19 years since the murder of Bytyqi brothers – The perpetrators are stronger than the rule of law

19 years since the murder of Bytyqi brothers – The perpetrators are stronger than the rule of law

Petrovo Selo1

On 9 July 2018, 19 years will have passed since the murder of brothers Mehmet (21), Agron (23) and Ylli (25) Bytyqi, committed by members of the Serbian Ministry of the Interior (MUP). The nearly two decades of the continuous failure of the investigations undertaken by the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP) and the MUP to clarify the killings of Mehmet, Ylli and Agron, suggest that the perpetrators of these crimes from the 1990s remain stronger than the institutions and the rule of law, and that justice in Serbia continues to be selective, and those responsible for the execution of the Bytyqi brothers above the law.

The Bytyqi brothers were arrested while illegally crossing the Serbian border; after serving their sentence, they were released from prison and then killed. Their bodies were found in the spring of 2001 in a mass grave in Petrovo Selo. On 23 August 2006, the OWCP charged two former members of the 124th PJP Intervention Brigade, Sreten Popović and Miloš Stojanović, for war crimes against prisoners of war. The defendants in this case were acquitted of the charges for lack of evidence. The trial was marked by obstructions by the MUP and threats to police officers who testified during court hearings. Vladimir Vukčević, a former war crimes prosecutor, confirmed that there had been obstructions in this case, when he appeared on RTV N1 on July 2, 2018.

According to the evidence produced during the trial and the publicly available data, the killing of Agron, Ylli and Mehmet was ordered by the then Minister of the Interior of Serbia, Vlajko Stojiljković. The order was transferred by the chain of command to the executors. One of the persons in the chain of command was the then head of the Public Security Department, Vlastimir Đordjević, who was convicted by the ICTY for crimes in Kosovo; another was the former commander of the PJP and police training centre in Petrovo Selo, who is nowadays a businessman, founder of a non-governmental organization, the Center for the Study of Terrorism, and member of the Main Board of the Serbian Progressive Party, Goran Radosavljević Guri.

Although 19 years have passed since the murder of the Bytyqi brothers, the United States (US) has not allowed this crime to remain uninvestigated, unpunished or forgotten. On May 21, 2015, members of the US Foreign Affairs Committee passed a Resolution in the House of Representatives on the importance of establishing responsibility for the killing of American citizens Mehmet, Agron and Ylli Bytyqi in 1999 in Serbia. This resolution was once again presented to the US Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Senate on June 28, 2018, when it was adopted. By the adoption of a resolution before the Foreign Affairs Committee, the path to its adoption before the full constitution of the US Congress is open. The session at which the resolution was discussed was also attended by members of the Βytyqi family. The resolution itself clearly states that “any progress in solving this case or lack of it must remain a decisive factor in the further development of relations between the USA and Serbia”, and that it is reprehensible that “still no one has been found guilty of executing the Bytyqi brothers or for any other crime associated with their death “. The adoption of this resolution, according to US Ambassador Kyle Scott, is an expression of the impatience and frustration of the United States, because for 19 years the truth in this case has not been established. The Bytyqi brothers Case is a good illustration of the fact that in Serbia there has never been any political will to investigate such cases or to punish those responsible.

This is also evident from the fact that the Serbian authorities mention the Bytyqi Case only during meetings with US officials. During his visit to Washington in June 2015, the then Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić promised that Serbia would “very soon” resolve this crime. However, three years after this promise, there has still been no progress in this case.

Serbia is still very far from engaging in any systematic establishment the truth and responsibility for the crimes committed in the past. After 19 years, witnesses are dying, and the memory of the Bytyqi Case in Serbia is slowly fading. For the OWCP, one of the priorities should be to investigate and prosecute the current and former officials believed to be responsible for the death of the Bytyqi brothers, and thus show that the perpetrators of the crimes of the 1990s are not stronger than the institutions and the rule of law in Serbia.