Last Updated: Friday, 25 July 2014, 12:52 GMT

Nearly 2,000 people missing ten years after Kosovo conflict

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 10 June 2009
Cite as Amnesty International, Nearly 2,000 people missing ten years after Kosovo conflict, 10 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a39e97619.html [accessed 26 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Ten years ago, the small region of Kosovo became the setting for a major international conflict. A decade after the war ended, around 1,900 families across Kosovo and Serbia still have no details about the fate or whereabouts of their missing relatives.

It is estimated 3,000 ethnic Albanians were arrested or otherwise detained by the Serbian police, paramilitary and military authorities during the war in Kosovo and then disappeared. An estimated 800 Serbs, Roma and members of other minority communities were abducted, reportedly by the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The bodies of around half of the victims were found and returned to their relatives. The mortal remains of some 1,911 persons, registered as missing following the conflict in Kosovo, remain unaccounted for.

"Over the past ten years, there has been a consistent failure by the authorities in Serbia and in Kosovo to address the legacy of war crimes which took place in Kosovo in 1999," said Sian Jones, Amnesty International's Balkans expert. "Their failure to initiate prompt, thorough and impartial investigations in either Serbia or Kosovo has created a culture of impunity, and has failed to deliver justice to the relatives of ethnic Albanians disappeared by Serb forces and relatives of Serbs abducted by the KLA. "

In the aftermath of the war, Amnesty International interviewed relatives of the missing on both sides of the conflict and returned again in 2009 to gather further testimony. The report, "Burying the past: impunity for enforced disappearances and abductions in Kosovo", is based on many first hand accounts by those affected.

The report describes a history of undocumented exhumations, lost documentation, political interference in the justice system, aborted investigations, and a massive duplication of effort by different agencies, all of which have combined to deny the relatives of the missing access to justice.

Among the cases documented in the report is that of Nesrete Kumnova's son Albion, aged 21, who was taken by Serbian police from his mother's house in Đakovica/Gakovë, along with five others, on 31 March 1999.

"I saw a Serbian police car passing by. I raised my hand and stepped in front of the car, as M.M. [a Serbian police woman she knows] was inside that car. She said 'Is that you Nesrete?' I told her that my son and five other men were abducted.

"She asked who took them away and I replied that the Serbian police did. She asked me if I had any of my son's documents so she could check whether he was involved in anything, so I gave her his ID. The next day, I went with my sister to meet M.M. and asked to see M.M. She did not dare to show me Albion's ID in front of [another police official], but she took me into the yard and said, 'Your son is absolutely clean, but maybe he has been sent somewhere in Albania.'

"I said he does not have any money with him, so he cannot go to Albania. Then she said he does not need money to go there, but perhaps he might have been sent to Peja. I asked her if she knew anyone in Peja who could give her information and she answered, 'No, now is a state of war and nobody travels.'

"Every day we went to ask for any news of our sons. We thought the Serbian policemen would tell us something, as I knew all the Serbs who lived in Đakovica at that time and we never thought that local Serbs would commit such crimes against us. Later I met M.M. again and asked if there was any news.

"She said, 'No, I am sorry.' And then she added, 'You will come to know your son's fate in a year or two, because that's how it goes in wartime.'"

Albion's body has never been found.

Andrija Tomanović remained in the capital Pristina continuing to work as a surgeon at Pristina Hospital where he had worked for 36 years. He was abducted outside the hospital on 24 June 1999 by a group of men who dragged him into a car and drove off. He has not been seen since.

His wife told Amnesty International: "My husband was devoted to saving lives no matter what their nationality or religion. He was a great man and I am proud of him: a humanist a surgeon a member of the medical association. He stayed to carry on."

The internationalized armed conflict in Kosovo took place between March and June 1999. In that time, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) carried out a bombing campaign against Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, with the proclaimed goal to prevent a humanitarian crisis and stop ethnic cleansing of the Albanian population in Kosovo.

When NATO military operation started, the Serbian military and police forces increased armed violence against the Albanian civilian population. More than 9,000 men, women and children, the majority of them ethnic Albanian civilians, were killed by Serb forces.

Others were taken from their homes and never seen again. After the withdrawal of the Serbian forces from Kosovo between June and July 1999, Serbs, Roma and members of other minority ethnic groups (including some Kosovo Albanians perceived as associating with the Serbian authorities) were subjected to abductions, killings and other human rights abuses by Kosovo Albanian armed groups.  

In December 2006, the body of Daka Asani, a Romani man, was returned to his family for burial. His son had last seen Daka Asani while they were both shopping in the market in Uroševac/Ferizaj on 1 August 1999. His was one of 176 bodies exhumed in 2000 by the Tribunal from a cemetery at Dragodan in Pristina.

In June and August 2007, his son Skender Asani wrote to the Kosovo Police Service (KPS) to request an investigation into the murder of his father. Amnesty International also passed on information received from the family, including copies of all relevant documentation, to the UNMIK Police War Crimes Unit (WCU). In August 2008, however, the WCU informed Amnesty International that no criminal report had ever been received in his case.

A Serbian woman whose son was abducted on 19 August 1999 told Amnesty International in February 2009.

"I have done everything. I went to KFOR in Pristina. I met with our police and our army and UNMIK and gave them all the information. I have been to the government in Kosovo and talked to Bajram Rexhepi [then Prime Minister]; I contacted Flora Brovina. I contacted Barbara Davies at the UN High Commission for Human Rights.

"I contacted families who had paid a ransom. I have given a DNA sample. I have done everything. It is us, all the friends and relatives; we are the victims of this crime."

"In both Serbia and Kosovo there are those who would prefer that the disappeared and abducted remain buried in the past," concluded Sian Jones. "Amnesty International believes that Kosovo and Serbia must address the legacy of the armed conflict which can only be done with full disclosure of the location of mass graves, an end to political interference into investigations and the prompt, independent, effective and impartial investigation of war crimes."
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