Reality Demands: Documenting Violations of International Humanitarian Law in Kosovo 1999
Reality Demands: Documenting Violations of International Humanitarian Law in Kosovo 1999
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Reality Demands: Documenting Violations of International Humanitarian Law in Kosovo 1999

This report is the product of seven months of field research conducted by teams of local and international personnel in Kosovo and Albania in 1999, as part of the International Crisis Group’s Humanitarian Law Documentation Project.The Project was conceived in the spring of 1999, as violence and destruction in Kosovo forced hundreds of thousands of men, women and children from their homes, many seeking shelter in neighbouring Albania and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (hereafter referred to as Macedonia).

Executive Summary

This report is the product of seven months of field research conducted by teams of local and international personnel in Kosovo and Albania in 1999, as part of the International Crisis Group’s Humanitarian Law Documentation Project.The Project was conceived in the spring of 1999, as violence and destruction in Kosovo forced hundreds of thousands of men, women and children from their homes, many seeking shelter in neighbouring Albania and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (hereafter referred to as Macedonia).The purpose of the Project was to support the efforts of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (“the Tribunal”or “the ICTY”) to investigate serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Kosovo and bring to justice persons responsible for such crimes.

Those involved in the creation of the Project had participated in previous research concerning the Kosovo conflict in 1998.[fn]See No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ), Report on Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law in Kosovo, February 1999, available at http://www.npwj.org.Hide Footnote With the conflict’s progression into 1999 and the acceleration of the campaign of terror and expulsion directed against the Kosovo Albanian population, the Project sought to identify violations of international humanitarian law - often termed “the laws of armed conflict” or “the laws of war” - and record direct evidence of these violations.Through the efforts of 46 international staff and 123 local staff, over 4,700 statements from victims and witnesses were eventually accumulated. All evidence gathered was handed over to staff of the Prosecutor of the ICTY.

Funding for the Project was secured from the European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO) after an assessment trip was conducted to Tirana, Albania, to determine its utility and viability. Operations then commenced on 28 May 1999,with four international personnel based in Tirana. The size of the Project team rapidly expanded,including lawyers from several different countries,local interpreters and translators,drivers, IT support staff and logistical and administrative assistants.Staff numbers further increased with the opening of a second Project office in Gjakove/Djakovica, Kosovo, upon the withdrawal of military and police forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) (FRY) and the return of virtually all of the 862,000 Kosovar refugees in Albania, Macedonia and elsewhere. These staff members created and implemented a system for the gathering of information from victims and witnesses, which was then entered into an electronic database. The Project was completed,and the office in Gjakove/Djakovica closed,on 28 December 1999.[fn]The Tirana office having been closed in September,upon the transfer of all operations into KosovoHide Footnote

ICTY, and illustrate the types of crimes that have been committed. Moreover, in order to contribute to the resolve of the international community to respond to such events, and indeed act in a preventive manner, it is also crucial that there is a broad public understanding of the processes of international criminal law and institutions at the current stage of their development. Such an understanding may then lead to increased pressure to bring to account all those who would seek to violate or deny the very humanity of any group of people.

In view of these aims and considerations, it is necessary to clarify the limitations under which the Project operated, both self-imposed and circumstantial, that affect the content of this report. First, the report is intended to cover only violations of international humanitarian law within the subject-matter jurisdiction of the ICTY. Chapter III provides more detail on these legal provisions and Chapter VI seeks to apply them to the facts of the Ko s ovo conflict as revealed by the Pro j e c t . Fundamentally,the report is not intended to describe violations of human rights law per se and this has some effect on the range of incidents described.[fn]The rele vant distinctions between international humanitarian law and international human rights law are explained below in Chapter III.Hide Footnote In particular, a cautious approach is taken to determining the time-period during which an “armed conflict” might be said to have existed, engaging the provisions of international humanitarian law. Nonetheless, this is not meant to imply that events falling outside this time-period are not within the jurisdiction of the ICTY, or are not worthy of its investigation.

In addition, the report is primarily concerned with events occurring in Kosovo in 1999, and not prior to this time.While references are naturally made to historical context and, in particular, the conflict between the authorities of the FRY and the forces of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)[fn]4 For convenience and familiarity to an international readership,the English terminology Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) is used throughout the report.The Albanian terminology is Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës (UÇK).Hide Footnote in 1998, it is considered that the violations of international humanitarian law committed during the 1998 campaign are covered adequately in the report by the non-governmental organisation No Peace Without Justice,published in February 1999.[fn]See footnote 1.Hide Footnote

Rather than give a detailed account of individual incidents described by witnesses, the following chapters distil information gathered in the course of the Project and present it in a manner intended to identify patterns of conduct that may constitute violations of international humanitarian law of the most serious nature.Thus, those chapters of a factual,descriptive nature have been compiled on the basis of an analysis of the interviews recorded and entered into the Project database, along with other information gathered from local sources in Kosovo by the international legal staff.[fn]Some statistical and back ground info rmation has been drawn from other repo rts published by international organisations such as the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), but all events described are reconstructed on the basis of witness information provided to the Project itself.Hide Footnote These sections are deliberately drafted to avoid making reference to specific witnesses or victims, in order to ensure compliance with all confidentiality assurances given during the witness interview process.

A further stipulation, which must be stated at the outset, is that the present report is not intended in any sense to endorse the political claims of any of the parties to the conflict in Kosovo. It is a fundamental principle that international humanitarian law applies equally to all parties to an armed conflict and does not confer any legitimacy on the claims of the parties, nor provide them with any particular status. In relation to this issue, it will become apparent from the content of the report that it primarily recounts attacks and operations carried out by FRY/Serbian forces against the Kosovo Albanian population. The vast majority of information available to the members of the Project in the time-period of its existence concerned such attacks and operations and it is for this reason alone that they make up the bulk of the factual part of the report. Nonetheless, personnel from the Project did make efforts to investigate violations of international humanitarian law committed against the Kosovo Serbs and other minority populations, primarily by members of the KLA. Furthermore,while the report contains no references to alleged violations of international humanitarian law committed by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces taking part in Operation Allied Force,[fn]The aerial operation mounted by NATO against the FRY from 24 March 1999 to 10 June 1999,is discussed further in Chapter IV.Hide Footnote this is due only to the difficulty of investigating such violations and the lack of availability of direct witness evidence. Should the Prosecutor of the ICTY have information relating to crimes committed by the KLA, or by NATO personnel or commanders, these deserve serious and careful investigation.

One final caveat relates to the use of language within this report. The Project operated in Albania and largely within the Albanian community of Kosovo, thus rendering the use of the Albanian versions of place-names more convenient and practical. Indeed,often it was difficult to determine the Serbian name of certain areas or villages,and such an equivalent may not always exist. For the purposes of this report,the utilisation of either Serbian or Albanian names is not intended to endorse the claims of either community, but merely reflects the availability of information. As much as possible,place names are stated in the alternative - Albanian/Serbian and the alternatives are listed in Appendix B.[fn]This formula is deviated from in Chapter V, purely for reasons of practicality. Place name spellings are generally taken from the OSCE reports, Kosovo/Kosova: As Seen, As Told, Kosovo/Kosova: As Seen, As Told Part II, available at http://www.osce.org  The term used for the province itself is “Kosovo”, being the most widely used and recognised in the international community.

The substance of the report is divided into five chapters, followed by some brief conclusions.The first of these outlines the methodology of the Project and seeks to describe its growth and development,as well as give recognition to those individuals and organisations who have been of invaluable assistance to it. Following this,there is a chapter describing the law to be applied in the report and a short introduction to the ICTY. A general chapter on the history of the Kosovo conflict, the military and security fo rces invo l ve d , the 1998 campaign and subsequent developments precedes a more detailed analysis of the attacks and operations carried out in several areas within Kosovo in 1999. The final chapter seeks to apply the law, as outlined,to the facts as described,and explore the issue of individual criminal responsibility for the violations of international humanitarian law thus identified.

Pristina/Brussels, 27 June 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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