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Crisis 1999
News Archive 1999

Human rights groups demand information on missing persons

(Pristina, August 6, 1999) -- Six human rights groups, four from Kosovo and two international, called today on the Serbian government to release information about the thousands of ethnic Albanians who are known to have been taken into custody by Serbian forces during the NATO bombing campaign between March 24 and June 15, 1999. More than 2,000 Albanian Kosovars are in detention in Serbia, while at least 1,500 others are unaccounted for, and the lists are growing daily.

The precise number of detainees is unknown since the Serbian government has failed to provide accurate figures to lawyers or human rights groups. According to a list compiled by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), based on information from the Serbian Ministry of Justice, approximately 2,000 ethnic Albanians are in Serbian prisons, including people who were arrested on charges of anti-state activities before the NATO campaign. The Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, a Kosovo- based human rights group, indirectly obtained a list from the Serbian Ministry of Justice with approximately 2,000 names, although some of these detainees are not on the ICRC list. The Society for Political Prisoners in Pristina reports that many families know of relatives in Serbian prisons who are not on either list. The Humanitarian Law Center, with offices in Belgrade and three cities in Kosovo, has thus far confirmed that twenty persons previously considered missing are in Serbian prisons, but they are also not on the lists.

Complicating matters is the high number of people taken into custody by Serbian forces during the NATO bombing whose whereabouts are currently unknown. In the city of Djakovica (Gjakova in Albanian) alone, 1,041 people are reported missing as of August 1, 1999, many of whom are known to have been arrested between March and June 1999. Given the frequency of extrajudicial executions throughout Kosovo and the large number of unexamined graves throughout the province, there are very strong reasons to fear that some or all of the missing are dead.

The joint appeal called on the Serbian government to immediately inform family members of detainees and missing persons believed to be in custody of the locations of detainees and the reasons for their detention. According to international law, all criminal charges must be made public and the accused must be provided with unrestricted access to a lawyer and family visits. Trials must be in full accordance with international standards.

The international community active in Kosovo should press the Serbian government at all opportunities for information on detainees and missing persons, and demand their fair treatment. The status of detainees was not addressed in the Kumanovo Agreement between NATO and the Yugoslav government or in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244/99, which mandated the international presence in Kosovo. Only concerted international pressure will help ensure these people's safety, the organizations said.

Source: Human Rights Watch

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