June 30 1998 report on Yugoslavia and Kosovo
FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF
A Human Rights Crisis in Kosovo Province
On 27 November 1997 Ismet Gjocaj was shot and killed by police in disputed circumstances in Rezni_e (also spelt Rzni_) village near De_ane. According to reports passed to the press by the police he had been taking part in an armed attack on the police station in the village and had been killed by police returning fire. One police officer was reported to have been killed in the attack and another officer wounded. However, the police account of Ismet Gjocaj's involvement in the attack does not appear credible. On 25 November Ismet Gjocaj made a statement to the local CDHRF branch in De_ane in which he stated that on 21 November a police patrol had stopped him and another Albanian as they cut wood near the Alb-anian border and threatened them. He also stated that he was then taken to his home which was searched, and that he and his brother were briefly detained and then told to report again to the police on 25 November (the day he gave the statement).
There is strong evidence that he had reported to the police and was in custody on the night of his death and when the reported attack on the police station occurred. A forensic pathologist consulted by Amnesty International who examined photographs of Ismet Gjocaj's body concluded that the body had freshly-inflicted multiple bruising, predominantly to the back, buttocks and arms. The bruising showed signs that it was inflicted with a baton, truncheon or similar object. Still more seriously, the majority of both the bruising and the bullet wounds had been inflicted from behind. Amnesty International believes that the most likely explanation for Ismet Gjocaj's death is that he had been in custody at the time of the attack on the police station and that he was extrajudicially executed, possibly as a form of revenge for the reported death and injuries to police officers that night.
Many of the areas where the arms searches were most intense, such as the area bordering Albania, are now the scene of the most intense security forces operations and clashes with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA, or in Albanian Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës, UÇK). Such arms searches as described here are probably now less frequent but have been replaced by even more serious scenarios such as that in Likošane where police went in pursuit of armed men and their actions resulted in possible extrajudicial executions (see the accompanying document Violence in Drenica, #2 in this series, AI Index: EUR 70/33/98). The arms searches nevertheless form a significant part of the context to today's situation in Kosovo.
One example is the arrest and torture of Qamil Xhemajli in the early hours of 31 January 1997. The incident was documented by an Amnesty International delegate in Kosovo in June 1997. Qamil Xhemajli and other members of his family had been targeted before by police for harassment, probably because he and other members of his extended family had already been imprisoned on political charges in the past and four of them had fled abroad. He gave written and verbal accounts to Amnesty International stating that:
"... the police surrounded our house ... they began to break down the door, so I quickly opened it. They immediately asked me if I was Qamil and handcuffed me. They asked me where I kept illegal materials and where I had hidden the arms which had been used to kill police officers. When I denied possessing any of this, they began to punch me in the face and body. They searched the bookshelves and broke up furniture in the house. They found only family photographs, letters from prison and some cassette tapes with songs - nothing else. They then took me to the house of my brother Bajrush, who is in prison serving a sentence. Only his wife, Shahadija, and two small children, were there. After they had searched the house, they took away some family photographs. Then they took me into the field asking me who owned the land and woods and what was hidden there. Later they led me back to my house and began to punch me in the face and again demanded that I hand over documents and arms. Other officers were searching the woods and farmyard."
Qamil Xhemajli was later chained to a metal cupboard in the police station in Uroševac and beaten by police trying to make him confess to killing a police officer, possessing arms and being a member of a clandestine organization. After a day and a half he was transferred to Gnjilane prison and was beaten further by police before being released. A doctor's examination some two weeks later confirmed that he had a broken rib and still had bruises to his head and body. Such incidents of torture have a traumatizing effect also on the victim's relatives . Qamil Xhemajli's mother said: "When he came home he could hardly walk. He was half dead ... he was like a shadow, you couldn't recognise him. The children wouldn't go near him, they ran away from him." Qamil Xhemajli himself interpreted this and other visits by police and summonses to report to them as being intended to intimidate his family into leaving, claiming that "they even said it to me once: 'What are you doing here, go to Switzerland or we'll kill you. You're either stupid or crazy to remain in Kosovo'." Some 100 people were arrested around the same time as Qamil. Many were subsequently to endure torture and unfair trials which are described in the accompanying document Unfair trials and abuses of due process, #4 in this series, AI Index: EUR 70/35/98.
On 12 April 1998, 38-year-old Soko Rugovac, a Muslim from the town of Ro_aj in Montenegro, some 40 kilometres to the north of Pe_, was stopped by police in Pe_ while taking a taxi from the bus station to the home of his aunt. According to statements he later gave to the Montenegrin police and press, he was ordered out of the taxi without any apparent reason, driven to the main police station and taken straight to the basement. They first asked him if he had come to Pe_ to participate in the ethnic Albanians' demonstration the next day and then if had come "to buy votes for Milo Djukanovi_ [at the Montenegrin parliamentary elections which were held in May]"1. When he admitted that he had voted for Djukanovi_ in the presidential elections, the two police officers branded the letters MILO on his chest with a hot soldering iron, cut lines on his chest with a knife and punched and slapped him (see photograph next page). Following the incident the Montenegrin Ministry of the Interior issued a protest to its Serbian equivalent calling for action against the police officers involved. The Belgrade newspaper Vreme reported on 25 April that the Pe_ police station had claimed that the whole story was invented by the Montenegrin police.
Although such reports of disfigurement are rare in comparison with other forms of torture or ill-treatment, the HLC reported a further case the same month. Arsim Krasniqi was reportedly tortured by police while carrying out his job as a street sweeper in Priština on 30 April 1998. They first questioned him about the KLA and started to kick him and beat him with truncheons. The beating continued at the police station where he was handcuffed to a radiator while a cross was carved on his chest with a knife.
The killings of scores of people in the Drenica region again brought thousands of demonstrators out onto the streets of most towns in the beginning of March 1998. In breaking up the first such demonstrations on 2 March, the police reportedly used excessive force against the demonstrators, the majority of whom were, according to credible sources, behaving peacefully. As a result hundreds of people were reportedly injured. Subsequent demonstrations were mostly allowed to go ahead without being broken up violently, at least in Priština. However, elsewhere demonstrations were broken up violently, the most serious of these being in Pe_ on 18 March 1998 where police opened fire on the demonstrators; that incident is described below. Even when police allowed demonstrations to go ahead people were ill-treated as they attempted to enter the towns for the demonstrations or as they dispersed and returned home. Examples of these concerns follow.
At around 11am on 18 March ethnic Albanians demonstrated in Priština. At the same time Serbs from all over Serbia started to arrive for a demonstration which was held that afternoon in opposition to the ethnic Albanians' demands. The atmosphere in the town was very tense that day. Police did not break up the morning demonstration but instead beat or otherwise ill-treated some of the ethnic Albanian demonstrators when they were dispersing. Nineteen-year-old student Vlora Maliqi was among the victims as police moved against a small number of ethnic Albanians close to the philosophy faculty of the (state) university. Friends who were with her managed to escape the police line, but despite the attempts of one friend to help her, Vlora was struck down and badly beaten. She told Amnesty International: "Six policemen beat me yesterday, they hit me everywhere. They kicked me all over my body... they pushed me to the ground, pulled my hair. They turned me over to hit me on the back and then in the stomach".
Vlora Maliqi showed Amnesty International delegates bruises to her face (see cover photograph), back, legs and arms.
On the other side of town Naser A. (28), an unemployed man, was also returning home. He was stopped by two police officers as he was walking with others returning from the demonstration and taken into a school building and beaten with truncheons. When interviewed by Amnesty International two days later he still had difficulty in walking. Bruises were evident all over his body, most clearly on his back which had the characteristic marks of beating with blunt objects. He stated that the beating lasted between 20 and 25 minutes. and was only interrupted when the director of the school came on the scene. He was then taken out and let go although with some additional blows to the head.
On 19 March delegates of Amnesty International observed the demonstrations in Kosovska Mitrovica which were held in the centre of town and which were entirely peaceful and were observed by police at a distance without intervention. However, before and after the demonstrations Amnesty International interviewed four men who stated that they had been stopped and beaten by police either as they entered the town to take part in the demonstrations or as they dispersed after them. One of the men was seen to have difficulty in walking as a result of his injuries.
"We gathered at our meeting point and then suddenly we were told to disperse. We started to run away and the ones who were behind us, mainly women, fell over. I tumbled over as well, and I was completely lost because I did not know what to do. They were shooting around us with machine guns, then this guy came near and pulled me away. After that another boy picked me up and took me all the way to his house. I relaxed there for a while and then we realised that the policemen were coming into the house. We locked ourselves in a room and then we saw another man coming in who was locking the front door. But the policemen were able to break the door and enter the room where we were. There were four policemen, and we were four women and another man who managed to escape. We were trapped, when they started to beat the others I was hiding behind an armchair. I got very frightened. They threw the others out; meanwhile two policemen directed their machine guns towards my head saying: 'Stand up!'. I was really scared and stood up because I just had to. They beat me with the end of a truncheon and I could see blood coming out of me. ... Then the women of the house picked me up and put me into the kitchen and I dragged myself behind the door. They were beating the others, pushing them out and?then they realised that it was me who was missing and they said: 'There is another blonde girl here'. They began searching for me everywhere, when this fat policeman opened the door and saw me hiding. I said to him in Serbian: 'I know Serbian, please don't hit me. Do you have children at home?don't you see that I'm young?' Then they asked me how old I was, I said I was sixteen. Within a minute someone shouted: "one two, three, out!", and they all went out. However, as this policeman was leaving he hit me once more around my neck and I know that I lost consciousness then."
Merita's testimony was matched by others who gave similar accounts of being beaten in the street and in people's homes.
• 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.
Milo Djukanovi_ is the Montenegrin President who was elected in December 1997 and who is in conflict with the Serbian and Federal authorities and with the Federal President and former Serbian President, Slobodan Miloševi_, in particular.
CDHRF Weekly Report 400, 22 March 1998.
INTERNATIONAL SECRETARIAT, 1 EASTON STREET, LONDON WC1X 8DJ, UNITED KINGDOM