HARASSMENT AND VIOLENCE AGAINST SERBS AND ROMA IN KOSOVO
(New York, August 3, 1999) - Human Rights Watch today released a detailed report documenting how ethnic Serbs and Roma (Gypsies) face fear, uncertainty, and violence in Kosovo. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 164,000 Serbs have left Kosovo during the seven weeks since Yugoslav and Serb forces withdrew and the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) entered the province. Many others have moved to Serb or Roma enclaves under KFOR protection within Kosovo. A wave of arson and looting of Serb and Roma homes throughout Kosovo has ensued. Serbs and Roma remaining in Kosovo have been subject to repeated incidents of harassment and intimidation, including severe beatings. Most seriously, there has been a spate of murders and abductions of Serbs since mid-June, including the late July massacre of Serb farmers.
The most serious atrocities documented include dozens of killings of Serbs since mid-June. On July 23, as this report went to press, fourteen ethnic Serb farmers were shot dead as they harvested hay near the village of Gracko, in central Kosovo. However, as the report shows, there have been numerous ethnically-motivated killings in post-conflict Kosovo. For example, Marica Stamenkovic, seventy-seven years old, and Panta Filipovic, sixty-three years old, were brutally murdered on June 21 in the town of Prizren, where they had lived for decades. Having decided to stay in Prizren while other Serbs fled the city, the two victims and their spouses became the target of KLA harassment. Within days of KFOR's entry into Kosovo, uniformed KLA members began appearing at their homes demanding money and arms. After repeated visits and harassment, both victims were found with their throats cut. Marica Stamenkovic had been nearly decapitated.
The 18-page report, which is based on numerous interviews with victims, eyewitnesses, and local officials in over a dozen villages and towns, describes direct and systematic efforts to force Serbs and Roma to leave their homes, including through arson, looting and the destruction of their property. Men have been detained, questioned, and beaten, often very badly. While most have subsequently been released, some of those abducted remain missing and are presumed dead. The majority of the abuses have been committed by men dressed in KLA uniforms, although it remains unclear whether there is an organized KLA campaign against minorities. Prominent among explanations for these abuses is the desire of some ethnic Albanians to take revenge for atrocities committed by Serb security forces prior to KFOR's entry into Kosovo. While the Serb minority is the most obvious target of this retaliatory animus, Roma, too, are at risk, as they are commonly perceived by ethnic Albanians as having been willing collaborators in Serb abuses. Another related motivation for the abuse is to drive members of these minority groups out of Kosovo. Indeed, numerous Serbs and Roma have told Human Rights Watch that they have been directly warned by ethnic Albanians, under threat of violence, to leave Kosovo and never return.
The response of KFOR and the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to abuses against minority populations has been belated and uneven. To a large extent, the frequency of abuses against Serbs and Roma directly reflects the lack of a police force and the concomitant lack of law and order in Kosovo. In the absence of a fully deployed international police force, KFOR contingents have attempted to fill the security gap with military police operating police stations in major towns. Some contingents have stepped up patrols and deployed peacekeepers to protect populations at risk. Yet concerns about the safety of KFOR's own troops, a lack of experience in law enforcement functions and, above all, a shortage of available personnel, have frequently rendered KFOR units unable and unwilling to take the initiatives necessary to build confidence among Serb and Roma communities.
Human Rights Watch called for immediate corrective action to prevent further abuses, including, most notably, the deployment of an effective international police force. The international monitoring group urged KFOR to increase the frequency of patrols in areas with at-risk populations and, as a matter of urgency, called on UNHCR to deploy additional protection officers and on the OSCE to station an adequate number of human rights monitors in areas with at-risk minority populations. The organization also called on donor institutions and governments to give priority in the allocation of reconstruction aid to those municipalities that protect and prevent violence and discrimination against ethnic minorities and persons due to their political affiliation, as well as to withhold from organizations and institutions located in Kosovo any reconstruction assistance, with the exception of emergency humanitarian aid, which cannot be adequately and meticulously tracked to ensure that those implicated in war crimes and/or serious human rights abuses do not benefit politically or economically.