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News Archive 1999


April 28, 1999

Two ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo told Human Rights Watch yesterday that they had been raped by Serbian security forces while being held captive in Kosovo. Three other rape victims from the same village have also reported their cases to doctors in northern Albania. The two victims, from the village of Dragacin in the Suva Reka municipality, gave testimony that was detailed and credible. Many aspects of their stories were corroborated by eight other women villagers, interviewed separately. Human Rights Watch is withholding the names of the victims at their request to protect them from government retaliation.All of the women interviewed told how the police surrounded the village of Dragacin on April 21. Most of the men fled into the mountains, but between 200 and 300 women (including fifty women from the nearby villages of Mujlan and Dujle (in Albanian)), as well as eleven elderly men, stayed behind. The security forces gathered the entire group in a field, where they searched and then separated the eleven elderly men, including a ninety-three-year-old man named Ymer. None of the men have been seen since, although three of the women interviewed said they later saw one of the eleven men lying dead in a Dragacin street.

The government security forces divided the women randomly into three private houses in the village (the houses of Shahin T., Avdi T. and Halil T.), where they were held for three days. During this time, the women were repeatedly threatened and harassed. One woman said that the police held a knife to her three year-old boy, saying that they would kill him if she didn't produce gold or money. Certain women were compelled to cook and clean for Serb forces. Some were forced to have sex with their captors.

The two rape victims interviewed by Human Rights Watch were held in the same house, which was crowded with frightened women and children. Women held in other houses described similar conditions. One of the victims described how she was sexually abused on two occasions, during one of which she was raped. At approximately 4 p.m. on her second day of captivity, she was "chosen" from among a large group of women by a man in a green camouflage uniform. The man took her to another house and raped her, she said. The following day another man demanded she go with him to a different house some ten minutes' walk away. According to the woman's account, the man did not tell her where he was taking her or why, but instead pushed her forward with his gun when she started crying. The house was full of members of the Serbian security forces, she told Human Rights Watch. They asked her questions, using a mixture of gestures and very basic words to communicate, as the woman hardly understood Serbian. They asked her age -- twenty-three, she said -- whether she had any children, and the whereabouts of her husband. They asked her for money. When she told them that she had none, they ordered her to take off her clothes. She started crying and pulling out her hair, which made the men laugh. They put on some music. After she took off her clothes, the men approached her one by one as she stood before them naked. She told Human Rights Watch that all of them looked at her, then they left her alone in the room with the man she believed to be their commander, and another officer. The commander, whom she recognized as such because he had gold stars on his cap and he issued orders to others, had ordered another the others around, reclined on his back about ten feet away from where the victim and the officer were lying on a bed. The man on the bed, who was nude, touched her breasts but did not force her to touch him. "I kept crying all the time and pushing his hands away," she said. "Finally he said to me, I'm not going to do anything. The commander just stared at us." After about ten minutes, the other soldiers returned to the room and, still nude, the woman was forced to serve them coffee. She was then ordered to put her clothes back on and clean up. She picked up the dirty cups and dishes and swept the floor, she said. Then she was returned to the house with the other women. When the others asked what had happened to her, she refused to tell them.

The second rape victim, age twenty-nine, reported to Human Rights Watch that the police took her away from the house where she was being held and brought her to another house. There she was placed in a room and forced to strip naked. One after the other, five members of the Serb forces entered the room to look at her body, but it was only the last man who raped her, she said. While he was assaulting her, the other four entered the room and watched. The woman also stated that someone had placed a walkie-talkie under the bed in the room, and that throughout the ordeal the Serbian forces shouted at her via the walkie talkie to scare her. In all, she was held in the room for about half an hour.

A doctor at the camp in Kukes where the refugees from Dragacin are currently living told Human Rights Watch that three other women had come to him yesterday to report that they had been raped. The doctor said that one of these women showed obvious signs of severe emotional distress. Other women held in the Dragacin houses told Human Rights Watch that they had seen or heard women being taken by the Serbian forces during their three days in captivity. One elderly woman from Mujlan said that, on the third night, the police entered the house of Avdi T., shining a flashlight in the faces of the women, many of whom were trying to cover their heads with their scarves. They found one woman and said, "You come with us." She returned approximately two hours later and, when asked what happened, said, "Don't ask me anything."

On Saturday, April 24, all of the women in Dragacin were forced by government forces to walk to the nearby village of Dujle, where they were held in the local school for two days without food or water, although no one reported further physical abuse. On April 26, they were taken in two buses to the village of Zhur, where they were forced to walk across the border into Albania. Human Rights Watch has received unconfirmed reports that rapes occurred between April 24 and 26.

Witnesses' descriptions of the uniforms - green camouflage and blue camouflage - indicate that the incidents described above were a joint operation by the Serbian special police (MUP) and Yugoslav Army (VJ). Some of the perpetrators also wore black ski masks.

Source: Human Rights Watch

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