Report of Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Situation of Human Rights in Kosovo, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Mme. Chairperson, Distinguished Delegates,
Last week, I reported to the Commission on the latest developments in the Kosovo crisis and its human rights aspects. Today, I would like to give you an update on the situation.
At present, there are six OHCHR staff in Skopje, five in Tirana and three in Podgorica. Five human rights officers contributed by the Government of Switzerland will reinforce the OHCHR field office in Tirana in the coming week, while two data-processing experts from the NORDEM programme of the Government of Norway are already in Geneva to help OHCHR set up a database. Another three human rights officers from NORDEM will arrive in Geneva this weekend and will subsequently be deployed in Skopje.
The Special Rapporteur, Mr. Jiri Dienstbier, is arranging a mission to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia shortly.
Let me now give you an account of the latest developments in the region:
1. Refugees and Displaced Persons
The number of persons dislocated by the crisis in Kosovo has continued to grow. The latest statistics, as provided by UNHCR, are as follows:
• 32,300 in Bosnia; • 68,200 in Montenegro; • 132,100 in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; • 359,000 in Albania; • Figures for Serbia are not available.
This brings the total to 591,600. (UNHCR's table of figures is attached to my statement.)
In the last few days, the number of refugees who have managed to cross international borders has fluctuated substantially. Earlier in the week many refugees, including women and children, were turned back at the FYROM border crossing by Yugoslav officials. Those who were allowed to pass reportedly obtained permission to enter FYROM only after showing border officials identity documents.
The World Food Programme has estimated that there are some 800,000 internally-displaced persons inside Kosovo. Some refugees who made it to the border reported that they had been hiding for weeks in the hills and in some cases had to walk for days in order to reach the border. Our Office has received accounts of children and elderly people dying of exposure on their way out of Kosovo. Several refugees have reported being forced to pay substantial bribes to border officials in order to cross the frontier.
Some refugees who have arrived during the last week in Macedonia and Albania are reported to have shown signs of mistreatment and beatings, such as scars and bruises, while others, including children, had bullet or shrapnel wounds. Relief agencies also reported the first cases of malnutrition among refugees.
On 17 April, five Kosovo Albanian refugees, including three children, died in a landmine explosion in the “no-man’s land” between a Serbian checkpoint and the Albanian border. UNHCR expects that thousands of refugees will flee the region in the next few days.
2. Forced Displacement and Ethnic Cleansing
One of the objectives of our mission is to determine patterns or trends. Testimonies received so far confirm that, in many cases, inhabitants were forced to leave after their towns or villages were shelled or set on fire by Serb military or paramilitary forces or by police. Several persons from Llashtice have reported that their village was shelled by heavy artillery on 17March and the population obliged to hide in the nearby woods for 15days. They said their houses were burned by paramilitaries and regular Yugoslav army troops. When one group of IDPs attempted to flee, they were surrounded by paramilitary forces who opened fire on them. They later encountered a group of Serb regular forces who took their ID papers and robbed them. Several young men were beaten. Men were ordered to fetch their tractors and the IDPs were ordered to go to the border. These witnesses reported that on 14April, about 100persons were similarly expelled from Presheva. Many villages along the road from Gnjiliane to Presheva have reportedly been burned and the population forcibly expelled in similar manner.
OHCHR staff in Tirana interviewed three refugee families from different villages in the Prizren municipality. All three families reported that they were forcibly evicted from their homes by Serbian police forces. In each village, the Serbian forces surrounded the village and police went from house to house, ordering the occupants to leave within a short time ranging from 15minutes to one hour. They reported that the police arrived in tanks, armoured vehicles, as well as what appeared to be confiscated civilian vehicles. In each case, the police either had masks over their faces or their faces were painted. The families reported that their identity cards, car registration plates and valuables were confiscated or destroyed. My personnel in the field have provided me with numerous similar accounts of forcible displacement.
In one incident, it was reported that six ethnic Albanians were killed by Yugoslav Army fire in the village of Kaluderski Laz, Montenegro. As a consequence of increasing violence, many Kosovar IDPs, as well as ethnic Albanians from Montenegro, have been leaving for Albania, fearing a spill-over of ethnic-cleansing.
3. Summary and Arbitrary Executions
OHCHR staff in the field and other sources continue to receive accounts of mass executions and killings in Kosovo. Serbs reportedly kill those who hesitate to leave their houses and villages when ordered to do so.
Witnesses reported, for example, that the bodies of three persons were found after the forced displacement of the population of a village close to Gnjiliane. They had been shot in the head. Other witnesses reported that, on 15 April, paramilitary and regular forces expelled the residents of the village of Rahovia, in the outskirts of Peresheva. During this operation, two persons were allegedly executed. One witness interviewed on 18 April related that after being ordered out of his home by the police, he hid for four days in a nearby house. When the witness finally left his village, near Djakovica, he said he saw 15 to 20 corpses with their throats slit. In another interview, a refugee family stated that they witnessed the killing of 10 relatives by Serbian police. The victims allegedly were shot dead by machine gun fire on 25March in Celin.
4. Children and other Vulnerable Groups
UNHCR reports that among refugees there is a significant number of handicapped children and adults requiring special care.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has already registered 251unaccompanied children and has recorded 826 parents claiming one or more missing children.
5. Arbitrary Detention
Newly-arrived refugees have stated that thousands of Kosovo Albanians are “detained” between Mitrovica and Djakovica and that they are being used as forced labour. We are seeking more information on this allegation.
6. Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
Different sources have reported that as many as 100,000 Kosovo Albanian men of fighting age are unaccounted for.
7. Treatment of Women
OHCHR staff in the field have contacted a number of local organizations to seek information concerning the situation of women refugees. OSCE staff have interviewed a number of women refugees, the majority of whom experienced the same treatment as men: forced expulsion, deportation or flight to the border, confiscation of possessions including documents and money etc. Where police have demanded money and women have refused, the women have been beaten or treated roughly. In addition, women have witnessed the ill-treatment of male family members including the execution in front of their eyes of husbands or sons and the separation or abduction of male family members or men from the community. There have also been accounts of alleged sexual assaults.
8. Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
OHCHR staff report that patients from the Pristina hospital who arrived at the Radusha camp in Macedonia told Médecins du Monde that the hospital in Pristina had been closed and all patients expelled. The consequence of the month-long NATO bombing on economic and social rights in the FRY are not known. I have written to the FRY authorities giving them the opportunity to provide me with information for my reports to the Commission.
9. Civilians Killed or Wounded
Last week I reported on civilian casualties resulting from the NATO military action. It is clear that civilians are being killed and injured in these bombings. As I said, I offered the FRY authorities the opportunity to provide me with information and they have responded as follows:
"As a consequence of the NATO action, the living conditions of the eleven million citizens of the FRY have dramatically changed. Hundreds of thousands of workers have become jobless due to the destruction of industrial facilities. Hundreds of families were left roofless after destruction of residential buildings. The destruction of heating plants has left half the citizens of Belgrade without any heating. After the destruction of a bridge on the Danube river in Novi Sad, 600,000 residents were cut off from safe drinking water supply.
"Over 190 schools and education facilities have been destroyed and many hospitals and care institutions have been either damaged or destroyed.
"To date, over 500 civilians have been reported killed. Over 4,000 have sustained severe injuries, particularly in Kursumlija, Pancevo, Cacak, Pristina, Orahovac."
I would like to call again on the responsible authorities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and in the international community to increase their efforts to reach a peaceful resolution of the situation in order to put an end to the suffering of the people of Kosovo and FRY. I would like also to take the opportunity to commend the valuable work carried out by international organizations, especially UNHCR, and international and local NGOs on the ground in Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Montenegro, FRY, as well as the prompt response of the international community to this humanitarian tragedy. Finally, I would like to pay special tribute to the memory of the three humanitarian aid workers, including two staff members of Refugees International, who lost their lives this week in a car accident while bringing aid to refugees in northern Albania.