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News archive January-March 2000

Serb gang-rapes in Kosovo exposed

(New York, March 21, 2000) -- Commanding officers bear criminal responsibility for a pattern of gang-rapes by Serbian and Yugoslav forces in Kosovo during the NATO bombing campaign, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

Human Rights Watch documented 96 cases of rape by Serbian and Yugoslav forces against Kosovar Albanian women immediately before and during the 1999 bombing campaign, and believes that many more incidents of rape have gone unreported.

The report said that rapes were not rare and isolated acts committed by individuals, but rather were used deliberately as an instrument to terrorize the civilian population, extort money from families, and push people to flee their homes. Virtually all of the sexual assaults Human Rights Watch has documented were gang rapes involving at least two perpetrators.

The 37-page report is the first to combine all credible reporting on rape during the Kosovo conflict, and includes a map of all documented incidents of rape in Kosovo.

"These are not occasional incidents committed by a few crazy men," said Regan Ralph, executive director of the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. "Rape was used as an instrument of war in Kosovo, and it should be punished as such. The men who committed these terrible crimes must be brought to justice."

Human Rights Watch said its research did not confirm the allegations that Serbian and Yugoslav forces had set up "rape camps" in Pec or Djakovica. The organization criticized NATO, the U.S. government, and the British government for spreading unconfirmed information about rape while the NATO bombing campaign was underway.

Since the end of the war, rapes of Serbian, Albanian, and Roma women by ethnic Albanians -- sometimes by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) -- have also been documented. Human Rights Watch condemns these human rights violations and continues to document post-conflict abuses for future reports. However, rapes and other crimes of sexual violence committed since the NATO-led troops entered Kosovo are beyond the scope of this report.

The report says that rapes in Kosovo took three basic forms: rapes in women's homes, rapes during flight, and rapes in detention.

In the first category, security forces entered private homes and raped women either in the yard, in front of family members, or in an adjoining room. In the second category, internally displaced people wandering on foot and riding on tractors were repeatedly stopped, robbed, and threatened by the Yugoslav Army, Serbian police, or paramilitaries. If families could not produce cash, security forces told them that their daughters would be taken away and raped; in some cases, even when families did provide money, their daughters were taken away. The third category of rapes took place in temporary detention centers, such as abandoned homes or barns.

The majority of rape cases were evidently committed by Serbian paramilitaries, who wore various uniforms and often had bandanas, long knives, long hair, and beards. These paramilitary formations worked closely with official government forces, either the Serbian Ministry of Interior or the Yugoslav Army, throughout Kosovo. In several cases, victims and witnesses identified the perpetrators as Serbian special police, in blue or blue camouflage uniforms, or Yugoslav Army soldiers, in green military uniforms. Several rape victims actually reported the crimes to Yugoslav military officers. Human Rights Watch called on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to indict not only the perpetrators of rape, but also their commanding officers.

"Women in Kosovo are waiting for justice, and so far none of the Kosovo indictments have included sex crimes," said Regan Ralph, executive director of the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. "The sooner there are investigations and prosecutions, the sooner these women can begin to rebuild their lives."

Human Rights Watch was able to interview six rape victims in depth, and their testimonies are contained in this report. Human Rights Watch met two other women who acknowledged that they had been raped but refused to give testimony. Human Rights Watch documented six cases of women who were raped and subsequently killed. The ninety-six cases also include rape reports deemed reliable by Human Rights Watch that were compiled by other nongovernmental organizations.

Human Rights Watch believes that the actual number of women raped in Kosovo between March and June 1999 is much higher than ninety-six. Due to strong social taboos, Kosovar Albanian victims of rape are generally reluctant to speak about their experiences, and those who remained in Kosovo throughout the conflict may not have had an opportunity to report abuses.

Source: Human Rights Watch

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