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Opinions Archive 1999
Human Rights Watch on peace agreement

Human Rights Protection and Accountability Central to Kosovo Peace
Albanians in Kosovo at Risk From Withdrawing Troops

(New York, June 4, 1999) - Ethnic Albanians who remain in Kosovo are particularly vulnerable to further atrocities by withdrawing Serbian and Yugoslav forces who, according to the proposed settlement, may soon leave the province, Human Rights Watch said today. The safety of these civilians must be a priority and steps must be taken to prevent an endgame of killing and destruction.

"The peace agreement must not forget those who are still in Kosovo," said Holly Cartner, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "We learned from Bosnia and a year of fighting in Kosovo that withdrawing troops often use the closing days of war to exact revenge and express their frustration through brutal attacks on civilians. Now is the time for particular vigilance to prevent another wave of atrocities."

Human Rights Watch also emphasized that any peace deal for Kosovo must make it a top priority to protect human rights and arrest indicted war criminals. The organization called on the international community to assist in efforts that would lead to the arrest of President Milosevic and other top Serbian Yugoslav officials who have been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

A political settlement for Kosovo, the organization said, must address a number of serious human rights concerns. These include:

The Right to Return -- The international community should take steps to ensure that all ethnic Albanians who have been internally displaced or expelled from Kosovo are allowed to return to their homes, and are provided safety guarantees by any future international military presence. At the same time, no one should be forced to return against their will and full international refugee protection should continue to be provided to those with a well-founded fear of persecution in Kosovo. Full and impartial information should be provided to all refugees and internally displaced persons so that they may best determine if and when they wish to return to their homes.

Human Rights Protection in Kosovo -- The international community must establish structures to guarantee human rights protections for all residents of Kosovo. Special attention must be paid to local ethnic Serbs, who may face reprisals from returning ethnic Albanians.

Cooperation With the War Crimes Tribunal -- The international community should cooperate fully with the war crimes tribunal to collect additional evidence of war crimes committed in Kosovo by all sides since March 1998. This includes assistance and protection for forensics investigations. The international military presence in Kosovo should have a mandate to arrest any indicted war criminals who may be present in the province.

Source: Human Rights Watch

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