Report: Kosovo killings 'crime against humanity'
Forensic team does not name perpetrators
March 17, 1999
Pristina, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- A Finnish forensic team said Wednesday that the killing of dozens of unarmed ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo in January was a "crime against humanity." But the team's report did not call the killings an outright "massacre" and did not identify the perpetrators.
The report presented the findings of a forensic investigation into the deaths of 45 ethnic Albanians who were found in a gully at the village of Racak.
At the time, a leading international truce monitor called the gruesome event a massacre. The discovery of the bodies prompted intense international diplomacy and renewed threats of NATO intervention to stop Belgrade's crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
The Serbian authorities denied any massacre allegations, saying the civilians were caught in the crossfire between Yugoslav forces and what Belgrade considers terrorists of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army.
The Finnish pathologists determined that 22 of the people whose bodies were found in the gully by international monitors on January 16 "were most likely shot where found."
Helena Ranta, the head of the team, said that among the bodies they conducted autopsies on were several elderly men and one woman.
"There were no indications of the people being other than unarmed civilians," she said. But she said there was no way of telling if any of the victims had taken up arms in the past.
From the pattern of bullet wounds, clothing and possessions on the victims, the pathologists found no reason to conclude they were killed accidentally or were members of the KLA.
William Walker, the American head of the international monitoring force in Kosovo, visited the site on January 16 and immediately accused Serbian security forces, who had been conducting a siege of the village, of a massacre.
The pathologists, however, steered clear of such a characterization.
"The Racak events have been described as a 'massacre,'" the report said. "However, such a conclusion does not fall within the competence of the European Union forensic team or any other person having participated solely in the investigation of the bodies. The term 'massacre' ... is a legal description of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of persons as judged from comprehensive analysis of all available information."
Ranta said the investigation immediately after the bodies were discovered was not reliable. She noted that the area had not been sealed off and outside access to the bodies was possible.
Correspondent Chris Burns, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report