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Kosovo Investigation: Where Is The Promised Evidence?

By Mirko Klarin

Since the beginning of air strikes against the Yugoslav Federation (FRY), not a day has passed without briefings at the US State Department, British Ministry of Defence or NATO HQ in Brussels touching on the matter of alleged crimes committed by Serbian forces in Kosovo.

Western governments promised that evidence was being acquired and would be passed to the Tribunal. They gave the impression that the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) would shortly be buried in witness and victim statements, satellite photographs, and intercepted communications between Serbian forces in the field and the "nerve centre" of ethnic cleansing in Belgrade.

Yet two weeks into the air raids, on Wednesday, April 7, Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt was letting it be known that the OTP had received far less evidence than his office had been led to expect.

"It would be wrong to say we haven't received any [evidence] but we have not received what we expected, having heard those public statements coming from the United States, the United Kingdom and NATO," Blewitt said in his regular briefing at the Tribunal. "We would have expected to see more by now than we are actually seeing.

"We think that more can be done… We have already urged those governments that say they have this evidence to provide it to us."

President of the Tribunal, Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, joined the OTP's appeal for more evidence in a letter to NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs, sent on April 6 and made public two days later. She said she was "stunned and horrified by the reports from Kosovo" and by the recounts of refugees' experiences. "If true," she wrote, such events "belong in a time and place that we are supposed to have left behind: allegations of indiscriminate violence, destruction and theft of property, mass round-ups, and systematic torture, rape and murder."

Judge McDonald reminded the ministers of what she had "repeatedly" emphasised during the past 18 months. "While the Tribunal has the mandate to investigate, prosecute and conduct trials, it cannot do so without the active assistance of the States of the international community. All States and organisations in possession of information pertaining to the alleged commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal should make such information available without delay to the Prosecutor.

"Several NATO Member States have expressed a willingness to assist the Tribunal with providing such evidence. I am confident that all Members of the North Atlantic Council will assist the Tribunal in providing any evidence of criminal wrongdoing in their possession."

The public reminders seem to have taken effect. The governments and organisations cited began contacting the OTP later that same Wednesday with assurances that they would continue passing information on.

Tribunal's spokesperson Jim Landale told Tribunal Update that the OTP and the "providers of such information are now trying to work out best modalities in which such information can be transferred in secure and efficient manner, so that its flow can be continuous."

The OTP does not exclusively rely on the promised co-operation of governments in its Kosovo investigations. A team of OTP investigators is already in the field in regions bordering on Kosovo, where most of the refugees and deported Kosovo Albanians are currently situated.

Last Wednesday, Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt also announced that Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour plans to add to her team in the region. The OTP investigators are working with aid agencies and human rights organisations in the field, trying to identify witnesses and victims of the alleged crimes.

This is, according to Blewitt, a "monumental task" for the OTP and its investigators, taking into consideration the enormous number of refugees, the scale of the crisis, and the fact that events are still unfolding.

The investigators, said Blewitt, were already encountering reports of mass killings, summary executions, systematic rape and homes being pillaged and burned. "Putting all of these activities together," he concluded, "amounts to persecution as a crime against humanity. Obviously as each day goes by we are closer to an indictment of sorts."

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