not seen substantiation of the allegations of Russian volunteers. There certainly are allegations. I wouldn't dismiss them but I don't know that they have been substantiated by independent evidence other than the allegations themselves.

Q: Are you planning to go after those? I mean, trying to corroborate them?

Assistant Secretary Koh: Well, again, you know, as you have done in your own important work, we are trying to define a role between anecdote and indelible history for interim human rights reporting.

One thing we tried to do very openly in the appendices of the report is, with regard to particular areas in which there has been much reported activity, to lay out what we know as a way of identifying areas for future inquiry, both by press, human rights investigators from the private sector and also intergovernmental actors. This is one way that we fill out the jigsaw puzzle as time is moving along.

But we thought it was important to release the report at this point because the basic contours of the overall story are now clear. And it was important to get that on the record.

Q: One to Mr. Dobbins, which is there seems to be a lot of tension right now and even a takeover of the airport yesterday, at least briefly.

Is there a U.S. policy to provide security guarantees or to provide security for Montenegro such that it is not going to be taken over in some kind of a coup situation in a short time, and what is the position on the Montenegrin request, as I gather it, for support, for $10- or $30- or $40 million support on their new currency?

Ambassador Dobbins: Well, first as to the situation, there was a confrontation yesterday, which seems to have been diffused, over control of the airport. The airport now seems to be operating and flying normally. The U.S. position on Montenegro has been frequently stated, including in several press conferences by the Secretary. We support both the political and economic reforms taking place in Montenegro in order that Montenegro can serve as a model and a stimulus for similar reforms throughout the rest of Yugoslavia.

The Secretary addressed the issue of the Montenegrin security in the remarks she made when she met with President Djukanovic on the seventh floor three or four weeks ago. I won't elaborate on it.

On the issue of economic assistance, the United States did provide a total of about $55 million in economic assistance to Montenegro in Fiscal 1999; 20 million of that was technical and humanitarian assistance and 35 million of it was balance of payments, budget support assistance.

We have not yet allocated assistance for the coming year. The process was delayed because the budget, as you know, was only passed and then signed by the President last week. Last week? I think last week it was actually signed. In any case, about ten days ago and the money is not earmarked so it has to be allocated within that budget.

I would certainly anticipate that we will continue to provide economic support of the type and roughly of the dimensions, but I wouldn't get held to a specific amount at this stage since I don't know what it will be. It will be allocated by the Secretary to Montenegro. So there will be continuing assistance of an amount which we won't be able to specify for another week or two, I would guess.

(The briefing concluded at 11:55 A.M.)

[end of document]

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