Articles on the Kosovo Conflict



Erasing History: Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo
United States State Department
May 10,1999

The US State Department released a 27-page report that offers a comprehensive overview of Serbia's campaign to rob the people of Kosova of their homeland, their identity, their dignity and even their existence. The report contains charts and maps that show where human rights abuses occurred and the locations of internally displaced persons and refugee camps, and it gives a detailed account of how Serbia's campaign of ethnic cleansing took place. Following are the executive summary of the report and an excerpt from the introduction. However, the full report (PDF) is well worth reading.

We have generally not posted information coming directly from NATO or the U.S. government, as well as from Yugoslav government sources, to avoid disseminating self-serving propaganda. However, in the case of this document, the information is important and presented well, and it would be hard to come by something this comprehensive from other organizations that simply don't have the resources to gather it. While any document coming from one of the warring parties should be examined critically, we find that the information contained herein is generally consistent with independent sources, including many of the articles posted on this site.
                                                                         --Balkan Witness editor

Executive Summary

This report is part of a larger international effort to lay out the contours of the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, which dramatically accelerated in mid-March 1999.

In preparing this report, the United States Government has drawn on its own resources, as well as on reports received from international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to date. We encourage others to make their own contributions to record these events, get the facts out, and, ultimately, hold the perpetrators of these crimes accountable.

This document provides a chronology of events after the departure of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Kosovo Verification Mission on March 19, 1999, which prior to its departure had been regularly issuing human rights reporting. It is compiled from hundreds, if not thousands, of reported violations of human rights and humanitarian law since late March 1999. Due to lack of outside access to Kosovo, this report represents only a partial account of the ethnic cleansing. The term "ethnic cleansing" generally entails the systematic and forced removal of members of an ethnic group from their communities to change the ethnic composition of a region. Although we are still gaining information on all aspects of Serbian efforts to ethnically cleanse Kosovo, reports of human rights and humanitarian law violations we have received fall under seven broad categories:

FORCED EXPULSIONS: The regime of Slobodan Milosevic is conducting a campaign of forced migration on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War. More than 90 percent of all ethnic Albanians have been expelled from their homes in Kosovo. In contrast to last fall, when attacks on civilians by Serb security forces generally occurred in small villages, this spring Yugoslav Army and Special Police units have joined with recently-armed Serb civilians to expel their neighbors from almost all towns and villages in Kosovo:

LOOTING AND BURNING: We have confirmed that some 500 residential areas have been at least partially burned since late March, including over 300 villages burned since April 4. Besides houses and apartments, mosques, churches, schools, and medical facilities have also been targeted and destroyed. Many settlements have been totally destroyed in an attempt to ensure that the ethnic Albanian residents do not return.

DETENTIONS: There are consistent refugee reports that Serbian forces are separating military-aged men from their families in a systematic pattern. At the time of writing, the total number of missing men and their fate are unknown.

SUMMARY EXECUTION: Refugees have provided accounts of summary executions in at least 70 towns and villages throughout Kosovo. In addition to random executions, Serbian authorities are targeting intellectuals, professionals, and community leaders.

RAPE: Ethnic Albanian women are reportedly being raped in increasing numbers. Refugee accounts indicate systematic and organized mass rapes in Djakovica and Pec. We believe that many crimes of gender violence have not been reported due to the cultural stigma attached to these offenses in Kosovar society.

VIOLATIONS OF MEDICAL NEUTRALITY: NGOs report that since late March, violations of medical neutrality in Kosovo have accelerated dramatically. Serb authorities have looted and destroyed dozens of medical facilities, murdered Kosovar Albanian physicians, expelled ethnic Albanian patients and care providers from hospitals, and used large numbers of health facilities as protective cover for military activities. The apparent goal is to effectively deny health care to ethnic Albanians and extinguish the community base that Kosovo's health professionals provide.

IDENTITY CLEANSING: Refugees report that Serbian authorities have confiscated passports and other identity papers, systematically destroyed voter registers and other aspects of Kosovo's civil registry, and even removed license plates from departing vehicles as part of a policy to prevent returns to Kosovo. Reports of identity cleansing are prevalent in refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania.

Excerpted From the Introduction:

With this report, the United States offers a documentary record of the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and human rights violations that underpin the current tragedy of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

At this writing, the forces of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic continue to burn, loot, rape, shell, and de-populate Kosovo, and thousands of refugees continue to flee into neighboring Albania and Macedonia. Although we do not yet know all the details, the fact that this crisis has happened so quickly, so methodically, and so savagely strongly suggests that Serb forces acted based on plans drawn up long before NATO intervened. The refugees coming out of Kosovo are only now beginning to tell their stories. Yet even these fragmented accounts portray a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing:

Serbian forces have made Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, a ghost town. Serbian military, police, and paramilitary forces reportedly expelled between 100,000 and 120,000 persons from Pristina in only four days. Kosovars now in Macedonia have claimed that only 100 ethnic Albanians remain in Pristina. Serbian forces reportedly had been taking furniture from abandoned homes.

In Pec, Serbian forces allegedly herded young Albanian women to the Hotel Karagac and raped them repeatedly. The commander of the local base reportedly used a roster of soldiers' names to allow his troops to visit the hotel on a rotating basis. The Hotel Karagac is only one example of the gender violence that plays such a large role in Serbian actions in Kosovo. Reports indicate that the violence in western Kosovo is stronger than in any other region of the province. Serbian forces emptied Pec of ethnic Albanians in 24 hours. In Djakovica's old city, Serbian forces allegedly burned 200 to 600 homes the day after NATO airstrikes began. By the next day, the rest of the old city had been torched.

Serbian forces have forced thousands of Kosovars onto trains and sent them to border crossings in Macedonia. Some refugees reported arriving at train stations in buses arranged by the Serb army. Others reported a mass of humanity - thousands - waiting for trains at gunpoint. Based on consistent refugee accounts, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that the Djakovica region "undoubtedly has been one of the most violent and cruel in the whole of Kosovo, turning it at times into a virtual killing field."

See the entire report (PDF)

Balkan Witness Home Page

Articles index





Contact Balkan Witness

Report broken links