Chris Bird in Belgrade
Monday December 6, 1999
Horrific human rights abuses in Kosovo at the hands of Serbian forces and the west's subsequent failure to end the anarchy are detailed in a report published today that makes a distressing last chapter to a dark century.
Titled Kosovo/Kosova: As seen, as told, the report is the culmination of a year's work by human rights workers with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and is the first major report by an official international institution to detail the short but cruel conflict in the province.
The OSCE was in Kosovo before Nato's bombing campaign as international observers, and they compiled searing testimony from refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania. Its workers then returned to Kosovo in June, only to witness a depressing reversal of abuses as Serbs fled the province.
The 2,700 interviews in the first half of the report with mainly ethnic Albanian witnesses up to June 1999 - when the Nato-led peackeeping force K-For entered Kosovo - provide hundreds of pages of evidence which the OSCE says proves indisputably that the terror against the majority ethnic Albanian population was ordered by Belgrade.
"Everywhere, the attacks on communities appear to have been dictated by strategy, not by breakdown in command and control," the report says. "Suffering in Kosovo in the period monitored by the OSCE was overwhelmingly Kosovo Albanian suffering, at the hands of the Yugoslav and Serbian state military and security apparatus."
It said some Serb soldiers tried to prevent abuses against the civilian population, but added: "Bearing in mind the overwhelming evidence of a systematic campaign against Kosovo Albanians that was planned, instigated and ordered from the highest levels, some of the people [who stopped abuses] may well have been acting against orders."
However, added to the report is an update from the human rights monitor for the months June to October of this year, which admits officially for the first time to a serious failure by the international community to maintain law and order.
"The capacity to investigate violations and enforce the law has been sorely lacking. Impunity has reigned instead of justice," wrote Daan Everts, the OSCE's chief in Kosovo.
The report says Serb suspects arrested on war-crimes charges in the province are unlikely ever to get a fair trial as Serb legal experts have fled and the accused are unlikely to get a fair hearing at the hands of ethnic Albanian judges and defence lawyers.
Bernard Kouchner, the French head of the United Nations administration in Kosovo, who is under fire for the province's poor security and governance record, said in the report that it was unfair to make comparisons with pre-war Kosovo.
"At that time, and for at least a decade, there was a systematic policy of apartheid, a subhuman status, or at least a subcommunity status in Kosovo. This is no longer the case today."
But the facts are against Dr Kouchner. In the past week alone, 22 people were murdered in Kosovo, at least seven of them in ethnically motivated attacks against Serbs.
Dr Kouchner had begged for 6,000 UN police to deal with the apparently unstoppable wave of revenge attacks, but the UN had promised only 4,000, and there are only 1,700 police deployed nearly six months after peacekeepers went into Kosovo.
Another first is the finger the report points at the former guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The report is chock full of witness accounts to abuse by ethnic Albanians purporting to be KLA members. The shadowy force continues to be the province's de facto administration and is widely held by western officials to be behind the terror campaign aimed at forcing Serbs out of Kosovo.
"It is clear that the KLA stepped in to fill the law and order void, but this policing role is unrestrained by law and without legitimacy," the report says. While it stops short of accusing the KLA's powerful leadership of organising the terror, it says its evidence points to a systematic campaign against the minorities and calls for "close scrutiny by the international community" of KLA leaders.
A depressingly common theme that runs through both halves of the report is the nightmare-like abuse of women and children on both sides of the ethnic divide.
The report details the widespread sexual abuse of ethnic Albanian women, which is an especially difficult and taboo subject within that community. It cites a 17-year-old boy who witnessed a Serb soldier rip a baby from the arms of its ethnic Albanian mother. The soldier then hacked off one of her breasts with a knife.
Elderly Serb women, with no money to leave Kosovo and no family in Serbia to fend for them, are now in the front line of abuse at the hands of vengeance-seeking ethnic Albanians.
But the apparently systematic targeting of children and their resulting descent into violence is perhaps the most heart-rending reading. One witness describes seeing a two-year-old child impaled on a wooden pole near Pristina with a sign declaring: "This is Serbia. This is what we are going to do to all Albanians, because I am God and Nato means nothing to me."
Already traumatised by what they have seen in the forced deportations, ethnic Albanian children are now being used by ethnic Albanian adults to drive the terror campaign against the Serbs because as juveniles they cannot be arrested. "We read here case after case of young people, some only 10 or 12 years old, harassing, beating and threatening people, especially defenceless elderly victims, solely because of their ethnicity," wrote Dr Kouchner.