Human rights tragedies such as the situation in Kosovo shock the world when they happen -- and then the details are often forgotten. But now, an international organization has compiled a permanent record of many of the atrocities that took place in Kosovo before, during, and after the fighting. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports.
Munich, 6 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Hundreds of atrocities, against both ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs, have been recorded by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The group released details of the human rights abuses today in a two-volume book titled "Kosovo -- As Seen, As Told."
In 760 pages, the report describes individual and mass killings, the rape of women and girls, the killing of children, and the looting and burning of homes and shops. Unlike many such reports that give a general overview of a situation, this one is very specific -- scores of towns and villages are named along with details of incidents that took place there.
However, none of the victims or perpetrators are identified by name. The OSCE says it did not wish to expose the victims to retaliation for having spoken out, while it wanted to protect the privacy of rape victims. The names of the alleged perpetrators were not revealed for legal reasons, but they have been passed on to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
The reports are almost all from victims or eyewitnesses. The sheer number of allegations made it impossible for the OSCE to investigate them all thoroughly, but the group did try to obtain supporting evidence from other sources, including medical authorities.
An OSCE human rights officer, Ian Gorvin, says the organization tried to be balanced in its reporting. He says the report describes both human rights abuses committed by Serbian forces before and during the NATO bombing campaign and also the revenge now being taken by ethnic Albanians on the few Serbs remaining.
"There is data concerning violation of the rights of Kosovo Albanians by Serbian and Yugoslav forces, but equally there is data about violations of the rights of Serbs and also of Albanians by the Kosovo Liberation Army."
The OSCE report is in two volumes. Volume One details human rights violations in Kosovo between December 1998 and March 1999, when the NATO bombing began. It also contains many reports of crimes said to have been carried out by Serbian military and paramilitary forces during the 78-day NATO bombing campaign that ended in June. The convoys carrying ethnic Albanians to Macedonia and Albania were often raided by Serbian forces, who survivors said committed murder and rape and looted the refugees' few possessions.
Volume One also contains a breakdown of events in each of Kosovo's 29 municipalities, mostly during the bombing campaign. The report gives eyewitness accounts of Serbian activity in nearly 300 towns, villages and communities. One recurring theme is the pressure applied to many ethnic Albanians to pay large sums of money in German marks to secure their own release or for the release of a son. In several cases, the individual was killed even after ransom money was paid.
Volume Two deals with the period after NATO troops moved into Kosovo following the bombing campaign. Much of it deals with the revenge taken by ethnic Albanians on Serbs and Roma, and the political role of the now disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK).
The OSCE says it documented 750 cases of human rights violations in the period from June 14 to October 31 and investigations are continuing into hundreds more.
The report says the hatred of the ethnic Albanians and their desire for revenge created the climate in which the vast majority of human rights violations are taking place. One human rights investigator says the province is completely polarized:
"The bitterness in the ethnic Albanian population about their past treatment has led to a situation where the entire remaining Kosovo Serb population is now seen as a target for Kosovo Albanians."
The report contains pages of descriptions of the abduction of Serbian men and boys, the burning of property, and discrimination against ethnic Serbs, including the elderly and children. The story is told in the separate reports on the situation in each of the five regional areas of Kosovo.
Volume Two also examines the emergence of rival political factions in Kosovo -- particularly the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army -- and the tensions this has provoked in the ethnic Albanian community.
In the report's words: "The rights of Kosovo Albanians to freedom of association, expression, thought and religion have all been challenged by other Kosovo Albanians." The OSCE report notes the political ambitions of the UCK, which has imposed itself as a provisional government in many communities. It also notes that in many cases those who repress the Serbian population claim to be members of the UCK or associated with it. The report acknowledges that the highest levels of the former UCK leadership have publicly distanced themselves from any connection of their members to violent disturbances. The UCK leadership says criminal elements who were never part of the UCK are now exploiting the UCK umbrella for their own purposes.
The two volumes that make up this massive report on human rights violations will be sent to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to assist in the prosecution of those responsible for atrocities. The OSCE will provide the court with its list of those believed to be responsible for murders, rapes, beatings, and abductions.
The former chief of the international court, Justice Louise Arbour, sums up the OSCE's hopes for the report in a foreword. Describing the report as a reliable data base, she says it will assist those trying to establish peace and justice in Kosovo.