Articles on the Kosovo Conflict



Statement of Dr. Helena Ranta
March 17, 1999
Source: United States Information Agency

These comments are based on the medicolegal investigations by the EU Forensic Expert Team
in Pristina as locally authorized by the District Court of Pristina in accordance with the
Yugoslav Law on Criminal Procedure. It should be emphasized, that medicolegal investigations
constitute only a part -- but do not cover the whole spectrum -- of criminal investigations. The
comments represent the personal view of the author, Dr. Helena Ranta, and should not in any
manner be construed as an authorized communication on behalf of the Department of Forensic
Medicine, University of Helsinki or the EU Forensic Expert Team.


The EU Forensic Expert Team consisting of Finnish experts has been involved in the
investigation of alleged atrocities in Kosovo since October 1998. When the Racak tragedy
was discovered on 16 January 1999, the OSCE turned to the European Union for assistance.
Since an EU Forensic Team was already available, it was decided that the Team should also
embark on the investigation of the Racak victims.

It should be emphasized that the terms of reference of the EU Forensic Team cover solely the
medicolegal autopsies of the 40 victims brought to the hospital. They do not concern the full
scale of criminal investigations. Accordingly, to mention one important example -- there was no
possibility to conduct scene investigations at the actual site of the presumed crime -- which
could have rendered important additional information concerning the manner of death of the
victims. The findings by the experts are therefore based almost entirely on information derived
by investigating the bodies at the morgue. Furthermore, the investigation of the bodies at the
hospital was greatly complicated by the fact that the start of autopsies by the EU experts
became possible only approximately a week from the estimated time of death of the victims.
More importantly, there was no chain of custody by the EU forensic experts of the bodies from
the moment of death until the time the investigations started on 22 January 1999 in Pristina.
What may or may not have happened to the bodies during that time is difficult to establish in
connection with the autopsies with absolute certainty.

It should be noted that the EU experts now have completed only a part of the overall
investigations concerning the events in Racak -- namely the medicolegal investigation of the
victims. For a more complete picture of what took place in Racak a full criminal investigation
into the events would be required, combining scene investigations, interrogation of witnesses
and analysis of the evidence with the autopsy findings of the EU experts.

The original mission of the EU forensic experts was authorized to investigate in an impartial and
independent manner, sites of alleged killings of civilians in Kosovo, i.a. in Glodjane,
Golubovac, Gornje Obrinje, Klecka, Orahovac and Volujak. The investigations concerning
Klecka and Volujak, initiated last year, are to be completed by the end of March 1999 when
the DNA analysis will be available. Thereafter, the Team will as soon as possible resume
preparations for the investigations with respect to Glodjane, Golubovac, Gornje Obrinje and

The first crucial step that one would normally expect to be implemented at any alleged crime
scene would be the isolation of the area and the exclusion of unauthorized access. The scene
should then be photographed and videotaped, any evidence be collected and victims localized
and marked at site. This step should also include sampling for a gunshot residue (GSR)
analysis. Victims should then be placed in individual body bags for transport to the morgue.
With respect to Racak none of this was done at all -- or was done only partially or improperly.
Therefore, important information at the site may have been lost.


According to various sources of information, the incident in Racak most probably took place
on or around 15 January 1999. The EU forensic experts only started working in Pristina on 22
January when the bodies had already been brought to the morgue. The Team therefore has no
first hand information on the events at Racak. Concerning the site of the events and the
circumstances surrounding the deaths of the victims the Team has to rely entirely on the
information from the OSCE/KVM and EU/KDOM observers who visited the site on 16
January 1999, and from reports in the media. According to these sources altogether some 45
bodies were found in Racak. Yet, only 40 were taken to the Department of Forensic
Medicine, University of Pristina to be investigated.

Based on the information obtained from the KVM and KDOM observers the total of 22 men
were found in a gully close to the village of Racak. They were most likely shot where found.
Most of them have been turned over at some stage. The rest of the victims were found at or
close to the village and had either been turned over or moved after death into houses in the

The more time elapses, the more difficult it usually becomes to establish the assumed time of
death. When the Finnish experts had the possibility to start investigations, more than a week
had already passed since the discovery of the bodies at Racak. However, the temperature
both at the mosque in Racak, where the bodies were first brought, and at the Pristina hospital
morgue was close to O C, which has contributed to their preservation. Most that can be said is
that the victims appear to have died approximately at the same time.

Most of the victims wore several warm jackets and pullovers. No ammunition was found in the
pockets. It is likely that no looting of the bodies has occurred, because money (bank notes)
was found on them. The clothing bore no identifying badges or insignia of any military unit. No
indication of removal of badges or insignia was evident. Based on autopsy findings (e.g. bullet
holes, coagulated blood) and photographs of the scenes, it is highly unlikely that clothes could
have been changed or removed. Shoes of some of the victims, however, had been taken off,
possibly before the bodies were carried inside the mosque. Among those autopsied, there
were several elderly men and only one woman. There were no indications of the people being
other than unarmed civilians.

The Racak events have been described as a "massacre". However, such a conclusion does not
fall within the competence of the EU Forensic Team or any other person having participated
solely in the investigation of the bodies. The term "massacre" cannot be based on medicolegal
facts only but is a legal description of the circumstances surrounding the death of persons as
judged from a comprehensive analysis of all available information. Thus, the use of this term is
better suited to be used by organs conducting criminal investigations for the purpose of initiating
legal proceedings. Moreover, medicolegal investigations cannot give a conclusive answer to the
question whether there was a battle or whether the victims died under some other
circumstances. A full criminal investigation combined with the interrogation of witnesses by
appropriate investigative entities could shed more light on the circumstances prior to and at the
time of the death.

It should be noted that especially persons not familiar with criminal investigations may have a
natural tendency to interpret some observations made at the site of the tragedy as signs of
post-mortem mutilation. These, however, are most likely related to animal activity -- such as
stray dogs, which are in abundance in the area, and other wild animals -- or traces on the dead
bodies caused by the high pressure of projectiles. No indication of tampering or fabrication of
evidence was detected.

Traditionally, a paraffin test has been used in gunshot residue analysis (GSR). To remove
residues from the hand, casting with paraffin has been suggested. This test lacks specificity,
however, and at the Interpol meeting in 1968 it was officially stated that it no longer should be
used. The most successful technique to date for the analysis of GSR analysis is without doubt
the Scanning Electron Microscope with an Energy Dispersive X-Ray Analyzer (SEM-EDX).
Only this method has the ability of determining the metallic content without concern about
environmental contamination. With the SEM-EDX, the sample is virtually unaffected by the
analysis and can be re-examined, if necessary, many times. The sample for the GSR analysis is
collected by means of a tape-lift taking into consideration routine precautions (contamination).
Paraffin test was for the above reasons not used by the Finnish Team. Test samples for
SEM-EDX were taken and they proved to be negative.


At the professional level, the Team experienced no problems in collaboration with Yugoslavian
or Belorussian pathologists. After a demonstration autopsy, all agreed upon common methods
and procedures. Furthermore, local criminal and autopsy technicians contributed to the
cooperative working atmosphere. The Team was able to complete its investigations without
any outside pressure put upon it in Yugoslavia or elsewhere.

In Finland, the presence of media in autopsy theatres is unacceptable. Prior to initiating the
autopsies it was agreed that media coverage should be minimized. Nevertheless, the Head of
the Pristina Institute of Forensic Medicine, Professor Dobricanin, allowed television teams and
photographers to enter the premises. When asked, he confirmed that this was in accordance
with his instructions.

Confusion has been caused by statements and premature conclusions drawn by local experts
while the investigations were not completed. In Finland, on-going investigations are not
commented upon. After the completion of the autopsies in January, the Serbian and
Belorussian pathologists decided to draw up common reports summarizing their findings. The
Finnish Team declined to sign these which was erroneously interpreted as disagreement on the
findings between the local experts and the Finnish Team. The view of the Finnish Team is that
no professional conclusions on the basis of the autopsies should be made without a
comprehensive analysis of the data gathered from the corpses. The analysis and tests were
conducted at the Helsinki University Department of Forensic Medicine only after the Team
returned from Kosovo. Therefore, arriving at conclusions or signing of reports in January
would have been premature and thus out of place.

Bearing in mind the complex nature of the investigations, it is the view of the Finnish experts
that nothing could have been achieved by unnecessarily speeding up procedure. The
involvement of the Team began after 16 autopsies had already been performed by local
pathologists. With respect to these corpses, the EU experts were in the position only to verify
that the work had been done properly. There was no information available from the scene of
the alleged crime at the time when autopsies were being performed, which further complicated
a systematic approach. All histological, toxicological, and DNA analysis had to be performed
afterwards in Helsinki. For safety reasons films had to be developed in Helsinki. All
radiographs were digitized and incorporated into a data base. In all, more than 3000 photos
were taken and 10 hrs of video film taped.

There is a court order by the Investigative Judge authorizing the Team to conduct the
medicolegal autopsies. According to Yugoslav law, the autopsy reports will therefore have to
be handed over to the District Court of Pristina. A copy of the autopsy reports will also be
conveyed to the Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Pristina. The European Union
Presidency will be notified of the results of the investigations accordingly.

It should be emphasized that the medicolegal investigations undertaken by the EU forensic
experts constitute only part of the normal investigation of alleged crimes. Comprehensive
picture over the sequence of events in Racak can only be achieved by combining the
medicolegal findings of the EU Forensic Team with other possible information from different
sources eventually available at a later stage.

(end text)


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