Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kosovo Investigation: Shocking Evidence

Tribunal Update 131: Last Week in The Hague (21-27 June, 1999)

"The work is progressing well," Blewitt told the weekly briefing at the Tribunal last Wednesday. "Forensic teams from a number of countries are already in place and are actually working at those sites that we had already prioritized as being important to our investigations. Teams are arriving literally on a daily basis."

Among the priorities are the sites of alleged mass killings, quoted in the indictment of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four of his co-accused, political and military leaders. The British forensic team, which was the first to deploy in the vicinity of Velika Krusa, appear to have completed their surface investigation of where, according to the indictment, around 105 men and boys were shot and their bodies burned on 26 March 1999.

Judging by the statements of forensic experts and politicians who visited the site last week, sufficient evidence has been found to support testimonies of refugees who were witnesses to the massacre, and on the basis of which this count of the indictment was based. Professor Peter Vanezis, a forensic pathologist who exhumed bodies after the conflicts in Rwanda and Bosnia, said the same "callousness and planning" was evident at the site in Velika Krusa. British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, left the crime scene with his belief in the justifiability of NATO intervention strengthened: "If I had any doubts about the justice of the campaign we were waging to liberate Kosovo from this terror, they have been banished," he said.

According to a Foreign Office spokesperson, the team of British forensic experts will relocate this weekend to a new site, also on the list of priorities determined by the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP). "We are not naming it until the work has started but it is in the same region and a place where, according to eyewitness reports, 75 people were murdered." According to Milosevic's indictment, the above figure matches the number of alleged victims in the village of Bela Crkva, massacred on 25.March 1999.

The biggest team of 56 forensic scientists and investigators comes from the American FBI. Federal agents have been working on two locations in Djakovica, where, according to the indictment, 26 people - almost exclusively women and children - were killed and their remains burned. The allegations made in the indictment also match what the investigators found among the charred remains of a house in the Milos Gilic Street in Djakovica,as well as in the backyard of a second house were investigators exhumed six bodies.

"We collect DNA samples among bone fragments and skulls. We look for evidence of gunshot wounds," explained Paul Mallett, an FBI official from Miami. He said the investigators were working around the clock in 12-hour shifts and expected to be finished at the first site by Monday June 28.

The list of priorities drawn up by the OTP ahead of the investigators' arrival in Kosovo has been greatly superseded by daily findings of new suspected crime sites or mass graves. German Defence Minister, Rudolf Scharping, said after a visit last week to Kosovo that "at least 40 mass graves" have been found in the German sector.

The French, who were the last to enter their sector in the north of Kosovo, discovered a suspected mass grave site which may contain as many as 180 bodies just days after their arrival. Paul Risley, the OTP spokesperson, admitted in Pristina last week that the evidence of violence shocked even the most experienced investigators.

"There are literally hundreds of villages with substantial destruction, and a substantial number of mass graves and alleged massacre sites in the province," Risley said. The sheer scale of destruction and its pervasiveness in such a short time, he said, "could only have been co-ordinated and directed from a central command structure such as that used by the army forces and the police forces."

The first results of the investigation and further daily discoveries of the scale of Kosovo crimes appear to add weight to the additional evidence necessary for the upgrading of the indictment of President Milosevic and four of his senior officials (Milan Milutinovic, President of Serbia; Nikola Sainovic, the FRY's Deputy Prime Minister; Dragoljub Ojdanic, Chief of General Staff of the FRY's Army and Vlajko Stojiljkovic, Minister of Internal Affairs of Serbia), as noted in the previous issue of the Tribunal Update. The indictment could thus be amended to include the charge of genocide.

Aside from the issue of genocide, Risley added that the Tribunal fully expected "to bring further indictments against other individuals who may have been part of that chain of command for both the military and police forces."

Risley naturally refused to say who could those "other individuals" be. Back in March however, Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour sent a letter to President Milosevic and 12 other top political, military and police officials, warning them of their accountability under international humanitarian law. Since the FRY Embassy in The Hague refused to receive this warning letter, dated 26 March 1999, Arbour published it one week later.

The first Kosovo indictment, published on 27 May 1999, named five persons out of the 13 who were publicly warned by Arbour two months earlier. Out of the remaining eight persons from the list, the most serious candidates for the inclusion into the second round of Kosovo indictments could be: Frenki Simatovic, Chief of Serbian Special Forces of State Security; General Nebojsa Pavkovic, Commander of the Pristina Corps; General Sreten Lukic, Head of Police Operations in Kosovo; and Zoran Sokolovic, the FRY's Minister of the Interior (for Arbour's letter and complete list of warned officials see Tribunal Update Nos. 118 & 119).

Last week the Tribunal inadvertently sent two conflicting signals to Yugoslav President Milosevic. First, Judge Claude Jorda sent a message in an interview published last Monday in the Paris daily, Liberation which argued to the effect that even if Milosevic was to arrive in The Hague tomorrow, he would have to await the beginning of his trial for at least three years. According to Judge Jorda, this was because the Trial Chambers are snowed under a score of other cases, and the Tribunal is on the whole apparently facing an operational 'paralysis' of sorts.

Tribunal Update sources in Belgrade comment that Judge Jorda's statement was seen as a message to Milosevic that he should not even bother coming over to The Hague, since it would be waste of the statesman's valuable time. Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt subsequently promised Milosevic a swift and efficient trial and suggested that the moment the President arrived in The Hague, the United Nations would make available to the Tribunal an additional number of ad-hoc Judges.