June 30 1998 report on Yugoslavia and Kosovo
FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF
A Human Rights Crisis in Kosovo Province
Among others, 10 male members of the Ahmeti family, aged between 16 and 50 years, were killed, apparently in extrajudicial executions, in Likošane. Mirsije Ahmeti, whose father and three brothers were killed, was reported in the Belgrade weekly Vreme as describing how the police came to their house at about 4pm on 28 February, ordered the occupants onto the floor at gunpoint, locked the women and children in one room and took the men out. (3 The men were at first believed to be missing and were apparently not counted in the 16 dead first reported by the police (the police in any case did not issue the names of the dead). On 2 March their bodies were seen in the morgue in Priština (Prishtinë in Albanian), the capital of Kosovo Province, by somebody who was able to identify them and they were returned to the village for burial on 3 March.
Visitors to the scene including representatives of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre (HLC) (4 observed and photographed blood, teeth and what they believed to be brain tissue on 1 March in the yard of the Ahmeti house. They also observed the words: "This is what will happen next time, too" written in Serbian on the wall. It is unclear whether all of the blood and body parts came from the Ahmetis; one local journalist who visited the scene believed that some traces may have come from an injured KLA fighter who may have come to the yard at some point and that his trail of blood may have led police there.
According to the HLC (5, 70-year-old Muhamet Djeli and his son Naser were killed in the house opposite that of the Ahmetis. Muhamet was killed in an outbuilding and Naser was killed in the next room in the presence of his wife and two children. He had been hit by a bullet which came through a window that had been covered with a mattress. A trail of blood indicated that he had been dragged outside, but his body was taken to the Priština morgue by police.
The HLC also reported that although many of the bodies were taken to the morgue, there were no signs that autopsies had been performed on them, nor on the bodies which were left in the village. To Amnesty International's knowledge, to date no investigations have been carried out into the killings.
Although the full information about what happened in Donji Prekaz on 5 and 6 March is still not available, Amnesty International is seriously concerned that at least some of those killed were extrajudicially executed and that others may have been unlawfully killed as a result of the excessive force which was used without regard to the fact that women, children and men who were not armed were among those in the houses at the point they were attacked by the police. There appears not to have been any intention to effect the arrest of armed suspects in the village with proper precautions and while minimizing the use of force in order to protect life, as both national and international law requires. Rather, the operation appears to have been carried out as a military operation by forces under apparent orders to eliminate the suspects and their families.
The police operation was carried out or at least led by officers of the Special Police Units (Posebne Jedinice Policije - PJP). These are elite units which are trained for special operations, such as dealing with hijacking. It is impossible to ascertain how many police officers were involved, but it seems likely that there were several hundred men. They were dressed in combat uniform, operated in military formations, and were supported by armoured personnel carriers (APCs) armed with heavy machine guns and cannons of at least 20 millimetre calibre. Besides vehicle-mounted weapons it appears that the police also carried heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, assault rifles and sniper rifles. Some reports indicate that 81 millimetre mortar rounds were also fired in the attack. Witnesses claimed that much of the police's firing at the village emanated from the disused hunting ammunition factory in the vicinity of the village where they had previously established a presence. This factory appears to have been used as the base for the operation.
In a report by the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs made public on 10 March the Ministry claimed that Adem Jashari had been involved in the attack on the police patrol near Likošane on 28 February (6. The report also stated that there was another attack on a police patrol near Donji Prekaz on Thursday 5 March at dawn (at around 5.30 that day), and that following the deployment of a "strong police presence, the terrorist group retreated to the stronghold on [sic] the Jashari compound".
However, witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International and others give accounts which give strong reason to question this version of events. In particular witnesses from other parts of the village than the Jasharis' report the police moving in on and shooting at their homes from as early as 5.30am. Witnesses from the Jasharis' part of the village described how their part was fired upon from about 6.30am.
It is more difficult to estimate the degree of resistance offered by the armed ethnic Albanians in the Jashari compound and other parts of the village, particularly as some witnesses may have been reluctant to reveal knowledge of this. On the basis of what can be ascertained or deduced, it appears that each family or group of families gathered women, children and men who were not carrying arms into the safest room in each house. Meanwhile, some or all of the male members of each family repelled the police attack with arms. It also appears that they were expecting the police to attack, as they had done in the police action against the Jashari house in January, and in the incidents around Likošane a few days before. Nevertheless, it is evident that they were outnumbered, and had fewer and inferior weapons than the police used. They may well have had dozens of men armed with assault rifles and some other weapons such as anti-tank weapons. The degree of resistance offered from each house or group of houses also seems to have varied, but it is clear that the strongest resistance came from the Jashari compounds.
The only reported survivor from the compound where Adem Jashari's closest family members lived was an 11-year-old girl, B.J., who spoke to foreign and local journalists.7 She told reporters how her family sheltered together during hours of firing in which her house was repeatedly hit and then, when the firing ceased, how she found the dead bodies of her three sisters Blerina (age seven years), Fatima (eight) and Lirie (10) and then of her mother and four brothers. Because of the lack of other witnesses and the concealment or destruction of evidence which will be described later, it is extremely difficult to reconstruct what happened in the compound except for what the girl told journalists after her escape.
Around 35 children, women and some men gathered in a house across the track from Shaban Jashari's compound during the attack. Amnesty International interviewed most of the family groups which had been sheltering in the house. In their testimony, which was taken at separate locations, they largely corroborated each other, confirming details of the attack as a whole and describing in various degrees of detail the extrajudicial execution of three of the six men who had been with them and the wounding of a fourth.
The witnesses stated that after hearing the start of the attack at around 6.30am or 7am they gathered in the house of Beqir Jashari which had the strongest walls and was in the middle of the row of houses. They remained in the house listening to the sounds of the attack on the other houses until about 1.30 that afternoon. At this point they stated that the second and then first floors of Beqir Jashari's house came under fire and that the roof and upper part of the house started to collapse. Police then came close to the house and witnesses describe how a tear-gas grenade (this could possibly have been a smoke grenade) was thrown and the gas or smoke came into the room through the broken windows. Police then ordered the people to come out of the house one by one, calling in a mixture of Albanian and Serbian. In the confusion (the children did not understand the orders) the people in the house came out in groups with the men among them, some dressed in women's clothes. The men were picked out after they came out. The first victim appears to have been Qazim Jashari, a 47-year-old teacher, who was stopped by police and shot just as he emerged from the house. The next victim was 26-year-old Nazmi Jashari whose killing several witnesses described. Nazmi Jashari was walking with his 70-year-old mother. Her account of his killing, parts of which follow, was corroborated by several other witnesses who were interviewed independently by Amnesty International:
"When we arrived at the door of the yard he said to 'me let me help you'. ...When we went out of the yard my son held me. He told me 'okay mother let's go', the only thing which I know from him. In front of the house when we were stopped they [the police] took my son from me. ... I told him go and leave me here because nothing will happen to me. He didn't say anything to me and they took my son from me until I turned my eyes to him .... they ordered my son to lay down then they searched him and ordered him to get up again and he did that. Again to lay down, they did not find anything, no weapons. I saw with my eyes how they prepared their automatic weapons, two of them, one on one side and another on the other, they shot him between the shoulders I saw that with my eyes and screamed at that moment 'Please God, I rely on you!' ... I didn't know what else I could say. I held those two walking sticks. I felt that my feet where completely cold. I could not feel them, I didn't know that they were mine. I saw how he was still he didn't move he seemed to be sleeping. I thought to go and to see him one of the police ordered me: 'Don't move!' He did not let me and I was just staying and looking. Then I wanted again to go and to cover him. I wanted to take this [her scarf] off and one of them turned a gun to me, but he didn't let me."
Examination of pictures of the body of Nazmi Jashari by a forensic pathologist consulted by Amnesty International indicated injuries which are broadly consistent with the accounts of him having been extrajudicially executed, albeit there are discrepancies between the witness accounts and the pathologist's analysis of the precise manner in which Nazmi Jashari was shot. The photographs showed entry wounds from bullets to his chest. At least one of the entry wounds showed marks which may have been the result of gasses as the muzzle of the gun pressed against his chest as it was fired. Nazmi's face was also caved in - the pathologist concluded this was either the result of blows from an object such as a rifle butt or his face having been stamped upon.
Beqir Jashari (43) managed to get out with the rest of the people who had sheltered in his house in the confusion as the police killed Qazim and Nazmi. He was reportedly shot as they fled up a hill close to the cordon of police on the outside of the village. Riad Jashari (16) was reportedly shot and injured before he reached the hill but survived to flee with the assistance of the others.
Whether or not all or some of the men who had been in the Beqir Jashari house, whose killings the witnesses described, were bearing arms during the police attack it is important to stress that in the witnesses' accounts they had ceased to offer resistance and had effectively surrendered themselves to the police.
As the witnesses fled they described meeting or seeing several cordons of police after leaving their houses. They were directed to flee in the direction of a neighbouring village and most complained that police appeared to fire at the ground in their direction as they fled. There appeared to be no attempt by the police to organize a place of safety for them or to provide any medical or other assistance.
Witnesses from other places in the Jasharis' part of the village described variously how they were ordered out of their homes or how their homes were fired upon. Some hid in their own or neighbours' houses for two or three days. The houses in the Jasharis' part of the village were rendered uninhabitable; houses appeared to have been deliberately set on fire and parts were bulldozed with tracked vehicles during the operation. Elsewhere in the village the inhabitants managed to flee or hid in their own or other houses. Some of those who hid did not get out until the following day, 6 March, or in some cases even 7 March.
In the aftermath of the incident, around 56 people were buried, amid some confusion. For example, at least two of the bodies handed over by the police came from Lauša village and had been killed in another incident. Some of the bodies were not identified because they had been badly burnt. Of around 41 bodies which were identified 12 were women and 11 were children up to 16 years of age. Most of the victims identified came from the compound of Adem Jashari and the houses close to it.
Some of the survivors believe that bodies still remain in the ruined houses.
In the absence of more detailed evidence, the conclusion must be, at the very least, that the victims who were clearly not using arms - that is the women and children at least - and about whom there is not witness testimony, died as a result of the excessive use of force by the police in contravention of international standards on law enforcement. Little regard appears to have been taken of the fact that unarmed people were present in the houses. The women and child victims appeared to have died as a result of different combinations of shrapnel injuries, bullet wounds and falling debris inside the houses.
International standards such as the UN Body of Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials specify that intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life. In particular no warning was given of the intention to use force before at least two houses were attacked with heavy machine guns, cannons and probably mortar rounds. In witnesses accounts they were only called by the police to come out after several hours of bombardment by the police.
Despite the reports from the Ministry of the Interior which implied that the police operation had been staged as an immediate response to an attack on a police patrol, the operation had the appearance of one which had been planned sometime in advance. This would have been all the more likely since the police had attacked the Adem Jashari compound in January and were fought off. Despite the evident opportunity to plan this operation there appears to be no pretence that the operation was aimed at simply arresting those suspected of alleged terrorist acts.
The destruction and hiding of evidence by the authorities, and undignified treatment of the victims' bodies and their relatives
The Federal Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) specifies in Article 252 that autopsies shall be carried out when it is suspected that a death was caused by a criminal act or in connection with the carrying out of a criminal act. When an investigating magistrate is unable to attend the scene immediately, the police are allowed to initiate forensic investigations, but not to order autopsies (Article 154). However, in the aftermath of the operation the CCP appears to have been blatantly ignored. One witness who remained hidden in the village until 8 March stated that he saw the police removing the bodies from the house he was hidden in without any particular care. At the same time they destroyed everything they laid their hands on.
According to the Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms (CDHRF - the main ethnic Albanian human rights organization in Kosovo), on 9 March the police in Srbica telephoned the CDHRF's sub-council in Srbica and told them that the bodies of those killed in Donji Prekaz were available for the CDHRF or others to come and arrange identification and burial. On 10 March representatives of the CDHRF, some relatives of the dead and other members of the ethnic Albanian community who were in the area of Srbica were able to view the bodies. These had been laid out in an undignified manner by the authorities in an open-sided building (a building materials depot) close to a road on the outskirts of Srbica. The bodies were apparently unprotected from interference by animals or other possible damage.
Many relatives complained that they were unable to pass police checkpoints to get to the bodies or the mass funeral which was held the next day. A delegation of ethnic Albanian doctors from Priština which was told by police that they would be able to view the bodies on 10 March was reportedly turned back twice by police despite assurances given by telephone that they would be able to pass police checkpoints. They did not reach the bodies. A convoy of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) with delegates and medical supplies was also refused passage to the depot and the Drenica area. A truckload of coffins with the convoy was taken by the police and used for the burial.
Those representatives of the ethnic Albanian community who were able to reach the site where the bodies were laid out tried to organize an informal identification by those relatives who were able to reach the site. The police had apparently carried out their own identification of some of the bodies: they had numbered them and marked some as "unidentified". Photographs taken at the depot show no signs that autopsies had been carried out on the bodies.
The following day, 11 March, relatives and others organizing the funerals found that police had buried the bodies, carrying out threats which they had previously made that they would do so if the ethnic Albanians did not bury them quickly. The ethnic Albanian representatives then disinterred the coffins, tried to identify as many bodies as possible and reburied the bodies with the heads pointing towards Mecca in accordance with Muslim custom.
Amnesty International is seriously concerned at the failure of the authorities to carry out proper investigations into the causes of the deaths, in breach of national law as well as international standards relating to the investigation of killings in the course of police operations. The most glaring evidence of this is the lack of autopsies. The authorities claim that investigating magistrates were summoned to the scene; if this was the case then the failure to ensure autopsies were carried out appears to have been a gross dereliction of duty. The relatives of the dead suffered, and indeed continue to suffer, from the lack of proper information about how the victims died and the lack of any proper effort to ascertain responsibility. Moreover, only 40 or so of the 56 bodies were identified, leaving the grieving relatives of those missing who were not identified among victims in an even worse state. That the authorities appear to have actively blocked or prevented efforts to identify the bodies confirms the suspicion that many of the killings may have been extrajudicial executions.
Furthermore, the authorities prevented independent investigation of the deaths. In response to worldwide concern at the incident and appeals from the CDHRF and the victims' families, the US-based human rights organization Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) organized a nine-member team of forensic experts from four countries who were ready to travel to Kosovo after having submitted visa applications on 13 March. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia also asked that its staff be allowed to accompany the PHR team. At the end of March the Federal Government informed the US State Department, and not PHR directly, that three US citizens would be allowed to travel to the region as long as they worked with experts designated by the Yugoslav authorities. They would not be able to operate as the coordinated team which PHR proposed. PHR stated in response that "isolated forensic investigators from various countries operating independently from one another is neither a scientifically nor logistically feasible option".
The Serbian authorities did, however, invite the ICRC to open an ad hoc investigation into the events. In a statement on 20 March the ICRC pointed out that "acting as a fact-finding commission" was not within its mandate and that "taking on such a quasi-judicial task could jeopardize its primary humanitarian duty to assist and protect the victims of armed conflict or internal strife"8. The statement further recommended that the authorities contact an international expert in the field of humanitarian law to set up such a commission. The authorities are not known to have taken up this recommendation.
On 12 April two Serb men, Novak Stijovi_ and Staniša Radoševi_, and the mother of the latter, Rosa Radoševic, went to the village of Po_ar near Glodjane to collect the elderly father of Novak Stijovi_. They were detained, beaten and questioned by armed ethnic Albanian men, who took them to the so-called KLA headquarters in Glodjane. They were made to retrieve and hand over a hunting rifle from the house of one of them, before being released and allowed to leave in the direction of De_ane. Meanwhile, Staniša's father, Slobodan Radoševi_ , had stayed behind to look after their farm in Dašinovac village and his family has not had any news from him since. However, on 27 April the Kosovo Albanian language daily Koha Ditore reported that the KLA had executed five abducted Serbs, but did not give their names. According to the pro-government Media Centre in Priština the bodies of Slobodan Radoševi_ and that of another missing Serb, Miloš Radunovi_, had been seen at the side of the road in Dašinovac. Neither of these reports has been independently confirmed.
• The authorities should ensure that all members of the security forces carrying out law enforcement functions in Kosovo province are acquainted with and trained in the application of the following international standards:
• The authorities should ensure that in situations of armed conflict the relevant prohibitions of international humanitarian law contained in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and in Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions relating to the protection of victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts, shall be applied and all members of the security forces deployed in Kosovo should be made familiar with them.
• The authorities should allow independent investigation of recent human rights abuses, particularly the killings which occurred between 28 February and 6 March in the villages of Likošane, _irez and Donji Prekaz, and should initiate, as a matter of urgency, their own thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations by the police according to guidelines set out in international standards such as the UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions.
• The authorities should ensure that criminal investigations and procedures are initiated to hold to account any officers suspected of ordering or perpetrating human rights violations.
• The authorities should allow the opening of the field office of the United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) which the High Commissioner has requested in Priština.
• The authorities should grant permission for an extended temporary human rights monitoring mission of the OHCHR as recommended in the letter of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia, Ji_í Dienstbier, to the UN Commission on Human Rights dated 14 April 1998.
• The authorities should grant permission for the redeployment of the Mission of Long-Duration of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
• The authorities should cooperate in full with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, allowing in particular, access to its investigators to grave sites in Kosovo.
• It should develop a human rights strategy to shape the demands it makes of all the relevant parties. This should focus on ensuring that:
• Contributing governments should ensure that all requests for funding made by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in connection with its investigations and any subsequent prosecutions are met in full.
• The KLA should ensure that it cooperates with the ICRC, in particular to resolve the fate of prisoners reportedly detained by its members.
Report from Beta news agency, 28 May 1998.
Krvavi vikend u Drenici (Bloody weekend in Drenica), Vreme, Belgrade, 7 March 1998.
Krvavi vikend u Drenici (Bloody weekend in Drenica), Vreme, Belgrade, 7 March 1998.
Investigations in Drenica, 8 March 1998 and Police Operations in the Drenica area, 28 Mach 1998.
Investigations in Drenica, 8 March 1998 and Police Operations in the Drenica Area, 28 March 1998
Reported by Tanjug (Yugoslav news agency), relayed by BBC Monitoring Service, 11 March 1998.
Kosovo's silent houses of the dead, Sunday Times (London) by Marie Colvin, 15 March 1998.
ICRC Press release 98/10, "Kosovo: ICRC position on invitation to head investigation", 20 March 1998.
HLC Spotlight Report 27, May 1998.
Amnesty International notes that Article 7 of the UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted by General Assembly Resolution 47/133 of 18 December 1992, states that :" No circumstances whatsoever, whether a threat of war, a state of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked to justify enforced disappearances". Article 13 of the Declaration requires that prompt investigations be initiated whenever there are reasonable grounds to believe that an enforced disappearance has occurred.