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Erasing History: Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo

Report released by the U.S. Department of State,
Washington, DC,
May 1999
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This report is part of a larger international effort to lay out the contours of the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, which dramatically accelerated in mid-March, 1999. In preparing this report, the United States Government has drawn on its own resources, as well as reports received from international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to date. We encourage others to make their own contributions to record these events, get the facts out, and ultimately, hold the perpetrators of these crimes accountable.

This document provides a chronology of events after the departure of the OSCE's Kosovo Verification Mission on March 19, 1999, which prior to its departure had been regularly issuing human rights reporting. It is compiled from hundreds, if not thousands, of reported violations of human rights and humanitarian law since late March 1999. Due to lack of outside access to Kosovo, this report represents only a partial account of the ethnic cleansing.

The term "ethnic cleansing" generally entails the systematic and forced removal of members of an ethnic group from their communities to change the ethnic composition of a region. Although we are still gaining information on all aspects of Serbian efforts to ethnically cleanse Kosovo, reports of human rights and humanitarian law violations we have received fall under seven broad categories:

1. Forced expulsions: The regime of Slobodan Milosevic is conducting a campaign of forced migration on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War. More than 90 percent of all ethnic Albanians have been expelled from their homes in Kosovo. In contrast to last fall, when attacks on civilians by Serb security forces generally occurred in small villages, this spring Yugoslav Army and Special Police units have joined with recently-armed Serb civilians to expel their neighbors from almost all towns and villages in Kosovo:

2. Looting and Burning: Some 500 residential areas have been at least partially burned since late March, including over 300 villages burned since April 4, according to overhead imagery. Besides houses and apartments, mosques, churches, schools, and medical facilities have also been targeted and destroyed. Many settlements have been totally destroyed in an attempt to ensure that the ethnic Albanian residents do not return.

3. Detentions: There are consistent refugee reports that Serbian forces are separating military-aged men from their families in a systematic pattern. At the time of writing, the total number of missing men and their fate is unknown.

4. Summary Execution: Refugees have provided accounts of summary executions in at least 70 towns and villages throughout Kosovo. In addition to random executions, Serbian authorities are targeting intellectuals, professionals, and community leaders.

5. Rape: Ethnic Albanian women are reportedly being raped in increasing numbers. Refugee accounts indicate systematic and organized mass rapes in Djakovica and Pec. We believe that many crimes of gender violence have not been reported due to the cultural stigma attached to these offenses in Kosovar society.

6. Violations of Medical Neutrality: NGOs report that since late March, violations of medical neutrality in Kosovo have accelerated dramatically. Serb authorities have looted and destroyed dozens of medical facilities, murdered Kosovar Albanian physicians, expelled ethnic Albanian patients and care providers from hospitals, and have used large numbers of health facilities as protective cover for military activities. The apparent goal is to effectively deny health care to ethnic Albanians and extinguish the community base that Kosovo's health professionals provide.

7. Identity Cleansing: Refugees report that Serbian authorities have confiscated passports and other identity papers, systematically destroyed voter registers and other aspects of Kosovo's civil registry, and even removed license plates from departing vehicles as part of a policy to prevent returns to Kosovo. Reports of identity cleansing are prevalent in refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania.

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