SPECIAL REPORT: MASSACRE OF CIVILIANS IN RACAK
KOSOVO VERIFICATION MISSION (KVM)
January 17, 1999
On 15th January 1999, in the village of Racak, (Stimlje), 45 Albanian civilians were killed. The victims include one female and one boy. The facts as verified by the KVM include evidence of arbitrary detentions, extra-judicial killings and the mutilation of unarmed civilians by the security forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Kosovo Verification Mission has voiced the opinion of the international community that the FRY Government must immediately allow the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to immediately come to Kosovo to investigate the incident. The FRY Government has not responded positively.
Background - Significant Incidents
8th January. The police informed the KVM of a KLA attack on police vehicles near Dulje (west of Stimlje). A KVM patrol already in the area had heard the shooting and on investigation found the scene of an ambush against police vehicles. Two policemen were dead and another two wounded. Three Albanian civilians in a taxi were also wounded. It appears they had inadvertently driven into the ambush. KVM evacuated an injured policeman and the three civilians to Prizren hospital. Later, KVM were informed that one of the wounded policeman had died, raising the total fatalities to three. Prizren Regional Centre comments that this was a well-prepared ambush. Camouflaged firing positions had been prepared for up to 15 men and there was evidence that these may have been occupied for several days. Small arms, heavy machine gun and rocket-propelled grenades had been fired at the police convoy.
10th January. The KVM followed up reports of an ambush on a police patrol in Slivovo (south of Stimlje) in which one policeman was said to be injured. The KVM patrol observed approximately 50 police in the village. The local police suggested that one "terrorist" had fired at the patrol from a cemetery. The KVM saw evidence of an exchange of small arms fire but could not confirm the police account of the incident. Once the police had left Slivovo the verifiers report that approximately 100 villagers returned From the mountains. One Albanian man claimed that Serb civilians had beaten him. He bore marks that supported his claim but the KVM cannot confirm his version of events.
12th January. Pristina Regional Centre report that the policeman ambushed at Slivovo as died in hospital.
Background - Security Force Build Up
12th January. KVM patrols from Pristina and Prizren confirm an increase of VJ activity in the Stimlje area. Movement of armoured vehicles, including tanks, has been observed. KDOM report that police in the same area at a high state of readiness. A patrol visiting Belince (west of Stimlje) saw tanks and towed artillery. In a meeting with local KLA leaders, the KVM were told that over 1,000 civilians had left the villages of Belince, Racak, Petrova and Malopoljce and were now living in the hills. Verifiers were unable to confirm this but humanitarian organisations have been informed and KVM patrols are investigating.
13th January. Pristina Regional Centre visited villages in the Stimlje area following reports that residents had left and taken to the hills. Verifiers found 50 people in Belince, 350 in Racak, and 680 in Malpoljce. Residents informed them that no one was living in the woods at the moment. The KVM patrol was informed that many residents had left the villages in 1998/9 to live in either Stimlje or Urosevac. It was said that access to these towns was now a problem for the remaining villagers because of alleged harassment at police checkpoints.
14th January. KVM patrols received reports of bombardments of the villages of Javor and Luznica (north west of Stimlje). Residents were alleged to be leaving the villages for the hills. Verifiers could hear the sound of tank, mortar, heavy machine gun and small arms fire but could not confirm the targets. The KVM were prevented access to the VJ position at Dulje heights (west of Stimlje). They spoke to a VJ liaison office who said that an armed confrontation had occurred nearby. He said neither side had sustained casualties. The exact location of the action was unknown.
15th January. KVM report that a 30 man VJ working party are constructing a new permanent observation position at Dulje. This is in the immediate vicinity of the KLA ambush of 8th January. Another permanent position was seen under construction near Crnoljevo.
15th January. The KVM reported a serious deterioration of the situation in the Stimlje area. Racak, Malopoljce, Petrova and Belince villages (south and west of Stimlje) were all affected. Verifiers saw houses burning in Racak and Malopoljce. KVM patrols witnessed VJ tanks and armoured Vehicles firing directly into houses near Malopoljce and Petrova. VJ and police forces prevented KVM patrols from entering the area but late in the afternoon a KVM patrol did get to the village of Racak. Verifiers saw one dead Albanian civilian and five injured civilians including a woman and a boy suffering from gunshot wounds. The KVM also received unconfirmed reports of other deaths. Residents of Racak claimed that men had been segregated from women and children and that 20 males had been arrested and taken away. The verifiers took the details and evacuated the casualties before the onset of darkness. The wounded were taken to Pristina hospital. KVM was later denied access to the wounded in the hospital. KVM Headquarters protested this action to the FRY authorities in Pristina.
On 16th January, KVM teams that included human rights verifiers, went to Racak village. EU KDOM also sent patrols. By 1250 hours, the first confirmed reports were received of civilians having been killed.
The accounts of surviving residents said that the killing had taken place on the 15th January. They said that following VJ and police attacks, security forces had entered Racak at approximately 0700 hours. Some were dressed in police uniforms, others in black uniforms and ski masks. They claimed these forces had executed some residents and detained others. Additionally, the survivors reported that they recognised some of the policemen as being from Stimlje. They also said that they had recognised some of the assailants as being Serbian civilians from Stimlje dressed in police uniforms.
The first KVM teams to arrive in Racak on 16th January in the early morning and found the following.
High ground (ridge) behind the village.
23 adult males of various ages. Many shot at extremely close range, most shot in the front, back and top of the head. Villagers reported that these victims were last seen alive when the police were arresting them.
Ravine near the village.
1 adult male shot through the groin. He appeared to have been shot while running away.
3 adult males shot in various parts of their body including their backs. They appeared to have been shot when running away.
In the village (killed outside but some families had recovered the bodies to their homes).
1 adult male killed outside his house. The top of his head had been removed and was found approximately 15 feet away from his place of death. The wound appeared to have been caused by an axe, but may have been from a bullet.
5 adult males shot through the head.
1 adult male shot outside his house with his head missing. Pieces of skull were scattered about the yard.
1 adult male shot in head and decapitated. All the flesh was missing from the skull.
1 adult female shot in the back.
1 adult male (shot twice in the chest and once in the knee).
1 boy (12 years old) shot in the neck,
1 male late teens (shot in abdomen).
1 adult male 40 years old shot in chest.
5 adults killed in Racak had been removed by their family to Malopoljce.
Head of Mission's personal account
Ambassador Walker went to Racak arriving at 1300 hours accompanied by two Deputy Heads of Mission. They were met by surviving residents, some of whom had returned to the village and were just discovering the fate of family members. There were no security forces present. There was a heavy presence of uniformed KLA in the village.
Ambassador Walker met with area KLA representatives in a second village. The KLA articulated their frustration and anger at the attack. They expressed a desire for revenge but said that the KLA Headquarters had ordered them to continue restraint. The Head of Mission urged them not to take any action in order to avoid an escalation of violence. Specifically, he urged that nothing be done that evening in Pristina that had earlier been indicated by the KLA as a possibility.
Having seen the site of the killings, the Head of Mission held a press conference in the KVM Headquarters. An extract of his statement was as follows.
"On arrival villagers guided me to a site where I saw, much to my horror and shock, the bodies of over twenty men who had obviously been executed where they lay. I do not have the words to describe my personal revulsion, or that of all those who were with me, at the sight of what can only be described as an unspeakable atrocity. Although I only saw the bodies of twenty, mostly elderly men - most shot in the front, back and top of the head. - KVM verifiers moved about and counted an additional number.
In all, 45 bodies were observed, including three women and one child. They were all in civilian clothes; all looked like humble village inhabitants. Although I am not a lawyer, from what I personally saw, I do not hesitate to describe the event as a massacre, a crime against humanity. Nor do I hesitate to accuse the government security forces of responsibility".
Demands on the FRY Government
Ambassador Walker informed the FRY Government that they must produce the names of all those involved in the police and VJ operations around Stimlje. The international community needs to know who gave the orders for the killing and who executed these orders. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia must immediately come to Kosovo with visas at the invitation of the FRY government, or without, to investigate this atrocity.
Response of the FRY Government
On 16th January, Ambassador Walker spoke to the office of President Milosevic and informed them of the demands of the international community. In Pristina, the Head of Mission met General Loncar (head of the FRY liaison office) who notified the KVM of the Yugoslav authorities intention to investigate the incident on 17th January. General Loncar insisted that the security forces would use whatever resources were necessary to carry out the investigation beginning at 0800 hours on 17th January.
The Chairman-in-Office called FRY Foreign Minister Jovanovic. The Foreign Minister said that the OSCE's account of the incident was wrong. He said that none of the "terrorists" were under the age of 18, and there were no women among the dead.
The FRY Ministry of Interior (MUP) released a statement saying that the police on 15th January engaged a terrorist group in Racak. One policeman was injured. According to the statement "several dozen terrorists were killed, the majority wearing uniforms with KLA insignia". The statement also claimed that on 16th January the KVM had hampered an investigating judge who was going to the scene of the killings.
After the intervention of the Chairman-in-Office and US Secretary of State Albright, FRY Foreign Minister Jovanovic promised that the police would not go to the scene of the killings. However, he insisted that an investigating judge would. The Chairman-in-Office accepted this with the condition that the judge was accompanied by the KVM, but not by any security forces.
The facts as verified by KVM include evidence of arbitrary detentions, extra-judicial killings and the mutilation of unarmed civilians of Albanian ethnic origin by the VJ and police. This constitutes clear violations of both international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Furthermore, these constitute clear violations of the commitments made by the FRY under the 16th October Agreement and Security Council Resolutions 1199 and 1203.
Annex A to Special Report. Massacre of Civilians in Racak.
KVM Human Rights Report
PRELIMINARY HUMAN RIGHTS ASSESSMENT
INCIDENT IN RACAK
16th JANUARY 99
On 15th January, MUP/VJ moved into the village of Racak and opened fire. The operation lasted until about 1530hrs when MUP/VJ withdrew. During the operation KVM verified that tanks fired into houses occupied by civilians. No firing was seen originating from the houses. Three houses were burned. When the KVM entered the village, they were led to the body of an elderly person who had been shot in his head. Five others were wounded. They were evacuated to Pristina hospital. The KVM has since been denied access into the hospital. On 16th January, KVM confirmed the killing of 36 persons. KDOM reported an additional nine bringing the recorded total to 45. Several of the dead had been mutilated. None of the victims were wearing military uniforms.
Applicable International Law
International Humanitarian Law. The Geneva Conventions have been ratified by FRY and apply to situations of armed conflict. The Conventions stipulate that persons taking no active part in the hostilities shall be treated humanely and they expressly prohibit all acts constituting violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture. In addition, collective punishment, attacks against the civilian population and the destruction of civilian property are prohibited.
International Human Rights Law. Equally applicable are OSCE Human Dimension Commitments and international human rights standards, emanating principally from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that has also been ratified by FRY. The ICCPR protects the right to life and prohibits any arbitrary deprivation of life and torture, including mutilation. These provisions remain extant in time of public emergency. These rights are also protected by the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and by the UN Convention against Torture.
Human Rights Assessment
The facts as verified by KVM include evidence of arbitrary detentions, extra-judicial killings and the mutilation of unarmed civilians of Albanian ethnic origin in the village of Racak by MUP/VJ. They constitute clear violations of both international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Furthermore, these gross violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law constitute clear violations of the commitments of FRY under the 16th October Agreement and Security Council Resolutions 1199 and 1203.
Recommendations for Action
1. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has the jurisdiction and power to prosecute persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Kosovo. KVM calls upon the Office of the Prosecutor to commence an immediate investigation into the crimes committed in Racak.
2. UN Security Council Resolutions 1199 and 1203 call upon the authorities of FRY and the leaders of the Kosovo Albanian community to cooperate fully with the Prosecutor of the ICTY in the investigation of possible violations within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. KVM urges the leadership of both communities to provide such cooperation immediately.
3. Under international human rights law the FRY authorities must initiate an immediate and impartial investigation of the acts committed in Racak, must identify those responsible and prosecute and punish them. Furthermore, FRY must compensate the relatives of the victims and take all necessary measures to prevent such violations in the future.
KVM HQ Human Rights Division