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State Department: Bring Perpetrators of Crimes in Humanitarian Law Center Report to Justice

STATE DEPARTMENT: BRING PERPETRATORS OF CRIMES IN HUMANITARIAN LAW CENTER REPORT TO JUSTICE

WASHINGTON—In a response to questions Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, submitted for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, the State Department expressed its belief that “those guilty of moving the bodies of Albanian civilians from Kosovo to clandestine mass graves in Serbia to conceal evidence of earlier massacres should be brought to justice.” The Department has “brought the report by the Humanitarian Law Center to the attention of Serbia’s newly appointed War Crimes Prosecutor.”

Below are the full texts of questions by Rep. Engel and responses from the State Department, followed by Humanitarian Law Center’s Summary of its “Dossier: The cover-up of evidence of crimes during the war in Kosovo: THE CONCEALMENT OF BODIES OPERATION.”

EXCHANGE WITH DEPUTY SECRETARY JOHN SULLIVAN:

Rep. Engel: “The response to Engel QFR #26 from the hearing with Secretary Tillerson said, “We take seriously the allegations raised by the Humanitarian Law Center, and are reviewing the report.”  Now that you have had opportunity to review the report, have you engaged the government of Serbia on how it will prosecute the perpetrators of the massacres or whether some form of international tribunal will be needed?”

Deputy Secretary Sullivan:“We have brought the report by the Humanitarian Law Center to the attention of Serbia’s newly appointed War Crimes Prosecutor.  We believe that those guilty of moving the bodies of Albanian civilians from Kosovo to clandestine mass graves in Serbia to conceal evidence of earlier massacres should be brought to justice.

“We share your frustration with the lack of progress in Serbia, and in the Western Balkans region generally, on investigating and prosecuting war crimes cases.  We have raised the issue with Serbian officials at all levels of government, including with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, continually emphasizing the importance of Serbia thoroughly investigating such atrocities and bringing those responsible to justice.  In addition, we remind Serbian officials that prosecuting human rights abuses such as these is imperative for Serbia to fulfill its obligations under Chapter 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) of the European Union (EU) acquis as it pursues EU accession.  The U.S. Ambassador to Serbia, Kyle Scott, regularly speaks out, both publicly and privately, on the need to bring war criminals to justice.

“The United States has strongly supported the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).  Following the closing of the Tribunal this year, the United States will continue to push for justice for war crimes committed in the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s—but now it is imperative that momentum shift toward national prosecutions.  The United States continues to push for timely and just prosecution of the remaining cases, without regard to the ethnicities of victims or perpetrators.  To that end, we have worked to help Serbia and other former Yugoslav states improve their judicial systems and to expand regional cooperation, which is critical to building solid cases and conducting successful prosecutions. “

EXCHANGE WITH SECRETARY REX TILLERSON:

Rep. Engel: “I am deeply concerned with the lack of justice for murders and crimes committed by the government of Serbia during and after the Kosovo War.  In particular, there have been no charges brought against anyone for the murders of the three American citizens, the Bytyci brothers, despite widespread understanding of who was behind them.

“Serbian President Vucic and Acting Prime Minister Dacic have promised very senior U.S. government officials for many years that they would bring to justice the perpetrators of this crime and the crime of burning our embassy in 2008.  They both also made these promises to me.

“On January 31st of this year, the respected Humanitarian law Center of Belgrade released a Dossier called, “The cover-up of evidence of crimes during the war in Kosovo: The Concealment of Bodies Operation.” This report described mass graves in Serbia containing the bodies of 941 Kosovo Albanians, mainly civilians killed outside combat situations in Kosovo during 1999. According to the report:

“The evidence corroborated that the decision to conceal evidence of crimes committed was planned as early as March 1999 at the highest level of the government, and indicated that members of both departments of the Serbian MUP (State Security Department and Public Security Department) and the Yugoslav Army’s departments in charge of “clearing up the terrain” were involved in it.

“The murder and mass burial of almost 1000 innocent civilians is a crime against humanity, but the perpetrators have gone unpunished. It’s long past time for Belgrade to face the facts and bring to justice the people – including high officials in its government – who are behind these very serious crimes. 

“At the same time, the Serbian stalling and stonewalling has brought no adjustment in policy from the United States, and the European Union’s willingness to proceed with Serbia’s accession process has been unaffected.  This has to stop and has to stop now. Until Serbia brings those who have committed these serious crimes to justice, the EU should not move ahead with Belgrade’s accession process and the United States should think twice before advancing our relations with Serbia.

“What is the United States doing to press Serbia to bring to justice the murderers of the Bytyci brothers, those who burned the United States Embassy, and those who murdered and buried in mass graves almost 1000 innocent Kosovo civilians?  With the ICTY no longer accepting any new cases and closing down at the end of this year and Serbia seemingly unwilling to prosecute anyone for these grave offenses, will you support a new international or special tribunal, similar to that which was established in Kosovo, to prosecute those responsible?”

Secretary Rex W. Tillerson: “We share your frustration with the lack of progress in the Bytyqi case and the slow progress in the 2008 Embassy burning case, and raise the issue with Serbian officials at all levels of government, including with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.  We have also informed Serbian officials that these issues stand in the way of closer bilateral relations.  Serbia recently appointed a new Special War Crimes Prosecutor – the position had remained vacant for almost a year-and-a-half – and we have called for the Bytyqi case to be a priority in her work.  We are hopeful that that appointment will serve to advance the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the Bytyqi murders.  

“There have been some recent developments in the Embassy burning case, as five high level Serbian police officials, including the then-Chief of the Armed Police, have been indicted for allowing the attack to take place.  Additionally, the re-trial of seven hooligans involved in the burning itself is scheduled to begin July 21.  We will follow both of these prosecutions and continue to insist that those responsible be held accountable.  We take seriously the allegations raised by the Humanitarian Law Center, and are reviewing the report.

“The United States has strongly supported the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which served as a model of fairness, impartiality, and independence in the trials of defendants accused of the worst crimes known to humankind: genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.  Justice for war crimes committed in the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s will remain a U.S. priority following the close of the Tribunal later this year.  It is important to ensure both that justice is done and that heinous crimes do not go unpunished in the future.  As the ICTY’s work draws down, it is imperative that momentum shift toward national prosecutions.  The United States continues to advocate with relevant actors in support of the swift and fair prosecution of the remaining cases, without regard to the ethnicities of victims or perpetrators.”

HUMANITARIAN LAW CENTER RELASE ON REPORT

January 31, 2017

Dossier: “The cover-up of evidence of crimes during the war in Kosovo: THE CONCEALMENT OF BODIES OPERATION”

Since 2001, mass graves containing the bodies of 941 Kosovo Albanians, mainly civilians killed outside combat situations in Kosovo during 1999, have been found on four locations in Serbia. 744 bodies of Kosovo Albanians have been discovered in Batajnica, on the outskirts of Belgrade, at least 61 in Petrovo Selo, and 84 at Lake Peru?ac. At least 52 bodies have been subsequently found in the mass grave at Rudnica.

The bodies found in mass graves belonged not only to males, but also to females and children. The cause of their deaths, in most cases, was a gunshot wound, mainly to the head, suggesting that the victims did not die in combat but as a result of execution-style killings outside situations of combat.

The analysed testimonies and witness statements could be divided into two groups: the first group comprises statements given by eyewitnesses and survivors of crimes; the second group, more numerous, comprises statements of insiders, mostly members of the police and workers of utility companies, who took part in the transportation and burial of the bodies. In addition to these, numerous police and military documents were also analysed, primarily those available through the ICTY database, but also some documents the Humanitarian Law Center acquired on its own, independently of the courts.

The evidence corroborated that the decision to conceal evidence of crimes committed was planned as early as March 1999 at the highest level of the government, and indicated that members of both departments of the Serbian MUP (State Security Department and Public Security Department) and the Yugoslav Army’s departments in charge of “clearing up the terrain” were involved in it. Civilians and workers of municipal utility companies also took part in removing the corpses, and the machines and other equipment of these companies were also used for this purpose.

Now, sixteen years after the discovery of the mass graves in Batajnica, Petrovo Selo and at Lake Peru?ac, and more than three years after the discovery of the mass grave at Rudnica, all these locations remain unmarked, without any sign to indicate that hundreds of bodies of men, women and children who had been killed in numerous mass crimes in Kosovo were buried in Serbia. The Humanitarian Law Center has launched an initiative to establish a memorial site at the Batajnica mass grave site. At the time of the publication of this Dossier, the online petition in support of the initiative has been signed by several hundred people.

No one has ever been held accountable before courts in Serbia for the large-scale operation of concealment of bodies of Kosovo Albanian victims in mass graves.

Dossier: “The cover-up of evidence of crimes during the war in Kosovo: THE CONCEALMENT OF BODIES OPERATION”