Anatomy of Serbian institutions’ responsibility for crimes against Kosovo Albanians
The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) today passed a judgment confirming the conviction of four high-ranking government, military and police officials of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and Serbia – Nikola Šainović, Nebojša Pavković, Sreten Lukić and Vladimir Lazarević – for deportation, forcible displacement, killing, sexual assaults, persecution on political and racial grounds and other crimes against civilians (Kosovo Albanians) committed between March and May 1999. Šainović, Lukić and Lazarević had their sentences marginally reduced.
The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) underlines that the tribunal’s conclusions on the law and the facts clearly expose the pattern of the crimes, and the responsibility of Serbian government institutions for these crimes, committed against Albanian civilians during the 1998-1999 armed conflict in Kosovo which resulted in the deaths or forcible displacements of more than 7,000 Kosovo Albanian civilians.
At the time of the commission of these crimes, Nikola Šainović was serving as Deputy Prime Minister of the FRY, Slobodan Milosevic’ personal envoy in Kosovo and chief of the Joint Command of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP); Nebojša Pavković was Commander of the 3rd Army of the Yugoslav Army; Vladimir Lazarević was Commander of the VJ Pristina Corps; and Sreten Lukić was Head of the Kosovo Staff of the Serbian MUP.
On the basis of the evidence presented, the tribunal established beyond reasonable doubt that between late March and early June 1999, the VJ and MUP, through a widespread and systematic campaign, displaced at least 700,000 Albanian civilians outside of Kosovo. Deportation and forcible transfer of civilians were accompanied by mass killings of civilians, including many women, children and the elderly. It is further established that members of the VJ and MUP also committed other crimes across Kosovo, such as sexual assaults, destruction of property and religious edifices, and so on.
Šainović, Pavković and Lukić participated in a joint criminal enterprise, the purpose of which was to displace Kosovo Albanians outside of Kosovo in order to ensure continued Serbian control over this province. General Lazarević, according to ICTY findings, did not partake in the joint criminal enterprise, but did assist in achieving its purpose.
The tribunal inferred the existence of a joint criminal enterprise on the basis of the evidence (corroborated, among other things, by authentic VJ, MUP and other institutions’ documents): the pattern in which the crimes were committed, the covering up of the crimes, the lack of punishment for the crimes, the destruction of identification documents of Kosovo Albanians, etc.
The Trial Chamber had sentenced Šainović, Pavković and Lukić to 22 years imprisonment each, and the Commander of the VJ Pristina Corps, Vladimir Lazarević, to 15 years. By the same Trial Judgment, Dragoljub Ojdanić, Chief of the General Staff of the VJ (who in the meantime had withdrawn his appeal against the 15-year sentence imposed on him, after which the prosecution did the same, the Trial Judgment thereby becoming final in his case) was temporarily released in August 2013. Milan Milutinović, former President of Serbia, was acquitted on all counts of the indictment.
The HLC underlines that the factual and legal conclusions of the Appeals Chamber’s judgment constitute a credible historical record of the systematic crimes that institutions of the Republic of Serbia carried out against Kosovo Albanians during 1999. The judgment imposes a legal and moral obligation on present-day Serbian institutions to come to terms with the legacy of these crimes and provide appropriate satisfaction, material and symbolic, to the victims and their families. Above all, it is the responsibility of the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor and other institutions in charge of war crimes processing to ensure that all individuals responsible for the crimes committed are brought to justice, regardless of their rank within the then or current governments.