Zone of (non)responsibility
Monday, 24th March, marks fifteen years since the Serbian army and police waged its systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing and violence directed against the Kosovo Albanian civilian population during the NATO intervention against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) calls on the state institutions of the Republic of Serbia to secure justice for the victims of the crimes in Kosovo and their family members, by prosecuting all those responsible, regardless of their rank at the time of the commission of crimes or within the current hierarchies of power, and by providing just satisfaction to the victims for the suffering they endured.
During the two-and-a-half-month-long campaign by Serbian forces, more than 7,000 Albanian civilians were killed or forcibly displaced, and another 800,000 were deported. The exact number of persons who were subjected to torture and sexual violence has not been determined to date. In addition, a significant amount of property owned by Kosovo Albanians and their religious sites were looted or destroyed.
The crimes against Kosovo Albanians were carried out systematically and on a daily basis. In one single day, on 26th March 1999, nearly 700 civilians were killed in Mala Kruša, Suva Reka, Landovica, Celine and other locations. The victims of mass executions also included women, children and elderly people. The corpses of victims were burned, dumped into wells, or removed and taken to secret locations. One such location was the Belgrade suburb of Batajnica, where in the spring of 2001 the largest mass grave, containing the bodies of more than 700 people, mostly civilians, including 75 children, was uncovered.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), in its guilty verdicts delivered in the Šainović et al. and Đorđević cases, established that there existed a plan at state level, to expel a significant number of Kosovo Albanians in order to ensure continued Serbian control over Kosovo. That such a plan existed was established, among other things, on the basis of the uniform pattern in which the crimes were committed, the lack of punishment for the crimes, and the destruction of Kosovo Albanians’ identification documents at border crossings with Albania.
The number of domestic trials still does not reflect the magnitude and the character of the crimes committed against Kosovo Albanians. The crimes processed so far by the specialized courts and the courts of general jurisdiction involve the deaths of 200 persons only. Furthermore, the failure to prosecute high-ranking army and police officials, in whose areas of responsibility thousands of Albanian civilians were killed, or whose subordinates carried out well-organized and coordinated activities – expulsions and killings of civilians, plundering of property and concealment of the bodies of killed civilians – is readily apparent. With the exception of two lower-ranking officials (who stand trial in the Ćuška and Trnje cases), and of one mid-ranking police official who was finally adjudged not guilty (in the Suva Reka case), only individuals from the lowest ranks of the military and police hierarchies have been brought to justice so far. What is more, neither the worst mass crimes that took place during the Serbian military and police campaign at the time of the NATO intervention, such as the crimes at Meja, Korenica, Mala Kruša, Velika Kruša, Pusto Selo and Celine, which resulted in the deaths of more than 800 Albanian civilians, nor the crimes committed during 1998, when 1,000 civilians were killed, have been processed.
The HLC’s interactive presentation Zone of (non)responsibility will reconstruct the army and police hierarchies at the time each of the crimes committed by Serb forces in Kosovo took place. The reconstruction of the military and police power structures, from direct perpetrators to police and army generals, is based on the statements of survivors, eye-witnesses and insider-witnesses, authentic military and police documents, maps, forensic reports and other documents that have been collected and compiled by the ICTY and the HLC and the HLC Kosovo researchers. In addition to the crimes committed in Kosovo, the Zone of (non)responsibility will present analyses of the crimes committed in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.