Erasing History: Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo



Report released by the U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, May 1999







The following sections of the report will be available soon.


Atrocities and War Crimes by Category

Atrocities and War Crimes by Location

Chronology of Recent Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo

Important Links for Kosovo Information

Missing Persons/People Locator Sites




This report is part of a larger international effort to lay out the contours of the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, which dramatically accelerated in mid-March, 1999. In preparing this report, the United States Government has drawn on its own resources, as well as reports received from international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to date. We encourage others to make their own contributions to record these events, get the facts out, and ultimately, hold the perpetrators of these crimes accountable.

This document provides a chronology of events after the departure of the OSCE's Kosovo Verification Mission on March 19, 1999, which prior to its departure had been regularly issuing human rights reporting. It is compiled from hundreds, if not thousands, of reported violations of human rights and humanitarian law since late March 1999. Due to lack of outside access to Kosovo, this report represents only a partial account of the ethnic cleansing.

The term "ethnic cleansing" generally entails the systematic and forced removal of members of an ethnic group from their communities to change the ethnic composition of a region. Although we are still gaining information on all aspects of Serbian efforts to ethnically cleanse Kosovo, reports of human rights and humanitarian law violations we have received fall under seven broad categories:

1. Forced expulsions: The regime of Slobodan Milosevic is conducting a campaign of forced migration on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War. More than 90 percent of all ethnic Albanians have been expelled from their homes in Kosovo. In contrast to last fall, when attacks on civilians by Serb security forces generally occurred in small villages, this spring Yugoslav Army and Special Police units have joined with recently-armed Serb civilians to expel their neighbors from almost all towns and villages in Kosovo:

An estimated 600,000 internally displaced persons are now struggling to survive in Kosovo. They are scattered throughout the province, often taking shelter in isolated forests and mountain valleys. •Approximately 700,000 Kosovars have taken refuge in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the Republic of Montenegro since hostilities commenced in March 1998. Over three-fourths of these people have arrived since late March.

2. Looting and Burning: Some 500 residential areas have been at least partially burned since late March, including over 300 villages burned since April 4, according to overhead imagery. Besides houses and apartments, mosques, churches, schools, and medical facilities have also been targeted and destroyed. Many settlements have been totally destroyed in an attempt to ensure that the ethnic Albanian residents do not return.

3. Detentions: There are consistent refugee reports that Serbian forces are separating military-aged men from their families in a systematic pattern. At the time of writing, the total number of missing men and their fate is unknown.

4. Summary Execution: Refugees have provided accounts of summary executions in at least 70 towns and villages throughout Kosovo. In addition to random executions, Serbian authorities are targeting intellectuals, professionals, and community leaders.

5. Rape: Ethnic Albanian women are reportedly being raped in increasing numbers. Refugee accounts indicate systematic and organized mass rapes in Djakovica and Pec. We believe that many crimes of gender violence have not been reported due to the cultural stigma attached to these offenses in Kosovar society.

6. Violations of Medical Neutrality: NGOs report that since late March, violations of medical neutrality in Kosovo have accelerated dramatically. Serb authorities have looted and destroyed dozens of medical facilities, murdered Kosovar Albanian physicians, expelled ethnic Albanian patients and care providers from hospitals, and have used large numbers of health facilities as protective cover for military activities. The apparent goal is to effectively deny health care to ethnic Albanians and extinguish the community base that Kosovo's health professionals provide.

7. Identity Cleansing: Refugees report that Serbian authorities have confiscated passports and other identity papers, systematically destroyed voter registers and other aspects of Kosovo's civil registry, and even removed license plates from departing vehicles as part of a policy to prevent returns to Kosovo. Reports of identity cleansing are prevalent in refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania.



With this report, the United States offers a documentary record of the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and human rights violations that underpin the current tragedy of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. At this writing, the forces of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic continue to burn, loot, rape, shell, and de-populate Kosovo, and thousands of refugees continue to flee into neighboring Albania and Macedonia. Although we do not yet know all the details, the fact that this crisis has happened so quickly, methodically, and so savagely, strongly suggests that Serb forces acted based on plans drawn up long before NATO intervened.

The refugees coming out of Kosovo are only now beginning to tell their stories. Yet even these fragmented accounts portray a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing:

•Serbian forces have made Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, a ghost town. Serbian military, police, and paramilitary forces reportedly expelled between 100,000 to 120,000 persons from Pristina in only four days. Kosovars now in Macedonia have claimed that only 100 ethnic Albanians remain in Pristina. Serbian forces reportedly had been taking furniture from abandoned homes.

•In Pec, Serbian forces allegedly herded young Albanian women to the Hotel Karagac, and raped them repeatedly. The commander of the local base reportedly used a roster of soldiers' names to allow his troops to visit the hotel on a rotating basis. The Hotel Karagac is only one example of the gender violence that plays such a large role in Serbian actions in Kosovo.

•Reports indicate that the violence in western Kosovo is stronger than in any other region of the province. Serbian forces emptied Pec of ethnic Albanians in 24 hours. In Djakovica's old city, Serbian forces allegedly burned 200 to 600 homes the day after NATO airstrikes began. By the next day, the rest of the old city had been torched.

•Serbian forces have forced thousands of Kosovars onto trains and sent them to border crossings in Macedonia. Some refugees reported arriving at train stations in buses arranged by the Serb Army. Others reported a mass of humanity -- thousands -- waiting for trains at gunpoint.

•Based on consistent refugee accounts, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that the Djakovica region "undoubtedly has been one of the most violent and cruel in the whole of Kosovo, turning it at times into a virtual killing field."

The United States had hoped to resolve the crisis in Kosovo through the use of diplomacy backed by the threat of force. Only after Belgrade repeatedly rejected the diplomatic solution offered and re-offered at Rambouillet -- and only after it became clear that the Milosevic regime launched attacks on the civilian population in Kosovo and demonstrated its determination to have its way in Kosovo no matter what the consequences -- did NATO pursue a policy of force backed by diplomacy, justified by law and humanitarian necessity.

We have made it clear to the government of Serbia what it will take to end NATO intervention: an immediate halt to all violence and repression in Kosovo; the withdrawal of Serbian military, paramilitary, and police forces; the unconditional safe return of all refugees and internally displaced; the stationing of an international security force; and the establishment of a political framework for Kosovo based on the Rambouillet accords.

In the meantime, we will continue to seek justice for the hundreds of thousands of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians who have suffered at the hands of Serbian forces. We are working closely with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the appropriate United Nations human rights and refugee mechanisms to address, document, and ultimately reverse the damage created by these crimes. As part of this effort, non-governmental organizations working in Macedonia and Albania have joined international organizations in an unprecedented alliance to document abuses, supply evidence to the ICTY, and get the story of ethnic cleansing out to the public at large. We wish to thank the American Bar Association's Central and East European Law Initiative, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Coalition for International Justice for their contributions to this effort.

We also have secured general agreement among the ICTY, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the major UN human rights institutions, and many of the leading NGOs in-theater to use a standard form for refugee accounts (see figure 1) that will allow for the coherent collection and packaging of refugee accounts. Refugees are participating in this effort on a voluntary basis. In response to requests from the ICTY, the U.S. Government is ensuring that refugees who have been selected for residence in the United States are properly interviewed for ICTY purposes. By standardizing the refugee interview process, not only will we ensure that the ICTY has information in a usable form for future investigations and prosecutions, but the resulting data can be aggregated and used as the basis for future reports and updates on war crimes, crimes against humanity and human right violations in Kosovo.

This report chronicles some of the history of the recent ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, beginning with the withdrawal of the OSCE's Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) on March 19, 1999. The KVM had been issuing reports on human rights conditions until its departure. With the crisis still taking place, it is not yet possible to provide a complete appraisal. Furthermore, the Serbian government's refusal to cooperate with the ICTY or to allow any independent monitors or media into Kosovo since the withdrawal of the KVM has limited efforts to document the scope and extent of ethnic cleansing. Due to limited access to Serbia, the report also does not address the situation of Serb refugees from Kosovo. Thus the report should be regarded only as a snapshot of the tragic events and incidents that have unfolded in recent weeks. A more comprehensive accounting, built in part on refugee interviews and in part on on-site investigations, still must take place, hopefully in the near future.

Staff in the Bureaus of Intelligence and Research and Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the Department of State, working in conjunction with staff from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, the Bureau of European Affairs, and the Office of War Crimes Issues, undertook the research and writing of this report. It is based on multiple sources, including foreign governments, international organizations, non-governmental human rights and humanitarian relief organizations, refugees, combatants, and the press.

This report begins the process of telling the world a story it has heard thus far only in bits and pieces. Although incomplete, it already has taught us much. We have watched families, uprooted and torn asunder, stagger across Kosovo's borders. We have seen the locked trains on one-way missions of despair. We have consoled children weeping for parents they cannot find. We have listened to the stories of people whose fathers, brothers, sons, and husbands were led away. We have reached out to rape victims struck mute by savagery. We have seen ominous overhead photos of freshly-upturned earth and burned-out towns. Already we can testify to the horror. Already we are witnesses.

We -- as a people, as a nation, as a world -- cannot let such outrageous violations of human rights stand. That is why NATO continues to fight for the victims of Belgrade's ethnic cleansing.




What began in late February 1998 as a Serb government campaign against the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) has evolved into a comprehensive, premeditated, and systematic program to ethnically cleanse the Serbian province of Kosovo of its roughly 1.7 million ethnic Albanian residents (also referred to as Kosovar Albanians). Because Serbian authorities have denied access to international monitors, documentation efforts have been too fragmented to estimate definitively the number of missing and dead. Serb military, paramilitary, and police forces have forcibly expelled over 1 million Kosovars from their homes. Since March 1998, approximately 700,000 Kosovars have fled to neighboring states, including Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the Republic of Montenegro. As many as an additional 600,000 Kosovars could be internally displaced. In the process, Serbian forces have conducted summary executions, separated military-age men from their families, raped women and girls, destroyed mosques and churches, converted medical facilities to military outposts, and looted and burned homes and villages.

The term "ethnic cleansing" first came into use during the mass expulsions of ethnic Muslims from towns in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992; since then, media outlets, human rights groups and governments have used it on enough occasions to require careful definition. As used in this report, ethnic cleansing is defined as the systematic and forced removal of the members of an ethnic group from a community or communities in order to change the ethnic composition of a given region. In Bosnia, many ethnically cleansed towns and regions were eventually reoccupied by members of another ethnic group (who themselves often had been cleansed).

From the beginning, the regime in Belgrade has deliberately misled the international community and its own people about its ethnic cleansing campaign. Counterinsurgency operations against the KLA began in late February and early March 1998, when Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs Police (MUP) attacked the villages of Likosane and Cirez. These attacks resulted in the death of 25 Kosovar Albanians, of which as many as 14 may have been summarily executed. Since then, the MUP, Yugoslav Army (VJ) forces, and paramilitary units have made little effort to distinguish between KLA fighters and civilians.

In late March 1999, Serbian forces dramatically increased the scope and pace of their efforts, moving away from selective targeting of towns and regions suspected of KLA sympathies toward a sustained and systematic effort to ethnically cleanse the entire province of Kosovo. To date, Serb forces conducting ethnic cleansing operations have not yet tried to repopulate the over 500 towns and villages from which residents have been evicted. Some villages are now used as cover for Serb military emplacements. Many, however, remain depopulated. NATO is committed to ensuring the return of all Kosovars to their homes.

Since the March 19, 1999 departure of the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that over 700,000 Kosovars have fled to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (211,000), Albania (404,000), Bosnia-Herzegovina (17,000) the Republic of Montenegro (62,000), and elsewhere (as of May 5, 1999). The Governments of Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, and Montenegro have provided land for camps, logistical support, and protection. NATO forces in Macedonia and Albania have helped establish transit camps. Other governments have begun to accept varying numbers of refugees to ease the pressure on the so-called "front-line" states. Even with such support, however, the front-line states will continue to bear the brunt of these mass expulsions, which has badly burdened the economies and upset the political balances of these states.

Although the media has focused almost exclusively on the story of the hundreds of thousands of exhausted refugees arriving at camps in Macedonia and Albania, another story has escaped their attention, in large part because Serbian authorities have not permitted entry into Kosovo. Those left behind in Kosovo - known as internally displaced persons, or IDPs - suffer under much worse conditions than even those faced by refugees. While independent sources have not been able to confirm reports of starvation among IDPs in Kosovo many in all likelihood are experiencing food shortages, malnutrition, health problems, and other types of deprivation as a result of having to hide from Serbian forces for weeks in neighboring mountains and forests. Needless to say, they also likely face attack by Serbian forces. According to some reports, VJ units have thrown grenades from helicopters at fleeing IDPs. Shelling of civilians reportedly has been used to herd groups of refugees for later deportation.

Reports of the detention and summary execution of military-aged men continue to increase. In recent weeks, refugees have reported that Serbian forces have undertaken mass executions and individual summary executions in at least 70 towns and villages throughout the province. Overhead imagery confirms the presence of mass grave sites in Pusto Selo and Izbica (see figures 2 and 3); there may be other sites in Drenica, Kaaniku, Malisevo, Rezala, and the Pagarusa valley. Anecdotal refugee accounts suggest that Serbian forces have executed at least 4,000 Kosovars. This number is likely to increase with the collection of additional data as will the already much larger number of persons unaccounted for.

In recent weeks, refugees have reported a new method of execution: Serbian forces order unarmed ethnic Albanian men to run away, and then shoot them. Serb authorities apparently favor this method so that they can portray the murders as collateral casualties of military operations.

There are increasing numbers of reports of the rape of ethnic Albanian women by Serbian security forces, both on an organized basis and by individual members of Serbian forces. According to refugees, organized rape has occurred in Djakovica and at the Hotel Karagac in Pec.