An international human rights monitoring group is accusing Belgrade officials of having organized a systematic rape campaign against ethnic Albanian women in Kosovo last year. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz examines the group's report and gathers reactions from the international war crimes court for the former Yugoslavia.
Prague, 21 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The UN's Hague-based war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia says it may expand indictments against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other Belgrade officials to include charges of genocide and sex crimes.
Tribunal spokesman Paul Risley told RFE/RL today that the move is being considered after the release of a report by the international monitoring group Human Rights Watch. The report documents a pattern of gang rapes in Kosovo last year by Serbian paramilitaries, Interior Ministry police, and Yugoslav army troops.
Risley welcomed the report, saying the efforts of the non-governmental organization would help tribunal investigators:
"We are considering expanding the charges [against Milosevic and other senior Belgrade officials] to include charges of genocide in the same way that we are considering expanding the indictment to include crimes of sexual violence. Also, perhaps, to continue to expand the indictment to include charges against additional [Yugoslav] individuals."
Human Rights Watch cited 96 rape cases committed in Kosovo last year in which evidence suggests an organized campaign against ethnic Albanians. All of the crimes were committed during or shortly before NATO's 11-week air campaign against Yugoslavia.
The group's report says rape was used to terrorize Kosovo's population and force civilians from their homes. It also says the actual number of rapes by Serbian and Yugoslav forces in Kosovo was much higher than has been reported. It says many rape victims have not filed complaints because of cultural taboos.
Jean-Paul Marthoz, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch, says the group has gathered enough evidence to prove that rape was not an occasional act committed by a few deranged individuals:
"Those  cases prove that it was a policy carried out on a systematic basis, not only by paramilitaries, but also by the Federal Army of Yugoslavia. The material evidence [shows] that the Yugoslav government knew about those cases happening. And if it knew what was happening, it [was obliged] to take the necessary steps to make sure that the violence against women would be stopped."
Human Rights Watch is urging the UN tribunal to charge those directly responsible for the rapes as well as their commanding officers. In most cases, however, the attackers and their commanders are thought to have escaped into Serbia proper when the Yugoslav army and Interior Ministry police withdrew from Kosovo last June.
So far, five senior officials in Belgrade have been indicted for crimes against humanity in connection with events in Kosovo. Tribunal spokesman Risley explained that the court has taken a different approach in Kosovo than it has for its indictments in other parts of the former Yugoslavia:
"Instead of looking case-by-case [as in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia], we went directly to the top -- to those individuals that we feel bear the most personal criminal responsibility for the events that occurred in Kosovo. And that's Milosevic and the interior minister and the commander and chief of the armed forces -- because these are the individuals who planned the police and paramilitary crackdowns in Kosovo and are ultimately responsible for the crimes that occurred on the ground."
Human Rights Watch named several temporary detention centers -- including barns and abandoned homes -- where it says ethnic Albanian women were held and raped. But its research has not confirmed allegations made by NATO last year that Serbian and Yugoslav forces set up "rape camps" in the western Kosovo towns of Pec or Djakovica. In fact, the report criticizes NATO, the U.S. government and the British government for spreading unconfirmed allegations about rape in Kosovo while the NATO bombing campaign was still under way.
Since the end of the war, Human Rights Watch also has been documenting rapes of Serbian, Albanian and Romany (gypsy) women by ethnic Albanians -- including members of the former Kosovo Liberation Army. But any sex crimes committed since NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers arrived in Kosovo last June are beyond the scope of the organization's latest report.