Kosovo Albanians in Serbian Prisons
Kosovo Albanians in Serbian Prisons
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
Report 85 / Europe & Central Asia

Kosovo Albanians in Serbian Prisons

With the immense challenges facing the international community in its effort to secure and rebuild Kosovo, one critical outstanding matter that has received very little attention is the ongoing detention in Serbian prisons of several thousand Kosovo Albanians. 

Executive Summary

With the immense challenges facing the international community in its effort to secure and rebuild Kosovo, one critical outstanding matter that has received very little attention is the ongoing detention in Serbian prisons of several thousand Kosovo Albanians.  Arrested by Serbian forces in the course of the Kosovo conflict, these prisoners were hastily transferred to Serbian jails and penitentiaries in the wake of the Kumanovo military-technical agreement, which ended the NATO air campaign and established a timetable for the withdrawal from Kosovo of all Serb forces.

The Kumanovo agreement did not, however, address the issue of the prisoners' release, and this omission would seem to have deprived the international community of any real leverage on the matter.[fn]The prisoner issue was also left out of the 10 June 1999 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, which, based on an 8 June draft drawn up by the G-8 nations, served as the binding political instrument according to which all parties agreed to end the war.Hide Footnote  Belgrade appears to have little interest in releasing these prisoners, who have effectively become hostages in Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević’s efforts to keep Kosovo destabilised, jeopardise the success of the international mission there and demonstrate that Kosovo remains under his rule.

While the international community does not itself have the capacity to free these prisoners, it must find ways to exert maximum pressure on Milošević to order their release. Thousands of Albanian lives are at stake: reports from recently released prisoners and from family members make clear that the prisoners' conditions in the Serbian facilities are appalling, their health has been severely compromised, they are routinely subjected to mistreatment and torture, and their trials are travesties.  In addition, many prisoners’ families have been effectively ransomed by Serbian lawyers, who have promised to secure the release of prisoners for sums ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 DM.  The emotional and material strain on prisoners' families contributes to Kosovo's continuing unrest and to the immense frustration Kosovars feel toward the international agencies which, in part out of a dearth of options to pursue, have not made a top priority of locating the prisoners or advocating on their behalf.[fn]A 24 January 2000 protest attended by some 2000 persons in snowy Priština is indicative of how keenly many Kosovars still feel the prisoners’ absence and abhor the ongoing injustice at Serb hands (Agence France Presse, 24 January 2000).Hide Footnote  

In this paper ICG attempts to clarify the somewhat complex situation with regard to the Albanian prisoners, to make available first-hand information about Serbian prison conditions gathered in interviews with ex-prisoners and prisoners' family members, to elucidate the pertinent legal issues, and to propose a series of measures that governments and non-government organisations might take toward identifying the prisoners and securing their release.

These measures include co-ordinated and persistent advocacy in Belgrade; a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for the prisoners' release in accordance with international law; military-to-military contact to gain access to those prisoners who, as combatants, must be treated as prisoners of war whose immediate release is called for under the Third Geneva Conventiona; possible investigation leading to new indictments by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia of those responsible, in the context of the prisoners, for continuing violations of the law of the customs of war and international humanitarian law; efforts to monitor all trials of Albanian prisoners in Serbian courts; secure transportation in and out of Serbia; and legal assistance to prisoners' families.

Washington/Priština 26 January 2000

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Online Event to discuss Crisis Group's report "Relaunching the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue", in which we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

Thirteen years after Kosovo broke away from Serbia, the two countries remain mired in mutual non-recognition, with deleterious effects on both. The parties need to move past technicalities to tackle the main issues at stake: Pristina’s independence and Belgrade’s influence over Kosovo’s Serbian minority.

In this conversation, we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue (Online Event, 28th January 2021)

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