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

Kosovo Investigation: Upgrading President Milosevic's Indictment

Tribunal Update 130: Last Week in The Hague (14-20 June, 1999)
By IWPR

Absolutely right? Not quite. Only a week after the arrival of NATO forces, followed by a ‘battalion’ of journalists, it is quite clear that the Kosovo reality is in fact far more horrible than described during the 78 days of aerial attacks in briefings by NATO, Pentagon and the British Ministry of Defense. Even before forensic and crime experts and investigators had a chance to start doing their work, soldiers of KFOR and the "forensic journalists" had stumbled on a hundred or so mass killing and mass grave sites, wells filled with bodies, "torture chambers" and, finally, entire villages turned into concentration camps.


All this was available on the surface - despite strenuous efforts by Serb forces in the wake of the publication of the indictment of President Milosevic and four of his alleged co-conspirators to remove as much as possible the evidence of crimes. Even when just the most superficial evidence of the Kosovo's crime scenes is stacked up, the former ‘propaganda’ estimate of at least 5,000 killed Kosovo Albanians appears to be inadequate and in need of revision. "According to the reports we had gathered, it appeared that around 10.000 people had been killed in more than 100 massacres," said last week British Foreign Office minister, Geoff Hoon.


The prosecutor Louise Arbour refuses to enter the competition to come up with the most accurate number of potential casualties. "Our primary task is not one of accounting – it is one of examination, of investigation and proper assessment and transforming, in legal terms, that is, in charges in an indictment, the information that we find" - Arbour said on Friday at a press conference at the Brussels NATO headquarters.


On the same occasion, Arbour, however, also gave a clear indication that – in the light of the latest evidence of actual proportions of the Kosovo atrocities – the indictment of Milosevic could be "upgraded" so as to include the charges under the Genocide Convention. "I do not think it is a secret that what is being uncovered on the ground is of very troubling order of magnitude and we will certainly want to reassess [the charges], particularly when it comes to homicides, murders. We have brought over 340 specific murder charges against these five accused involving named and identified victims. We must continue this task and we will examine whether it would be appropriate to upgrade some of the existing charges and bring more serious charges against these and other accused."


Even though the NATO Secretary General, Javier Solana, on Friday evening said that the mandate of KFOR (Kosovo Forces) will be essentially the same as that of the SFOR (Stabilization Forces in Bosnia) in respect of their obligations towards the Tribunal, Arbour claimed the opposite just hours earlier.


"The decision by the North Atlantic Council," said the Chief Prosecutor, certainly puts in place a more than acceptable infrastructure, considerably different to the one that was originally put in place to support the Tribunal's activity in Bosnia. Today's decision takes a considerably more, explicitly considerably more pro-active stand in supporting the efforts of the Tribunal including, if need be, on apprehension issues. It ranks the tasking of Tribunal support as a matter of high priority and to my particular satisfaction, it invites the possibility of re-examining the mandate given to SFOR to adopt in this new environment also a more pro-active stand in supporting Tribunal activity."


Canadian ministers of foreign affairs and defense, Lloyd Axworthy and Art Eggleton confirmed this interpretation of the mandate of KFOR at the same press conference. "It gives the Tribunal a much stronger position than it has in Bosnia," said Axworthy. Solana’s refusal to admit the differences, it seems, means that the mandate of SFOR will not be modified formally, although a much more pro-active and more interventionist interpretation of it may be expected. All this is in order to prevent the appearance that NATO has two different policies towards war criminals: a strict one in Kosovo and a conniving one in Bosnia.


During the weekend from 19-20 June, British, American, French, and Canadian forensic and investigative teams, which will conduct investigation according to a list of priorities drafted by the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), were deployed in Kosovo. Late last week, British forensic team started an investigation in one of the locations quoted in the indictment of President Milosevic. The location is Velika Krusa, where on 26 March approximately 105 Kosovo Albanian men and boys were killed and their remains burned. In the preliminary recce of the location, the investigators traced remains of more than 100 bodies.


OTP plans to work in Kosovo with between 12 and 14 investigative teams. In the first stages of the investigation, they will focus on the surface evidence, since it is far more susceptible to contamination and disappearance than the evidence that is buried under surface. Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt last week also said that the investigators would be paying particular attention to the “search for evidence on the destruction of evidence.” Although this makes the investigation so much more difficult, the destruction of evidence and traces of crimes – on condition that it is proven beyond doubt – may help the Prosecutor in his case. It shows that the crimes were not of accidental nature, ‘spontaneous’ or ‘isolated incidents,’ but part of a planned and systematically implemented policy.


The reason why this issue is important can be seen from the last week’s statement by the FRY ambassador to UN, Vladislav Jovanovic. Ambassador Jovanovic, who spent the last three months categorically denouncing claims of Kosovo crimes as “figment of imagination of the NATO propaganda machine,” finally yielded under the pressure of a mountain of evidence uncovered last week, and reluctantly admitted that crimes were committed in Kosovo.


But those crimes, Ambassador Jovanovic was categorical again, “can in no case be attributed to the Yugoslav security forces" – i.e. the army and the police – but “to the private paramilitary formations and individuals,” who were ‘settling their private vendettas’. The logic of his thinking would appear to imply that over the past several weeks those same individuals had also been engaged in the removal and destruction of evidence out of their own, ‘private initiative.’


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