A Serb Woman beaten by Albanians in Pristina
A Serb Woman Beaten by Albanians in Pristina
Unprotected Serb women and elderly people are usually targeted

Abuses Against Serbs in Kosovo
After June 12, 1999

Extract from the Human Rights Watch Report
Under Orders - War Crimes in Kosovo, October 2001


The adoption of Security Council Resolution 1244 on June 10, 1999, and the conclusion of the Military Technical Agreement between NATO and the Governments of Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia brought an end both to the NATO bombing and mass expulsions and killings by Serbian and Yugoslav security forces. In accordance with the terms of the agreement, the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) entered the province on June 12, and the Yugoslav Army and Serbian police (and paramilitaries) began a phased withdrawal from Kosovo, followed by a suspension of NATO air strikes. By June 20, all Serbian and Yugoslav security forces had withdrawn, leaving Kosovo under the control of KFOR.

The departure of Yugoslav and Serbian security forces brought an end to more than a decade of increasingly bloody and systematic persecution of Kosovar Albanians. But it did not bring an end to violence or gross violations of human rights in Kosovo. The province's Serb and Roma minorities-who many ethnic Albanians collectively regarded as active or complicit in atrocities by government forces-were immediately targeted for revenge. Thousands had already departed with the government's forces. Those who remained were forced to leave the province or concentrated in enclaves after widespread and systematic arson of Serb and Roma homes, beatings, detentions, and murders. As of July 2001, an estimated 1,000 Kosovo Serbs and Roma were missing and unaccounted for.1

Violence soon spread to include attacks on other minorities, particularly Muslims who spoke Slavic languages rather than Albanian, Croats, and ethnic Turks. Kosovar Albanians regarded as collaborators with the Serbian or Yugoslav state and their families were also attacked. At the same time, political violence between Kosovar Albanian political parties and factions and rivalries among former Kosovo Liberation Army officers (both sometimes linked to economic issues and corruption) led to some high-profile killings, even after the October 28, 2000, municipal elections.


The KLA and ethnic Albanian civilians carried out widespread burning and looting of homes belonging to Serbs, Roma and other minorities, and destroyed many Orthodox churches and monasteries in the immediate aftermath of KFOR's arrival in Kosovo. Attackers combined this destruction with killings, harassment and intimidation designed to force people from their homes and communities, a pattern which continues today. Members of minority groups in Kosovo have been detained, beaten, and sometimes tortured, with as many as 1,000 Serbs and Roma reported unaccounted for after abductions since the end of the conflict. The elderly and infirm who remained in their homes have frequently borne the brunt of this violence and intimidation, and many now live as virtual prisoners in their homes. The demographic consequences have been profound: At least 150,000 members of Kosovo's minorities fled the province for Serbia and Montenegro, most within the first six weeks of KFOR's initial deployment.2 In addition to those non-Albanians who fled the province, there has been substantial internal displacement inside Kosovo, with the majority of Serbs and other minorities concentrated into enclaves like Northern Mitrovica or Kosovo Polje.

Although a desire for revenge and retaliation provides some of the explanation for the violence, especially in the cases of arson and looting of property, Human Rights Watch's research suggests that a great deal of the violence is politically motivated; namely, the removal from Kosovo of non-ethnic Albanians in order to better justify an independent state. There is also clear evidence that some KLA units were responsible for violence against minorities beginning in the summer of 1999, and continuing throughout 2000 and early 2001. Human Rights Watch has no evidence, however, of a coordinated policy to this end of the political or military leadership of the former KLA, which has made public statements condemning attacks against minorities.3

The willingness of almost all Kosovar Albanians to remain silent about such attacks, either from fear of speaking out or because of a belief in the collective guilt of Serbs and Roma, has created a permissive environment for violence against minorities. Human Rights Watch interviews with Kosovar Albanians from all walks of life suggest a widespread acceptance of the view that wartime atrocities now mean that Serbs have forfeited the right to remain in Kosovo and to retain their property and goods, irrespective of their involvement in abuses. On the other hand, many of the same respondents privately expressed their revulsion at the violence perpetrated against minorities.

No estimates exist for the number of minority homes destroyed in the postwar period, but Human Rights Watch researchers visiting formerly mixed communities throughout Kosovo during the summer of 1999 observed wide-spread arson and looting of homes. Seventy-six Orthodox churches, monasteries, or religious sites have been damaged or destroyed since June 1999 according to the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo.4 Human Rights Watch researchers visited a number of the sites.

The intent behind many of the killings and abductions that have occurred in the province since June 1999 appears to be the expulsion of Kosovo's Serb and Roma population rather than a desire for revenge alone. In numerous cases, direct and systematic efforts were made to force Serbs and Roma to leave their homes.5 Human Rights Watch documented the harassment of elderly Serb women in formerly mixed communities in Prizren and Gnjilane municipalities, for example, and received reports of widespread efforts to remove Serbs from their homes in Pristina and Lipljan. Roma have been driven from their homes in Pristina and elsewhere by intimidation and other harassment.

Grenade and rocket attacks on minority homes are another method of "persuading" residents to leave. Such attacks against Serbs have been reported in the municipalities of Lipljan, Vitina, Gnjilane, Obilic, Orahovac, Kosovo Polje, Pec, Prizren, and Vucitrn. Attacks against Roma have been reported in Stimlje, Pristina, and Pec municipalities. The homes of the Gorani, another ethnic group of Slavic Muslims, have been subjected to grenade attacks in Gora municipaliy and other Muslim Slavs (Bosniaks) have suffered grenade attacks in Prizren, Pec, and Istok. In Pristina, Serbs and Roma have received threatening telephone calls and visits by armed men in civilian clothing and KLA uniforms in which they are flatly told to leave. The double grenade attack on a marketplace full of Serb civilians in the town of Kosovo Polje in September 1999, which killed two and left forty-seven wounded, can be understood in the same context. Even those who do choose to leave are not immune from violence: in October 1999 a KFOR-escorted convoy of 150 Serbs leaving Kosovo was attacked in Pec. Vehicles were stoned and their occupants pulled out and beaten before the vehicles were set on fire. At least fifteen Serbs were wounded during the attack.

According to a survey carried out by UNHCR, more than 150,000 of the 210,000 displaced persons from Kosovo in Serbia and Montenegro fled after June 12.6 Approximately 143,000 of the 210,000 displaced persons from Kosovo in Serbia and Montenegro are Serbs and more than 25,000 are Roma. Several thousand Roma and Serbs also entered Macedonia during the same period, and an unknown number fled to other third countries. In addition, as noted, there has been substantial displacement of the remaining minority populations within Kosovo into mono-ethnic enclaves (sometimes consisting of a single apartment building), generally under KFOR protection. Significant numbers of minority populations not associated with abuses against Albanians, including Gorani, Muslim Slavs, and Croats have also been displaced from their homes by harassment and intimidation, including violent attacks. The explanation as to why those not implicated in attacks against Albanians should be targeted is complex: part of the explanation appears to be that, as speakers of Slavic languages, these minorities are associated with Yugoslavia in general and with Serbia in particular. In addition, such minorities may also be perceived to have had a privileged status in Kosovo, notably during the crackdown against Albanians in the 1990s.

Most of the Serb populations in the municipalities of Pristina, Pec, Prizren, Urosevac, and Istok have fled their homes, as have large numbers from the town of Gnjilane. According to a February 2000 report of the inter-agency Ad-Hoc Task Force on Minorities, only 700 to 800 Serbs remain in Pristina, compared to an estimated 20,000 in 1998.7 The Task Force also reported that only 120 Serbs remain in the town of Prizren and twenty-three in the town of Urosevac. Those Serbs displaced inside Kosovo are mostly concentrated in towns and villages which had an historic Serb majority and which were fairly quickly assigned KFOR protection, including Kosovo Polje, Babin Most (Babimoc), Plemetina (Plementine), Strpce, Gracanica (Pristina municipality),Velika Hoca (Orahovac municipality), Dobrotin and elsewhere in Lipljan municipality (where the Serbs population is estimated at 9,500), Gnjilane municipality (estimated at 12,500), the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, and the northern municipalities of Leposavic and Zubin Potok.8 In addition, only a few hundred of the 6,000 Serb refugees from Croatia resettled in Kosovo remain, according to UNHCR, after two collective centers for such refugees were burned.

As noted above, there are at least 25,000 Roma displaced from Kosovo in Serbia and Montenegro, as well as several thousand in camps in Macedonia. There has also been substantial internal displacement, but the size of the remaining population is unknown.9 The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), a Budapest-based Roma rights organization, reported in July 1999 that none of the Roma communities it had visited held more than half of their pre-conflict Roma population. February 2000 estimates from the Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities indicated that between 115 and 140 Roma remained in Pristina town. The November 1999 report from the Task Force estimated that there were a further 300-600 Roma elsewhere in Pristina municipality at that time.10 Other areas with significant Roma populations as of early 2000 included Kosovo Polje (between 1,700 and 2,800), Obilic (around 1,200), Lipljan (around 1,500), Urosevac (4,200), and Prizren (4-5000).11

Violence against the Albanian-speaking Ashkali Roma continued after the October 28, 2000, municipal elections. On November 8, four Ahkali men were murdered execution-style by unknown assailants outside the village of Dosevac (Dashevc) near Srbica. The men, living in tents, had just returned to their homes with the assistance of UNHCR.12 In response to the killings, Head of UNMIK Bernard Kouchner said "Somewhere in Kosovo, extremists want to undermine the return of decent people to their homes."13

Members of other minorities have also been displaced inside Kosovo or have left the province altogether. In November 1999, 293 ethnic Croats were evacuated from Kosovo to Zagreb, after they complained of harassment, arson, and not being permitted to speak Croatian.14 The ethnic Croat population in Janjevo was placed under heavy KFOR protection and appeared stable. Attacks against the Croat and Roma communities in the village intensified in March 2000 however, following the removal of the permanent KFOR guard, and decreased only after the permanent protection was renewed.

The Muslim Slav population of Kosovo (sometimes referred to as Bosniaks) have also fled Pristina in significant numbers, mainly for Bosnia, leaving around 1,600 to 1,800 out of a pre-war population between 3,500 and 4,000.15 The estimated 23,000 to 25,000 Muslim Slavs in Prizren municipality (who sometimes refer to themselves as Torbesh) have come under significant pressure to leave, including grenade attacks and the murder of a Torbesh family of four in January and of a Muslim Slav man in February, which led to some departures.16 The Muslim Slav population in Pec appears relatively secure but members of the community have nevertheless come under attack: in April, a group of fifteen Albanian men attacked and beat a seventy-year-old Bosniak woman. (The woman had reportedly been mistaken for a Serb.) There have also been attacks on the homes of Gorani, who are distinct from the Muslim Slav/Bosniak community.

Generally unidentified groups of armed ethnic Albanians have carried out abductions of Serbs and Roma throughout Kosovo since early June 1999. In some cases, these forces have detained, questioned, beaten, and then released those abducted. However, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as of April 2001, approximately more than 500 of those abducted remain unaccounted for.17

According to Ranko Djinovic, president of the Association of the Families of the Missing and Kidnapped in Kosovo and Metohija, 1,230 non-Albanians went missing in Kosovo between January 1998 and November 2000. Twenty percent of these people went missing before the NATO intervention, Djinovic said, 5 percent during the air war, and 75 percent after NATO's entry into Kosovo.18 This number may be too high, however, as some names on the association's list are reported twice and others who were reported missing were in detention and have been subsequently released.

In May 2000, the ICRC published a book listing missing persons from Kosovo registered up to that point. According to the ICRC, 450 persons went missing between June 10, 1999, and March 31, 2000. Human Rights Watch reviewed the ICRC list and, according to the names, at least 309 of these people were clearly members of minorities (non-Albanian.)19 This matches closely with figures from the Humanitarian Law Center which, between March 24 and August 10, 1999, registered 318 missing non-Albanians.20 The ICRC figure of total missing as of April 2001 was 3,525, but no ethnic breakdown was available.21

The rape of women from minorities has also been reported since June 1999. Roma women have suffered in particular. The European Roma Rights Center has documented three incidents of rape of Roma women by persons in KLA uniform. The center interviewed an eyewitness who reported that his sister and wife had been raped by four uniformed men in Djakovica on June 29, 1999. They also interviewed the relative of a woman from Kosovska Mitrovica who had been raped on June 20, 1999 by six men in KLA uniforms.22

On July 26, 1999, KFOR received a report from a middle-aged Serb woman in Gnjilane that she had been raped by two Kosovar Albanian men.23 Two Kosovar Albanian woman witnessed the two men entering the woman's apartment. The OSCE recorded the rape of a Roma woman in Prizren in October 1999 by several Albanian men.24 One of the perpetrators, who was subsequently arrested by KFOR, had allegedly raped another Roma woman in the area. The February Task Force on Minorities report also documented the rape of a pregnant Ashkali woman in Urosevac in November 1999, and the rape and attempted rape of several Roma women that same month in the Djakovica area.25

According to KFOR statistics, in the approximately five months between KFOR's arrival on June 12 and early November 1999 there were 379 murders in Kosovo, with 135 victims of the Serbs. No separate figures were kept for persons from other minorities, but the figures underscore both the scale of the lawlessness in post-war Kosovo and the violence between Albanians and Serb paramilitaries and civilians that continued in Kosovska Kamenica, Kosovska Mitrovica, and several other areas over the summer. Between January 30 and May 27, 2000, KFOR reported ninety-five murders in Kosovo.26 Twenty-six of the victims were Serbs, seven were Roma, two were Muslim Slavs, fifty-two were Albanians, and eight were of unknown ethnicity. Although, the statistics show a steep decline in the murder rate, it is important to emphasize that murder (together with other serious crimes such as aggravated assault, arson and kidnapping) still disproportionately affect minorities, who now comprise far less than 10 percent of Kosovo's resident population.27

Some of the worst violence against minorities has occurred in and around the divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica, which has also been the scene of extensive internal displacement. Following the wartime displacement of around 8,000 Albanians from the (now predominantly Serb) northern side of the Ibar river, more than 2,000 Serbs have been displaced from the (now predominantly Albanian) southern side of the river. Between 8,000 and 10,000 Roma have also been forced from the southern side of the river. Despite the somewhat belated efforts of KFOR and U.N. police to secure the city, incidents of harassment and intimidation have reduced the minority populations on both sides of the Ibar.

The city has been effectively partitioned, with a heavy deployment of KFOR peacekeepers designed to keep communities apart and to protect isolated pockets of Serbs and Roma in the southern part of the city and Albanians, Muslim Slavs, and Turks in the northern part (most of them concentrated in the so-called "Bosniak" quarter). Some of the worst violence in Mitrovica followed a February 2, 2000, rocket attack on a UNHCR bus under KFOR escort traveling from a Serb enclave, the village of Banja, to Kosovska Mitrovica. The attack left an elderly Serb man and woman dead and three others wounded, and sparked a wave of tit-for-tat violence in northern Mitrovica that left eight non-Serbs dead and forced more than 1,700 Albanians, Muslim Slavs, and Turks to flee to the southern part of the city. UNHCR bus lines connecting minority enclaves were suspended for two months after the attack.

After the events of the spring of 2000 minorities remained a target, with much of the violence designed to force them to leave Kosovo. The Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities report from May stated that "the last remaining Serb in Klobukar [a village in Novo Brdo municipality] was stabbed in the chest on 14 February, and her body was discovered the next day in her burning house."28 On February 26, Josip Vasic, a prominent doctor and member of the Serb National Council was shot dead on the street in Gnjilane.29 A twenty-nine-year-old Serb man was shot dead on March 11 while working in his fields in the village of Donja Brnjica (Bernica e Poshteme), near Pristina. On March 27, a Roma man was found strangled in Istok. On March 28, an elderly Serb women was beaten in her home in Prizren. The woman subsequently died of her wounds. On April 3, 2000, Metodije Halauska, an eighty-six-year-old ethnic Czech was kidnapped from his home in Pristina, beaten and shot in the back of the head. On April 8, the body of an unidentified elderly woman was found in the burned remains of a Serb house in Pec.30 Two Roma teenage boys aged seventeen and eighteen and a forty-eight-year-old Roma woman were also found shot dead in Pec on the same day. On April 9, a Serb man was shot dead in a restaurant in Gnjilane. Three other Serbs were also killed during that same week.

The weeks surrounding the first anniversary of NATO's entry into Kosovo were particularly bloody with a series of grenade and landmine attacks and "drive-by" shootings targeting Serbs that left eleven dead and more than a dozen wounded. On May 22, a seventy-year-old Serb farmer was shot dead in Gojbulja (Gojbuja) village (Vucitrn municipality).31 Two days later a fifty-one-year-old Serb man was shot dead in the town of Vitina. On May 28, two men and a four-year-old boy were killed and two men were wounded in a "drive-by" shooting in Cernica (Gnjilane municipality).32 A May 31 "drive-by" shooting in Babin Most village left one Serb man dead and another wounded. On June 1, a group of Serbs returning from a funeral were fired upon by ethnic Albanians in the village of Klokot (Gnjilane municipality), killing one woman and wounding three men.33 On June 2, two Serb men driving on a road connecting two Serb villages were killed after their car hit a landmine. A woman and two children in the car were wounded. The road had previously been cleared of mines, the mine.34 A grenade attack in the Serb enclave of Gracanica on June 6 left a further five wounded.35 On June 15, two Serb men were killed and another man was wounded after their vehicle drove over a landmine near the village of Lepina (Lipljan municipality) in what a KFOR spokesperson described as a "deliberate, carefully planned, attack."36

Service with an international organization has not been sufficient to provide minorities with immunity from violence. In October 1999, a U.N. official from Bulgaria was shot dead on Pristina's main street, after reportedly being mistaken for a Serb. The same month, a grenade was thrown into the Pristina apartment of a Serb interpreter working for the U.N., slightly wounding her. She had earlier been forced to move apartments because of harassment. On May 15, the body of twenty-five-year-old Petar Topoljski, a Serb UNMIK translator, was found in the village of Rimaniste, near Pristina.37 Topoljski had not appeared for work for the previous week, after his name, photograph, and address were published in the Kosovo daily newspaper Dita, together with allegations that he was a Serb paramilitary who had participated in the mass expulsions of Albanians from the province. (The newspaper was temporarily shut down by UNMIK for eight days after the paper's editor refused to apologize for publishing the story, print a retraction, or agree to refrain from making similar accusations in the future. The paper also reprinted the article when the ban was lifted.)


1 The Kosovo Liberation Army also abducted, killed, and drove Kosovar Serbs and Roma from Kosovo, as well as ethnic Albanians accused of being "collaborators," in 1998 and early 1999. See section on "Abuses by the KLA" in the Background chapter, as well as Human Rights Watch, "Humanitarian Law Violations in Kosovo," October 1998, pp. 75-87.
2 Between February and April 2000, UNHCR registered 180,000 displaced persons from Kosovo in Serbia and 30,000 in Montenegro respectively. More than 150,000 of the 180,000 displaced persons in Serbia reported that they had fled after June 12, 1999. (See UNHCR Refugees Daily, May 23, 2000.)
3 The Kosovo Liberation Army was officially demilitarized in September 1999, and many of its members subsumed into the Kosovo Protection Corps, a civil defense organization headed by former KLA Commander Agim Ceku.
4 "Crucified Kosovo-Destroyed and Desecrated Serbian Orthodox Churches in Kosovo and Metohija (1999-2000)," expanded electronic edition. See: www.kosovo.net/crucified/default.htm (March 21, 2001).
5 By June 2000, international officials were finally willing to concede that attacks against minorities in Kosovo were systematic in nature. In his June 6 report to the Security Council on UNMIK (S/2000/538), U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote that attacks on minorities, "appear to be orchestrated." U.S. State Department special envoy James O'Brien stated on June 8 that the violence "seems to be systematic." "Anti-Serb Violence Condemned," AP, June 8, 2000. On May 31, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson termed the violence as "ethnic cleansing," noting that "We did not stop ethnic cleansing one year to see ethnic cleansing of another kind take place today." "Kosovo: NATO's Patience Wearing Thin," NATO press release, May 31, 2000.
6 UNHCR Refugees Daily, May 23, 2000.
7 UNHCR-OSCE Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities "Overview of the Situation of Minorities" (February 11, 2000). UNHCR is the source of the 1998 Pristina population estimate.
8 Information compiled from "Overview of the Situation of Minorities" (February 11, 2000) and from Human Rights Watch field research (June-November 1999).
9 The 1991 Yugoslav census indicated a Roma population of between 30,000 and 40,000 in Kosovo but the real figure is likely to be higher due to non-participation in censuses and continued migration.
10 UNHCR-OSCE Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities, "Overview of the Situation of Minorities," November 3, 1999.
11 UNHCR-OSCE Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities "Assessment of the Situation of Ethnic Minorities in Kosovo," February 11, 2000.
12 The victims were Hajzer Ahmeti, Ibush Ahmeti, Isret Bajrami, and Agron Mehmeti.
13 "Ashkali Murder to Have a `Chilling' Effect on Return of Refugees, Says UNHCR," KosovaLive, November 10, 2000.
14 "Ethnic Croats from Kosovo evacuated to Croatia," Associated Press, November 1, 1999. Quoted in UNHCR Refugee Daily, 11/1/99.
15 UNHCR-OSCE Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities "Assessment of the Situation of Ethnic Minorities in Kosovo," February 11, 2000.
16 Ibid.
17 ICRC statement, "Person Unaccouted for in Connection with the Kosovo Crisis," _April 10, 2001.
18 Press conference of the Association of the Families of the Missing and Kidnapped in Kosovo and Metohija, Belgrade, Yugoslavia, November 10, 2000.
19 "Persons Missing in Relation to the Events in Kosovo From January 1998," ICRC, May 2000. The book of the missing can be searched by name on the ICRC website at: www.familylinks.icrc.org/kosovo.
20 Humanitarian Law Center report, Kosovo-Disappearances of Non-Albanians 24th March-10th August 1999. Available at www.greekhelsinki.gr/english/reports/hlc-24-3-10-8-99.html, (March 22, 2001).
21 ICRC Statement, April 10, 2001.
22 European Roma Rights Center, "Press Statement: The Current Situation of Roma in Kosovo," July 9, 1999.
23 OSCE/ODIHR, Kosovo/Kosova: As Seen, As Told-Part II, pp.?.
24 Ibid.
25 UNHCR-OSCE Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities "Assessment of the Situation of Ethnic Minorities in Kosovo," February 11, 2000.
26 UNHCR-OSCE Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities, "Update on the Situation of Ethnic Minorities in Kosovo (Period Covering February through May 2000)," May 31, 2000.
27 Statistics for aggravated assault over the same period include forty-nine cases of charges against Serbs, two against Roma, two against Muslim Slavs, ninety against Albanians and nine against persons of unknown ethnicity. "Update on the Situation of Ethnic Minorities in Kosovo (Period Covering February through May 2000)."
28 UNHCR-OSCE Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities, "Update on the Situation of Ethnic Minorities in Kosovo (Period Covering February through May 2000)," May 31, 2000.
29 "U.N. Kosovo Head Condemns Killing of Serb Doctor as `Sabotage,'" Reuters, March 2, 2000.
30 "Upsurge in Violence in Kosovo in past week: UN," Agence France Presse, April 10, 2000.
31 "Kosovo Farmer Gunned Down in Northern Kosovo," Associated Press, May 22, 2000.
32 KFOR Press Update, May 29, 2000.
33 "Albanians Attack Serbs in Kosovo," Reuters, June 1, 2000.
34 "Landmine Kills Two Serbs in Latest Kosovo Attack," Reuters, June 2, 2000.
35 "Five Serbs Injured in Kosovo Grenade Attack-KFOR," Reuters, June 6, 2000.
36 KFOR Press Update, June 16, 2000; For additional information see: "Two Serbs killed, one injured as car hits landmine in Kosovo," Agence France Presse, June 15, 2000.
37 "Serb Working for UN Killed in Kosovo," Reuters, May 17, 2000.