Albania + 3 more

OSCE Background Paper - Human Rights in Kosovo

Originally published
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
Press Release

Reports: Human Rights in Kosovo: As Seen, As Told

Part I - October 1998 to June 1999

Part II - 14 June 1999 to 31 October 1999


The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has produced two human rights reports that extensively document the human rights violations in Kosovo reported by OSCE field officers. One report covering the period October 1998 to 9 June 1999 contains an analysis of the findings of the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission (OSCE-KVM). This report, entitled As Seen, As Told, pertains to the human rights situation in Kosovo during the broken cease-fire and armed conflict, including the whole of the NATO air campaign. The report is derived from the OSCE-KVM human rights files compiled in Kosovo up to the mission's withdrawal on 20 March 1999, and nearly 2,800 victim and direct witness statements taken by OSCE human rights officers in the refugee camps of Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia during the NATO air campaign.

The second report As Seen, As Told Part II documents the period of 14 June to 31 October 1999, when more than 800,000 Kosovo Albanian refugees returned to a war-torn Kosovo under KFOR protection and UN administration. Publishing the reports in conjunction does not in any way suggest that abuses of the past and the violations of today can be equated. The sheer scale and the involvement of the State make the former of a structurally different order than the latter. We give a full account of both, impartially reporting all violations regardless of when they were committed or who committed them. The two reports are summarised below.

As Seen, As Told. Period covered: October 1998 to June 1999

The report first analyses the nature of the broad range of human rights and humanitarian law violations committed in Kosovo in the reporting period. The report, prepared by a team of experts, shows that summary and arbitrary killing of civilians was committed by both parties to the conflict in the period up to 20 March. On the part of the Serbian forces, their use of mass killing as an instrument of terror was shockingly demonstrated at that time, and escalated after 20 March 1999 as one of the tactics to expel Kosovo Albanians. Other grave violations are also extensively reviewed including the use of arbitrary arrests and detentions as a means of intimidating the entire Kosovo Albanian population; rape and other forms of sexual violence, sometimes carried out as a weapon of war; and forced expulsion on a massive scale, accompanied by deliberate property destruction and looting. The report estimates that more than 1.4 million people were displaced from their homes by 9 June.

The report then examines the impact of the conflict on different communities and groups in Kosovo society. Among the findings is the specific focus on young Kosovo Albanian men of fighting age for killing, detention and torture, based on the perception of them as potential "terrorists." Throughout the conflict women were placed in positions of great vulnerability and suffered violence specifically targeted at their gender. There are cases of children being deliberately killed, and, more widely, they were victims of and witnesses to violence and intimidation. Serbian forces specifically targeted prominent, educated, wealthy, politically or socially active Kosovo Albanians. There are well-founded reports that local staff of the OSCE-KVM, and others associated with the OSCE Mission, were harassed, forcibly expelled or killed after the Mission withdrawal on 20 March 1999. Kosovo Serbs were also victims of humanitarian law violations committed by the UCK, particularly in the matter of the many Kosovo Serbs missing following abductions. Other minority communities also had specific experiences of the conflict.

Finally, the report provides a human rights "map" of Kosovo, a municipality-by-municipality account of violations as they occurred in hundreds of communities.

The conclusions of the report's analysis are that clear strategies lay behind the human rights violations committed by Serbian forces; that paramilitaries and armed civilians committed acts of extreme lawlessness with the tolerance and collusion of military and security forces whose own actions were generally highly organized and systematic; and that the violations inflicted on the Kosovo Albanian population on a massive scale after 20 March were a continuation of actions by Serbian forces that were well-rehearsed, insofar as they were taking place in many locations well before that date. While both parties to the conflict committed human rights violations, there was no balance or equivalence in the nature or scale of those violations - overwhelmingly it was the Kosovo Albanian population who suffered. The report also notes that persistent human rights violations lay behind the security breakdown which plunged Kosovo into armed conflict and a human rights and humanitarian catastrophe.

As Seen, As Told Part II. Period Covered: 14 June to 31 October 1999

As Seen, As Told Part II reviews the human rights situation in Kosovo from the establishment of the new OSCE Mission in Kosovo until October 1999. It is a period characterised by acts of revenge, committed in a climate of lawlessness and impunity. The report, produced under difficult field conditions, documents human rights violations in Kosovo since the end of the air campaign and the return of more than 800,000 refugees. It analyses human rights conditions and events in each of the five regions of Kosovo, and shows that the desire for revenge has been the primary motive for the vast majority of human rights violations that have taken place. Kosovo Serbs, Roma, Muslim Slavs and others who are perceived to have collaborated actively or passively with the Serb security forces, have been targeted for killing, expulsion, harassment, intimidation, house-burning and abduction. This has led to an exodus of these communities from Kosovo. As detailed in the other report, there is no doubt that many Kosovo Albanians suffered traumatic human rights violations for a decade before the conflict that left no family unscarred. However, whatever the context, the human rights perspective does not accept that the response to one injustice is the initiation of another.

Two iniquitous trends documented in this report are the targeting of vulnerable, elderly Kosovo Serbs and the increasing participation of juveniles in human rights violations, underlining the growing intolerance that has emerged within the Kosovo Albanian community. Rights of Kosovo Albanians to freedom of association, expression, thought and religion have all been challenged by other Kosovo Albanians. The report reveals that opposition to the self-styled municipal administrations, often dominated by the (former) UCK, has sometimes led to intimidation and harassment.

The report contains many witness statements concerning UCK involvement in the violence, both before and after the demilitarisation deadline of 19 September ranging from reports of UCK "police" to more recent accusations about intimidation by persons claiming to be members of the nascent Kosovo Protection Corps (TMK). It is clear that the highest levels of the former UCK leadership and current provisional TMK hierarchy have formally distanced themselves from any connection of their members to the violence that has taken place. They highlight the ease with which criminal elements who were never part of the UCK had exploited the UCK umbrella for their own nefarious purposes. Despite such denials, it seems clear that the extent of UCK (and now provisional TMK) involvement is of such a nature and scope that the question of explicit or tacit involvement by the leadership requires close examination by the international community.

The report notes that deficiencies in law enforcement capabilities and the administration of justice have contributed to the climate of impunity within which human rights violations occur. The OSCE calls for thorough investigations into the allegations documented and for an infusion of more international police and international judicial experts to help break the cycle of impunity in Kosovo. The human rights documentation and investigations detailed in the two reports represent part of the OSCE commitment to assisting in the rebuilding of a Kosovo which is founded on the principles of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. These principles can only be realised through the continued monitoring and reporting of the human rights situation and the establishment of the rule of law - a mandated task for the international community in Kosovo.

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