Criminal Complaint against Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Soldiers with regard to the Murder of 21 Albanian Civilians on March 25th, 1999

The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) filed a criminal complaint on July 2nd, 2013 with the Republic of Serbia Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor against Duško Šljivančanin, former Commander of the 53rd Border Battalion of the Yugoslav Army and currently a representative of the Commander of the Yugoslav Army Land Forces Training Centre, and Vasilij Rangelov, a Sergeant in the Yugoslav Army and the Commander of the Goden Watchtower, and a number of unidentified soldiers from the 53rd Border Battalion of the Yugoslav Army, with regard to the war crime against the civilian population committed on March 25th, 1999 in the villages of Goden and Zulfaj/Zylfaj (the Municipality of Đakovica/Gjakovë).

The village of Goden is located some 2.5 km Northeast and the village of Zulfaj some 2.5 km Northwest from the former Yugoslav Army Watchtower in their vicinity. The 53rd Border Battalion of the Yugoslav Army was stationed at the Goden Watchtower and the villages of Goden and Zulfaj were within their area of responsibility.

By a decision of the Federal Government dated July 21st, 1998, the strip of land around the border which was under the control of the Yugoslav Army was widened from the then 100 metres to 5 kilometres, thus officially placing these villages under the control of the 53rd Border Battalion of the Yugoslav Army.

According to the statements given by the citizens of these villages to the representatives of the UN Higher Commissioner for Refugees, the HLC and the media, on the morning of March 25th, 1999, Yugoslav Army soldiers entered the village of Goden from the direction of the Watchtower. Most of the men from the village were located in the house of the Morina family, where they were conveying their condolences because of the death of one of their family members. Yugoslav Army soldiers entered the Morina family’s house, drove them all out, lined them up in front of another villager´s house and ordered them to raise their hands above their heads. All this time they were pointing guns at the men. Meanwhile, Yugoslav Army soldiers were driving other citizens of the village out of their houses. They took the women, children and elderly into the local elementary school yard. When they had brought them into the yard and the people were sitting on the ground, Yugoslav Army soldiers set the school on fire and then started setting other houses and barns in the village on fire. After some time, they took the women, children and elderly towards the border with Albania. As the line of villagers was passing by the Osmanaj family meadow, they saw the men who had been taken out of the Morina family’s house that morning. Several minutes later, they heard shooting coming from the direction of the meadow. This shooting lasted for several minutes. The women and children were ordered to cross the border one by one at a spot located less than 100 metres from the Goden Watchtower.

Owen O’Sullivan, an OSCE monitor and a former officer in the Army of the Republic of Ireland, observed the entry of the Yugoslav Army into Goden, the separation of the men from the women and children, and the taking of the women and children to the border. From the spot from which he was observing the events in Goden, he was not able to see any act of execution, but Mr. O’Sullivan heard bursts of gunfire.

That same morning, soldiers of the 53rd Border Battalion of the Yugoslav Army entered the neighbouring village of Zulfaj/Zylfaj. They ordered Albanian citizens to come out of their houses and leave the village in a column and head towards Đakovica/Gjakovë. When unidentified Yugoslav Army soldiers entered the house of the Prushi family and ordered the people in the house to leave the village, Muhamet Prushi (84 years old) refused to do so. In response to this , an unidentified Yugoslav Army soldier fired his automatic rifle and shot Muhamet, who was lying on the bed, in front of Muhamet’s family members.

The citizens of Goden returned to the village in mid-June 1999. They found pieces of clothing and some personal effects of the captured men in the house owned by the Osmanaj family, as well as a number of charred human bones. It was established by an expert analysis that these mortal remains belonged to four men, whose identity could not be established. The disappearance of the men from Goden has also been registered on the ICRC’s List of Missing Persons.

The documents of the Yugoslav Army and statements of eyewitnesses point to the responsibility of the Commander of the 53rd Border Battalion of the Yugoslav Army and the Commander of the Goden Watchtower for the breach of Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions, which prescribes in Articles 86 and 87 the duty of a commander to supervise his subordinates, as well as his responsibility should he fail to fulfil this duty.

The investigation should establish who issued the order for the “cleansing” of these villages. This refers to the fact that it was written in the wartime diary of an unidentified Yugoslav Army officer, found by the citizens of Goden when they returned to the village, that 7 soldiers had participated in the “cleansing” of Goden.

Victims from Goden:

Shaban (Binak) Feraj (1935), Sali (Tahir) Osmanaj (1930), Jonuz (Binak) Morina (1936), Miftar (Ramë) Osmanaj (1949), Neshat (Sadik) Feraj (1952), Zymer (Sali) Osmanaj (1957), Ali (Bajram) Feraj (1958), Hamëz (Mahmut) Osmanaj (1959), Ramë (Hasan) Feraj (1955), Hysen (Hasan) Feraj (1959), Binak (Hasan) Feraj (1962), Islam (Hasan) Feraj (1969), Vahdet (Sadik) Morina (1965), Bedri (Ramdan) Osmanaj (1969), Metush (Demir) Morina (1969), Vesel (Bajram) Morina (1970), Mehmet (Ali) Osmanaj (1972), Bashkim (Dervish) Osmanaj (1975), Blerim (Muhamet) Morina (1975), Faik (Xheladin) Osmanaj (1979).