London, 1 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International says perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Kosovo, where at least 300 have been killed in recent ethnic violence, should be aware that they will be held criminally responsible for their actions.
Amnesty International Secretary General Pierre Sane told a news conference in London that war crimes are being committed in Kosovo following a rapid deterioration in its security situation.
"With every day that passes, greater numbers of civilians are falling victim to displacement, torture and death in Kosovo province. The Geneva conventions of 1949 and international human rights law are being blatantly ignored: war crimes are being committed in Kosovo today."
Sane says Serbian police and military operations, ostensibly directed at the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) , have led to the deaths of many ethnic Albanian civilians. But Serb civilians have also been attacked by armed ethnic Albanians.
Of the estimated death toll of 300, Amnesty calculates that 250 were ethnic Albanians, and the other 50 Serbs. It says that as of early June, over 60,000 people have fled their homes in Kosovo.
Amnesty says both Albanian and Serb civilians are fleeing a combination of deliberate or indiscriminate attacks, arbitrary arrests or abductions, and the deliberate destruction of homes.
It says ethnic Albanian civilians have come under artillery and mortar fire from Yugoslav military forces who have taken on an increased role in Kosovo since February this year. In some locations, attacks on Serbian police by the KLA were followed a few hours later by police reprisals against civilians in nearby villages. But the KLA had also deliberately attacked civilians -- Albanians and Serbs.
In a dossier of four reports about human rights abuses in Kosovo, Amnesty points out that the international war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia has a mandate to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity. It calls on the international community to help the tribunal to investigate the situation in Kosovo, and to provide it with more financial and other backing.
Paul Miller, an Amnesty researcher just back from Kosovo, said Serbian and Yugoslav authorities should issue clear instructions to their security forces not to violate human rights. Those responsible for killing civilians and other abuses should know they will be held criminally responsible. Miller said the international community is better prepared to seek out and prosecute war criminals than it was at the start of the conflicts in former Yugoslavia.
"In Kosovo province, the situation is far more advanced in relation to international prosecution than it was at the start of the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia in 1991/92. What's important is that a clear message is sent to those of all sides, both the Serbian police, the Yugoslav army and the Kosovo Liberation Army that the tribunal is there, it has jurisdiction over what's going on in Kosovo, and they will and should be held accountable for their actions."
Amnesty International is calling for an impartial human rights monitoring team to be sent to Kosovo, independent of ongoing political attempts to bring peace to the region, to investigate war crimes and other crimes against humanity.