For the past [several] months, the police and military forces of the Government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) have been subjecting ethnic Albanians in Kosovo to forced displacement, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, mass killings, the systematic destruction of homes and crops, summary executions, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and the denial of humanitarian assistance. Yugoslav military and police have stated that their goal is to eliminate the leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and to inflict such damage upon the civilian population that they will be convinced that support for the concept of liberation is not worth the price.
On September 21, the Brookings Institution hosted a group of experienced humanitarian, human rights, military and diplomatic representatives to discuss the desperate need to protect internally displaced persons and civilians in Kosovo from serious and protracted violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. Despite the broad range of disciplines represented, there was strong consensus on the recommendations, which are highlighted below.
To begin with, it was agreed that the presence of unarmed humanitarians and the provision of humanitarian aid cannot stop the egregious violations of human rights and humanitarian law taking place.
For the past [several] months, the police and military forces of the Government of the FRY have been subjecting ethnic Albanians in Kosovo to forced displacement, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, mass killings, the systematic destruction of homes and crops, summary executions, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and the denial of humanitarian assistance. Yugoslav military and police have stated that their goal is to eliminate the leaders of the KLA and to inflict such damage upon the civilian population that they will be convinced that support for the concept of liberation is not worth the price.
Serbs living in Kosovo have also been disappeared or attacked by the KLA solely on the basis of ethnicity. The population of internally displaced persons has grown to more than 300,000 and refugees to more than 30,000.
Recent statements of world leaders have given the message to the FRY that military action, if it comes at all, will not come for several weeks. Participants feared that this would embolden the FRY to engage in further actions against the civilian population in the interim. (It is worth noting that the Security Council on September 23 did demand an immediate end to the fighting and called for a dialogue.) Should the international community undertake air strikes or other decisive steps to end the attacks on civilians, participants felt that there are still certain political, legal and humanitarian actions which should be taken to promote protection as well.
At the political level, leaders of nations, specifically France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, could immediately and explicitly demand that FRY President Slobodan Milosevic order a cease-fire, stop all violence against civilians and property, and commit to a negotiated settlement (which is the essence of the abovementioned Security Council resolution). Participants suggested strong political and economic pressure on the FRY Government to back up such demands.
Some recommended measures to destabilize Milosevic and weaken his grip on power. They pointed to an advertisement in The New York Times on September 11, signed by a group of prominent citizens in the U.S., which urged support for the democratic opposition in Serbia and the application of economic pressure against the FRY government as the only effective means of resolving the crisis. Additional steps suggested at the meeting ranged from cutting off gas to Belgrade in order to put pressure on Milosevic to undertaking retaliatory denial of visas to Yugoslav officials.
The need to assure access to civilians under attack, in distress, or in detention was underscored. The ongoing denial of access by the FRY government to humanitarian organizations was identified as one of the most critical protection issues in the Kosovo crisis.
There also must be an immediate increase in international presence and observers. With the exception of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has 70 staff on the ground, most international organizations and NGOs have had limited presence in Kosovo. It was recommended that UNHCR, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, together with NGOs, expand their field staff. In addition, high visibility observers should make visits to the area, as these could have public relations value and promote protection, for instance, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (Ogata is currently in Kosovo), the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, and the UN Special Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial Summary and Arbitrary Executions, Torture, and Violence against Women, as well as members of the UN Working Groups on Arbitrary Detention and Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
False humanitarian gestures on the part of the Serbian authorities should be rebuffed. The government has set up eleven “humanitarian centers” to provide food for returnees but participants fear this could compromise the physical security of civilians. It concentrates civilians in certain areas and makes them more easily subject to control. The centers also could be used as staging areas for actions elsewhere, such as in Istnic, where the ICRC reported “the screening of entire population groups for the stated purpose of identifying individuals having taken part in operations against the security forces, ill-treatment and intimidation during interrogation, and failure to notify families of the whereabouts of those being held.” While it was pointed out that some returning IDPs were receiving assistance in the centers, it was also noted that there is heavy police presence at several and four have reportedly been shelled. Those displaced and other civilians have little confidence in the centers since the FRY police and military have simultaneously been engaged in the systematic displacement of large numbers, the burning of homes and crops, the planting of mines, and the using of sniper fire to discourage people from returning to their villages.
*Note: Affiliations of participants are provided for identification purposes only.
Serious and protracted violations of international humanitarian and human rights law has left internally displaced persons in Kosovo in desperate need of protection.
Head of Regional Delegation for North America and Canada, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
National Defense University; former Defense Attache (USA), Belgrade
United States Institute of Peace; former Deputy Chief of Mission, OSCE, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Human Rights Watch
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (in absentia)
Former Brookings Expert
International Committee of the Red Cross
Physicians for Human Rights
Balkan Action Council
Coalition for International Justice; former Country Director, International Rescue Committee, Croatia
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
President, Refugees International
Brown University Humanitarianism and War Project; former Deputy Chief of Mission, UNHCR Field Operation in Rwanda
National Defense University
Mercy Corps International
National Defense University; former US Ambassador to Somalia
Former Brookings Expert
Co-Chair Emeritus - Committee for Human Rights in North Korea
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