BALKAN WITNESS
Articles on the Kosovo Conflict:
The Racak Massacre
January 15, 1999

Kosovo postage stamp issued on the
10th anniversary of the Racak massacre
 


The massacre of 45 unarmed Kosovo Albanians by Serb forces was one of numerous such attacks on the civilian population. But this particular bloodbath finally catalyzed NATO to intervene. The Yugoslav denial that civilians were killed at Racak has been echoed by some journalists and organizations. This page presents documentation and commentary on what actually happened at Racak.

Special Report: Massacre of Civilians in Racak Kosovo Verification Mission, January 17, 1999
The truth behind the killings of 45 ethnic Albanians must be found -- Amnesty International, January 18, 1999
Serbs Tried To Cover Up Massacre; Kosovo Reprisal Plot Bared by Phone Taps -- Washington Post, January 28, 1999
Yugoslav Government War Crimes in Racak Human Rights Watch, 1999
Human Rights Watch investigation finds: Yugoslav Forces Guilty of War Crimes in Racak, Kosovo  -- Human Rights Watch, January 29, 1999
The Ghost Village -- Gordana Igric, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, February 1, 1999
The Racak Case in the Belgrade Media -- Helsinki Watch, February 1999
Report of the EU Forensic Expert Team on the Racak Incident Statement of Dr. Ranta, March 17, 1999
Kosovo Killings Called a Massacre The Washington Post, March 17, 1999
Racak killings 'crime against humanity' -- BBC, March 17, 1999
Report: Kosovo killings "crime against humanity" -- CNN, March 17, 1999
Dr. Helena Ranta: "They were unarmed civilians." -- BBC Interview with Dr. Ranta, March 17, 1999 (Audio)
Orla Guerin reports: "Hundreds were needed to carry the coffins." -- BBC, March 17, 1999 (Audio)
Racak Report Finds Serbs Guilty -- The Guardian, March 18, 1999
Kosovo: The Crime of Racak  -- Society for Threatened Peoples (Germany), March 18, 1999
War Crimes Indictment of Milosevic and others, Section 66 (a) -- May 22, 1999 (Amended October 16, 2001)
Kosovo: the untold story (Part 1) -- Peter Beaumont and Patrick Wintour, The Observer (London), July 18, 1999
Kosovo: the untold story (Part 2)
KOSOVO / KOSOVA: As Seen, As Told (Volume 1, Part V, pages 353-357.) OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission, July 1999
Raçak - Mutation of a Massacre -- Peter Wuttke, November 18, 1999 (Translated March 2002)
Autopsy Reports Finnish Forensic Expert Team, 1999-2000. Very large files.
Further autopsy report (Tab 13, 749 pages) - contact Balkan Witness for a copy. 297 MB PDF file.

The Work of the Forensic Expert Team (Executive Summary)  -- July 2000
Independent forensic autopsies in an armed conflict: investigation of the victims from Racak, Kosovo -- Forensic Science International, February 2001
The Bloodbath in Racak was a Massacre -- NRC Handelsblad, March 10, 2001
FAIR Misrepresents the Racak Massacre
-- Roger Lippman, April 30, 2001
The Kosovo Verification Mission at Racak -- Alex J. Bellamy, 2002
Finnish expert rejects report used by Milosevic in defense February 15, 2002
Milosevic Challenged by Racak Survivors -- Gordana Igric, IWPR, February 18, 2002
Tribunal Judges Restrict Racak Evidence --
Mirko Klarin, IWPR, May 27, 2002
Somebody has to do this job
-- Bernhard Odehnal, Weltwoche, June 20, 2002
Finnish investigator Helena Ranta to testify at Milosevic trial -- Helsingin Sanomat, November 26, 2002
The "Hoax" Hoax -- Matthew Hogan, December 2002
Written
statement of Dr. Helena Ranta to the Hague tribunal, in advance of her oral testimony Submitted on February 20, 2003
Helena Ranta's Testimony at The Hague - Transcript March 12, 2003
Expert Testifies Racak Not Staged By Judith Armatta, Coalition for International Justice, March 12, 2003
Helena Ranta testifies at Milosevic trial in The Hague
-- Helsingin Sanomat, March 13, 2003
Milosevic Trial: Danica Marinkovic IWPR, March 25, 2005
Further testimony by Dr. Ranta
: April 8, April 12, April 13 2005
Racak testimony in The Hague IWPR, June 17, 2005
Kosovo Marks Racak Massacre Anniversary Balkan Insight, January 16, 2009
Serbia Continues Denial of Racak Massacre Radio Srbija, January 15, 2009
Judgment in the case against Vlastimir Djordjevic International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), February 23, 2011  (PDF)

Summaries of articles listed above

Special Report: Massacre of Civilians in Racak 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. Kosovo Verification Mission, January 17, 1999

The truth behind the killings of 45 ethnic Albanians must be found  "This brutal crime is chillingly similar to the first reports of large-scale killings of ethnic Albanian civilians, less than one year ago," Amnesty International said. "The truth about what happened then was never established, and those responsible are therefore still free." On 18 January, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, Louise Arbour, was stopped at the border between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and banned from entering the country. -- Amnesty International, January 18, 1999

Serbs Tried To Cover Up Massacre; Kosovo Reprisal Plot Bared by Phone Taps  The attack on Racak that led to the killing of 45 ethnic Albanian civilians 12 days ago came at the orders of senior officials of the Serb-led Belgrade government who then orchestrated a coverup following an international outcry, according to telephone intercepts by Western governments.-- R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, January 28, 1999

Yugoslav Government War Crimes in Racak Eyewitness reports. -- Human Rights Watch, 1999

Human Rights Watch investigation finds: Yugoslav Forces Guilty of War Crimes in Racak, Kosovo
Human Rights Watch categorically rejected Yugoslav government claims that the victims of the January 15 attack on Racak were either Kosovo Liberation Army soldiers killed in combat, or civilians caught in crossfire.

After a detailed investigation, the organization accused Serbian special police forces and the Yugoslav army of indiscriminately attacking civilians, torturing detainees, and committing summary executions. The evidence suggests that government forces had direct orders to kill village inhabitants over the age of fifteen.

The killing of forty-five ethnic Albanian civilians has provoked an apparent shift in western policy toward Kosovo, which the Contact Group is meeting in London today to discuss.

A report in the Washington Post yesterday provided excerpts from telephone conversations between Serbian Interior Ministry General Sreten Lukic and Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, who clearly ordered government security forces to “go in heavy” in Racak. The two officials later discussed ways that the killings might be covered up to avoid international condemnation.

Human Rights Watch conducted separate interviews in Kosovo with fourteen witnesses to the attack, many of whom are hiding out of fear for their lives, as well as with foreign journalists and observers who visited Racak on January 16. Together, the testimonies suggest a well planned and executed attack by government forces on civilians in Racak, where the KLA had a sizable presence and had conducted some ambushes on police patrols.
                   -- Human Rights Watch, January 29, 1999

The Ghost Village While the international furor over the Racak killings mounted, widows and orphans from the village hid away in dark rooms and tried to make sense of the horrible events of January 15. A mother recalls the death of her son, and a young boy describes how he found the bodies of his father, cousin and others. Meantime, a Serb policeman who took part in the events still keeps watch over the village from a nearby checkpoint. -- Gordana Igric, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, February 1, 1999

The Racak Case in the Belgrade Media, a report from Helsinki Watch, February 1999

Report of the EU Forensic Expert Team on the Racak Incident The bodies found in a gully near Racak were most likely shot where found. Their 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. -- Statement of Dr. Ranta, March 17, 1999

Kosovo Killings Called a Massacre An independent forensic report into the killings of 40 ethnic Albanians in the Kosovo village of Racak in January has found that the victims were unarmed civilians executed in an organized massacre, some of them forced to kneel before being sprayed with bullets, according to Western sources familiar with the report. The findings by Finnish forensic experts contradict claims by officials of the Serb-led Yugoslav government that the dead were armed ethnic Albanian separatists or civilians accidentally caught in a cross-fire between government security forces and separatist rebels. Western officials have blamed the killings on government police. By R. Jeffrey Smith, The Washington Post, March 17, 1999

Racak killings 'crime against humanity'  A final report by forensic experts into the killing of 40 Kosovo Albanians in the village of Racak concludes the victims were unarmed civilians. Dr. Helena Ranta, the forensic expert who led a team carrying out post mortems on the bodies of victims called the Racak deaths a "crime against humanity." Dr. Ranta said there were no signs that the victims were anything other than unarmed civilians and that they were most likely shot where they were found. She said there was no reason to conclude that the victims were members of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army or that they were killed accidentally. -- BBC, March 17, 1999

Report: Kosovo killings "crime against humanity" 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." 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. 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. "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." -- CNN, March 17, 1999

Dr. Helena Ranta: "They were unarmed civilians." -- BBC interview with Dr. Ranta, March 17, 1999 (Audio)

Orla Guerin reports: "Hundreds were needed to carry the coffins." -- BBC, March 17, 1999 (Audio)

Racak Report Finds Serbs Guilty In the report, Dr. Ranta wrote: 'Medico-legal investigations cannot give a conclusive answer to the question whether there was a battle or whether the victims died under some other circumstances.' But Dr. Ranta threw out Serb claims that the dead were combatants and that their bodies had been tampered with, making Racak a 'set-up'. Western diplomatic sources said Dr. Ranta was under political pressure to suppress the more controversial findings for fear of upsetting last-ditch peace talks in Paris between ethnic Albanian and Serb leaders. But after repeated questioning as to how she would characterise Racak, she told a packed press conference in Kosovo's regional capital, Pristina: 'This is a crime against humanity, yes.' -- The Guardian, March 18, 1999

Kosovo: The Crime of Racak A chronology of events related to the Racak massacre, up to the date of publication. -- Society for Threatened Peoples (Germany), March 18, 1999

War Crimes Indictment of Milosevic and others, Section 66 (a):
On or about 15 January 1999, in the early morning hours, the village of Racak (Stimlje/Shtime municipality) was attacked by forces of the FRY and Serbia. After shelling by the VJ units, the Serb police entered the village later in the morning and began conducting house-to-house searches. Villagers, who attempted to flee from the Serb police, were shot throughout the village. A group of approximately 25 men attempted to hide in a building, but were discovered by the Serb police. They were beaten and then were removed to a nearby hill, where the policemen shot and killed them. Altogether, the forces of the FRY and Serbia killed approximately 45 Kosovo Albanians in and around Racak. (Those persons killed who are known by name are set forth in Schedule A, which is attached as an appendix to this indictment.) -- May 22, 1999 (Amended October 16, 2001)

Kosovo: the untold story (Part 1) The Observer's definitive account of the Kosovo war. The Racak massacre was a revenge attack planned by Yugoslav forces under General Sreten Lukic, head of the Ministry of Interior forces in Kosovo. -- Peter Beaumont and Patrick Wintour, The Observer (London), July 18, 1999
Kosovo: the untold story (Part 2)

KOSOVO / KOSOVA: As Seen, As Told  (Part V, pages 353-357.) On 15 January 1999, in the village of Racak/Recak, 45 Kosovo Albanian civilians were killed. Among the victims were an 18-year-old woman and a 12-year-old child. Events and facts as verified by the OSCE-KVM indicated evidence of arbitrary detentions, extra-judicial killings and the mutilation of unarmed civilians by the security forces of the FRY. -- OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission, July 1999

Raçak - Mutation of a Massacre This review of an article by Diana Johnstone shows that she uncritically repeats Serbian government propaganda on Racak, and that her work is characterized by missing evidence, a paucity of sources, the spreading of untruths, and conspiracy theories. -- Peter Wuttke, November 18, 1999 (Newly translated from the original German, March 2002.)

Autopsy Reports Carried out by the Finnish Forensic Expert Team in January 1999 at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Pristina. Very large files.
Further autopsy report (Tab 13, 749 pages) - contact Balkan Witness for a copy. 297 MB PDF file.

The Work of the Forensic Expert Team (Executive Summary) The European Union Forensic Expert Team in Kosovo, led by Dr. Helena Ranta, was established in response to requests from the international community, including the EU and non-governmental human rights organisations, to provide forensic expertise to investigate the sites of alleged grave violations against civilians in Kosovo. This document is a summary of the team's report to the EU. -- July 2000

Independent forensic autopsies in an armed conflict: investigation of the victims from Racak, Kosovo Forensic Science International, February 2001

This is a scholarly report in a forensic science magazine, by members of the Finnish team of forensic experts that conducted autopsies on many of the Racak victims. This report adds little to the record above, aside from details of the autopsy procedures. In this report the authors are careful to limit themselves to relating what they personally observed, without making conclusions of a political nature. However, their scholarly approach has been misinterpreted by Yugoslav authorities, some journalists, and other commentators as indicating that there was no massacre at Racak. The context of this report and the earlier report of this team, along with remarks by Dr. Ranta, the team leader, make it clear that these commentators have misinterpreted this report.

The report states, in part:

In January 1999, a team of Finnish forensic experts under the mandate of the European Union (EU forensic expert team, EU-FET) performed forensic investigations in a sovereign state, in Kosovo, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). The team served as a neutral participant in the forensic investigation of victims of an incident at Racak, which was receiving considerable international attention. The Finnish team performed forensic autopsies, monitored forensic autopsies performed by local experts and verified findings of earlier executed autopsies. The victims had sustained varying numbers of gunshot wounds, which were established to be the cause of death.

The function of forensic investigation is the detailed and skilled documentation of biological facts. It is partly on the basis of these objective documents that the responsible authorities can draw their conclusions. Besides the documentation of findings, the forensic investigation of victims in political or ethnic conflict is reasonable because the investigation defines the probabilities and can eliminate certain versions of events. The definition of the course of events consists of many elements. Speculation about different possibilities can be directed more justifiably when certain limits are imposed, including those circumscribed by medical data.

The mandate of the forensic experts should be specified exactly to avoid unrealistic expectations and uncertainty as to their role. Forensic pathologists can determine the cause and manner of death and note other injuries, pathological changes and facts for identification. Determination of reasons for events, their political and moral meanings, or the connection of victims to political or other organisations are questions which lie beyond the scope of forensic science. This should be realised by the authorities and also by the forensic scientists themselves. The forensic pathologists of the EU-FET have not submitted any opinions concerning aspects of international law.

Investigation of a large number of victims within a short period of time may not be feasible in many places. Even when investigation is materially and professionally possible to carry out with local experts, the presence or participation of independent specialists often raises the credibility of the investigation. Forensic experts from Yugoslavia, Finland and Belorussia participated in the investigation of the victims from Racak. This double-checking was fruitful because forensic pathologists seldom work under the pressure of such international publicity. Having some differences in practical questions between different schools complemented the end result. The autopsy findings were discussed in full professional consensus.

In the investigation of the victims from Racak, 60% were autopsied either by ourselves or in our presence, and for 40% we performed an external examination. For the latter, complete autopsies had been performed earlier. In both groups, the final conclusions were equally strong. When the number of victims is large and similar injuries are sustained, the significance of separate injuries is not always as great as it is in the investigation of homicide, suicide or accident in a single case; more important is the entirety. Therefore, some of the victims can be investigated in less detail following a thorough investigation of some of the others.

Subsequent to the investigation, Yugoslavian authorities have informed the media that no grounds exist for bringing charges against any Serbian police regarding the Racak incident. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), however, has charged five Yugoslavian officials, including the President of the FRY, with crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. The first of the seven charges is based upon events at Racak.

The Bloodbath in Racak was a Massacre Newspaper interview with Dr. Helena Ranta, leader of the Finnish forensic team that participated in autopsies of the Racak victims. She states unequivocally that the Racak victims were unarmed civilians. -- NRC Handelsblad, March 10, 2001

FAIR Misrepresents the Racak Massacre In claiming that there is “new evidence casting doubt on claims that the bodies were civilian victims of a massacre,” Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting endorses a biased and error-filled article on Racak. FAIR misrepresents the position of Dr. Ranta, the forensic pathologist who investigated the Racak massacre. FAIR's article is at odds with substantial previous credible documentation on the Racak incident. -- Roger Lippman, April 30, 2001

The Kosovo Verification Mission at Racak A concise summary of the events surrounding the Racak massacre and its investigation. -- Alex J. Bellamy, 2002

Finnish expert rejects report used by Milosevic in defense A German humanitarian organization accused television journalists of manipulating witnesses in a controversial documentary used by Slobodan Milosevic in his defense before the International War Crimes Tribunal. The group claimed two journalists at West German Broadcasting (WDR), a public television station, had manipulated nearly all the witnesses interviewed in the hour-long documentary. In a statement, the organization claimed this had occurred in order to support the documentary's angle that western powers had "lied" about the reasons for the conflict in Kosovo. Dr. Helena Ranta disavowed that report Friday, saying her comments in it were selectively edited and distorted. February 15, 2002

Milosevic Challenged by Racak Survivors Slobodan Milosevic accuses the West of fabricating a massacre at Racak as a pretext for NATO intervention. One reporter at the scene recalls the survivors' testimony. -- Gordana Igric, IWPR, February 18, 2002

Tribunal Judges Restrict Racak Evidence The prosecution in the Milosevic trial said there was no shortage of witness testimony to back its claims, but a trial deadline on the presentation of evidence meant that it could not give a full account of the alleged killings in the Kosovo Albanian village. The prosecution's investigation into the Racak case examined some 62 witness statements. At first, it counted on 30 witnesses giving evidence at The Hague. The number was cut to five. Of these, only one will testify "in vivo", while the others will give written statements. They will only come to the tribunal to be cross-examined by the defendant. -- Mirko Klarin, IWPR, May 27, 2002 (Republished May 1, 2005)

Somebody has to do this job A portrait of Dr. Helena Ranta. -- Bernhard Odehnal, Weltwoche, summer 2002

The "Hoax" Hoax Kosovo’s Racak Massacre At the Mercy of Partisanship: an analysis of the weak position of the massacre deniers. -- Matthew Hogan, December 2002

Finnish investigator Helena Ranta to testify at Milosevic trial She is expected to testify by early January 2003. -- Helsingin Sanomat, November 26, 2002

Written statement of Dr. Helena Ranta to the Hague tribunal, in advance of her oral testimony Submitted on February 20, 2003

Helena Ranta's Testimony at The Hague - Transcript March 12, 2003

Expert Testifies Racak Not Staged Dr. Helena Ranta's testimony summarized. She reiterated that "There were no indications of people [the Racak massacre victims] being other than unarmed civilians." -- Judith Armatta, Coalition for International Justice, March 12, 2003

Helena Ranta testifies at Milosevic trial in The Hague -- Helsingin Sanomat, March 13, 2003

Milosevic Trial: Danica Marinkovic Former Kosovo investigative judge Danica Marinkovic, who conducted the official Serbian state investigation into the Racak massacre, gave testimony, which aimed to support Milosevic’s view that the massacre was staged in order to serve as an excuse for the air strikes. But her testimony failed to bring any important new material or factual evidence to the case, and she ended up presenting just a different interpretation of the facts that were mostly already heard in court during the prosecution part of the trial. IWPR, March 25, 2005

Further testimony by Dr. Ranta: April 8, April 12, April 13, 2005 More on Helena Ranta's testimony, and on the testimony of Serbian pathologist Dr. Slavisa Dobricanin, who testified as part of Slobodan Milosevic's defense case in an effort to undermine Ranta's evidence.

Racak testimony in The Hague  Albanians who stated that Racak victims were KLA fighters apparently did so under torture by Serbian police, according to testimony at the trial of Milosevic. -- IWPR, June 17, 2005

Kosovo Marks Racak Massacre Anniversary Kosovo Albanians gathered in the village of Racak on Thursday to mark the 10th anniversary of the massacre of more than 40 ethnic Albanians by Serb security forces. The massacre is one of the most hotly contested incidents of the Kosovo conflict, with Serbia still denying its role in the killings. Even the number of victims is not fixed, estimated at between 40 and 45 people. -- Balkan Insight, January 16, 2009

Serbia Continues Denial of Racak Massacre Radio Srbija, January 15, 2009
This item by Serbian state radio's international broadcast service is significant in that it demonstrates how little official Belgrade has modified its view of the 1998-1999 Kosovo war, even under its current democratic government. Serbian President Boris Tadic and his prime minister have Milosevic's SPS as a coalition partner. The interior minister in the present government was the Serbian Socialist Party's (and thus Milosevic's) official press spokesman during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war.

Judgment in the case against Vlastimir Djordjevic This document is an extract from the Judgment, describing the Tribunal's view of events in Racak. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), February 23, 2011 (PDF)