July 25, 2000 -- Vol.5, no.1
Kosovo: Orders of Magnitude
Shortly before dawn on April 27 , according to locals, a large contingent of Yugoslav army troops garrisoned in Junik started moving eastward through the valley, dragging men from their houses and pushing them into trucks. "Go to Albania!" they screamed at the women before driving on to the next town with their prisoners. By the time they got to Meja they had collected as many as 300 men. The regular army took up positions around the town while the militia and paramilitaries went through the houses grabbing the last few villagers and shoving them out into the road. The men were surrounded by fields most of them had worked in their whole lives, and they could look up and see mountains they'd admired since they were children. Around noon the first group was led to the compost heap, gunned down, and burned under piles of cornhusks. A few minutes later a group of about 70 were forced to lie down in three neat rows and were machine-gunned in the back. The rest -- about 35 men -- were taken to a farmhouse along the Gjakove road, pushed into one of the rooms, and then shot through the windows at point-blank range. The militiamen who did this then stepped inside, finished them off with shots to the head, and burned the house down. They walked away singing.(1)
How many people -- especially "battle-age" men -- died in Kosovo? The subject attracted considerable attention in late 1999, beginning with the claim by a Spanish forensic pathologist that the eventual number of those murdered by the Serbs might be in the hundreds, rather than the thousands or tens of thousands.(2) It is earnestly to be hoped that the sceptics are right. An ample body of evidence exists, however, to suggest that while the worst-case scenarios may not have been played out during the Serbs' "Operation Horseshoe," the sceptics' estimates of the casualty toll are preposterously low.
First we should note the subtle historical revisionism currently underway, in an effort to present NATO's wartime claims of casualties as outrageously overstated. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen has been derisively cited as claiming on May 16 that 100,000 Kosovar males had been murdered. Cohen actually said this: "We've now seen about 100,000 military-aged men missing. They may have been murdered."(3) His comments echoed the concerns expressed earlier by a range of other officials in the early weeks of the war. In all of them, the 100,000 figure was clearly presented as an estimate not of murdered men, but of "missing" or "unaccounted-for" men -- something very different, although few reporters displayed an interest in pushing for a clarification of the ambiguous terms.(4) The U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, David Scheffer, said on April 19 that "We have upwards of 100,000 men that we cannot account for" and "we have no idea where they are now."(5) State Department spokesman James Rubin expressed "grave concern" about the fate of 100,000 men, also referring to them as "unaccounted for," and adding: "Based on past practice, it is chilling to think where those 100,000 men are. We don't know ..."(6) NATO spokesman Jamie Shea on April 20 likewise referred to "100,000 Albanian men of fighting age ... unaccounted for," and suggested that of these, more than 3,500 might have been executed.(7) President Clinton spoke of the Serbs having "killed thousands" in Kosovo.(8)
Wartime estimates of Kosovars killed as opposed to missing were almost always on the conservative side. At no point that I am aware of during the war did the U.S. government or NATO issue an official or semi-official estimate of civilian dead higher than 10,000 -- higher than 6,000, in fact. Today it is alleged that estimates of "the final death toll in Kosovo" are "sinking fast,"(9) leaving the impression that the authorities are scurrying to cover their tracks. The actual trajectory is quite different. Not until the early days of the postwar era did official observers (along with most human-rights and humanitarian observers) venture estimates in the five figures. At last count, these had settled between 10,000 and 20,000. There has thus been a gradual increase in the estimates put forward since the early days of the war -- and now a claim by one or two isolated sources of a much lower death toll. Even in the postwar period, many officials have continued to be decidedly conservative in their estimates, such as NATO spokesman Lt.-Col. Robin Clifford, who said in July that "it is generally accepted that the number of bodies is more than 4,900" and "it is reasonable to assume it will be double that."(10)
Let us grant for argument's sake that the estimates of missing and dead were circulated primarily with propaganda purposes in mind. Let us also acknowledge outright that NATO's military campaign was wholly ineffectual in countering whatever atrocities were occurring within Kosovo, and does not seem to have been intended to oppose them in any meaningful way; in any case, they were over before NATO's timid ground-troops entered the territory. The question is: did sufficient evidence exist to warrant such expressions of concern at the time, whatever their provenance? I believe it did. Moreover, I believe the evidence gathered since the end of the war makes it clear that these fears were founded.
But before leaving the question of NATO's claims of missing Kosovars and turning to the evidence from the Balkans and Kosovo itself, it is worth touching on a very similar situation that occurred later in 1999, and about which an enormous amount remains uncertain. In early September, following a plebiscite on independence, East Timor was wracked a wave of Indonesian military and militia savagery. The population of East Timor was reliably estimated at 850,000 at the onset of the post-plebiscite violence -- less than half the number of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in March 1999.(11) And in the weeks following the outbreak of the rampage, which had been brewing for many months, hundreds of thousands of Timorese simply "disappeared" from the world's radar screens. Fragmentary news coverage cited estimates of 100,000 to 600,000 Timorese "missing" and "unaccounted for" -- precisely the language used in the Kosovo case -- weeks after INTERFET (the U.N. International Forces) had supposedly established control over most of the territory.(12) The estimates usually came from humanitarian officials and NGOs who were perplexed, and deeply worried, by the massive shortfall in their data-base.
Under the circumstances, terms like "unaccounted for" did not seem inappropriate. And it did not seem discordant to raise extraordinary concerns about the fate of the missing, given the clear trend of refugee testimony and the history of Indonesian genocide in East Timor. In any case, no serious commentator denounced as propagandistic the humanitarian agencies, and sometimes INTERFET commanders, citing such dizzying totals.(13)
Consider now the lessons of recent Balkans history. Past Serb practice, especially when it comes to gender-selective exterminations, is so well-established after a decade of genocide in the Balkans that to dismiss it amounts to holocaust denial. As Bosnian Prime Minister Hasan Muratovic accurately described the overriding Serb strategy in 1996, "Wherever they [the Serbs] captured people, they either detained or killed all the males from 18 to 55 [years old]. It has never happened that the men of that age arrived across the front-line." Mark Danner, a year before the Kosovo war, depicted the standard operating procedure as follows:
1. Concentration. Surround the area to be cleansed and after warning the resident Serbs ... intimidate the target population with artillery fire and arbitrary executions and then bring them out into the streets.
This prescription for expelling the target population and liquidating "battle-age" men wherever possible seems to have been followed to the letter in Kosovo. It would be surprising if it had not been, given the unquestionable scale of the Serbs' genocidal assault,(15) which uprooted 800,000 civilians and sent them flooding into surrounding territories. Perhaps eight years of accumulated evidence from the Balkans makes it incumbent on the sceptics to explain why the Serbs would not follow this procedure in seeking what was clearly a "final solution" to the "problem" of Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian majority. Why, for example, would the Serbs want to have left alive the bulk of battle-age men they encountered, to regroup in exile and launch an endless guerrilla and terrorist campaign against the Serb occupiers?
The projections of missing and dead were made against the backdrop of a manifest underrepresentation of "battle-age" men in the refugee convoys being allowed to flee Kosovo. The Helsinki Federation for Human Rights spoke of "an ominous absence of mature-age male Albanians."(16) U.N. aid worker Laura Boldrini, based along the Albanian border, described a surreal "planet without men, only women and children ... It was unbelievable. The old men were there, but I'm talking about young men, between 17 and 45."(17) Meanwhile, there were the profuse and consistent accounts of men being torn from refugee convoys throughout the war-zone, of their detention being followed by fusillades of rifle shots, of roadsides and fields strewn with dead bodies. The testimonies overwhelmed some observers. "Women are telling stories of their men being tortured and shot," said a spokesman for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees. "It's completely out of control."(18) Doran Vienneau, an official with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said in early April that "I hear 50 atrocity stories a day; even if only half of what is said is true, hundreds of incidents have taken place. It's simply luck if young [ethnic- Albanian] men get through."(19)
Now the evidence of these eyewitnesses is denounced as exaggerated; it is hinted that it might even be fabricated. And yet no-one has convincingly demonstrated that a single set of refugee testimonies is false. In every major massacre site publicized during the war (Velika Krusa, Bela Crkva, Izbica, Pusto Selo, Meja), investigators have found a trove of forensic evidence to support the claims, even if corpses are usually missing -- a subject to which I will return. Furthermore, a simple point of logic can be raised. If refugees were fabricating tales of mass atrocities, why would they overwhelmingly invent accounts of adult men being tortured, massacred, burned alive? What population group is less likely to arouse the concern of the outside world? Intuitively, atrocities against ethnic-Albanian children, women, and the elderly are all a far likelier focus of a propaganda exercise.
In the absence of positive evidence of the largescale conspiracies that would be required to carry through such diverse "eyewitness" accounts without slip-up, the refugee testimony could be considered indicative, perhaps even probitive, of a Serb campaign of gender-selective slaughter in Kosovo. Certainly on its own it more than justified the supposedly "alarmist" or "outrageous" warnings issued by some, including myself, during the war.(20) Again it must be stressed that eyewitness testimony from past instances of Serb genocide, from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, has overwhelmingly been borne out by the harvests of corpses unearthed with each new season of forensic digging in the Balkans -- more than 1,700 in 1998 alone.(21)
In my opinion, to cast aspersion upon the vast number of refugees -- mostly ethnic-Albanian women -- who offered eyewitness testimony of Serb atrocities is to insult those who battled immense emotional anguish, both during and after the war, to give coherent accounts of their experiences to investigators. That anguish remains, and it will endure. Visitors to postwar Kosovo find entire villages traumatized by the "genocidal cull" of their male population.(22) As Pal Prela, a resident of Korenica, explained: "So many have disappeared, so many are afraid to come back, we know our village will never return to what it was before the war. My sister has lost five sons. She is not that strong. No one is. I think that none of us here is very far from madness."(23)
The wealth of refugee testimony was buttressed, during the war, by NATO satellite photographs of alleged mass gravesites. These were much derided at the time, and have been all but declared fakes by some sceptics -- without a shred of evidence to show that they were, in fact, concocted. The photographs in question depicted gravesites at Izbica and Pusto Selo. These are two of the best-documented atrocity sites in Kosovo, exhaustively investigated and accepted as factual not only by the Criminal Tribunal, but by Human Rights Watch, which has published stomach-churning reports on each. Note that precisely the same claims of fakery were advanced in August 1995, when the U.S. released satellite images of mass graves at Nova Kasaba and the Pilice pig farm outside Srebrenica. Five years of on-site investigations have verified the existence of those graves, with their hundreds -- thousands -- of men's bodies, beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Let us turn now to the evidence amassed since the end of the Kosovo war. On November 10, 1999, the ICTY released its first official findings from Kosovo. It gave the number of corpses exhumed as 2,108, from just over one third (195) of the 529 grave sites the Tribunal had examined so far. Calling the crimes "among the most horrible and massive the world has ever seen," chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte stressed that the eventual total could be far higher, and "we would not expect the forensic evidence in isolation to produce a definitive total."(24) The numbers were too low to please the more necrophiliac commentators, but they were impressive nonetheless: about 11 bodies per gravesite (the Tribunal said it had found graves with up to 100 people in them). In perhaps the most haunting comment of the postwar period, Louise Arbour has spoken of "conglomerations of males of military age" among the victims.(25) And there is no doubt that the vast majority of victims were executed in cold blood. FBI director Louis Freeh, speaking in late September, bluntly asserted that "the circumstances under which the bodies were found ... the rounds of ammunition which have been recovered and identified ... all clearly establish a pattern of organised homicide as opposed to random or even individual acts of violence."(26)
Some of the most interesting figures to have emerged from the forensic digs were offered by Dr. Dominique Lecomte, the French forensic scientist who had been concentrating her investigations on the sector of northern and northwest Kosovo assigned to French KFOR troops. Agence France-Presse reported in mid-August that Lecomte's team had already "visited eight war crimes sites in northern Kosovo, dug up around 400 graves and carried out autopsies on 262 bodies." One can assume that the 262 autopsied bodies is a fairly concrete count. It is a grim statistic indeed: 33 bodies per "crime site," in a sector of Kosovo that was particularly hard hit by the Serbs' mass-murder campaign, and in which sizable areas have remained under the control of Serbs to the present.
Recall also that we -- or rather, the Tribunal investigators -- are dealing with recovered corpses. The issue of the disposal of bodies also cries out for consideration. Extensive evidence has been gathered of Kosovars' bodies being destroyed, removed, or scattered after mass executions. Del Ponte told the media on November 10 that Tribunal investigators had found "a significant number of sites where the precise number of bodies cannot be counted. In these places steps were taken to hide the evidence. Many bodies have been burned." Given the clear evidence of "tampering," it was very likely that the number of bodies originally buried in the graves examined by the ICTY was considerably higher than the 2,108 recovered -- perhaps double.(27)
An excellent example of the phenomenon is Izbica, a particularly atrocious massacre (139 men killed) for which a range of non-forensic evidence also exists -- videos, satellite imagery, and overwhelming refugee testimony. French soldiers and forensics experts arriving at the scene found "featureless, churned earth," apparently excavated by backhoes, and fields littered with "brass cartridge casings from AK-47 rounds and 7.62 mm Russian machine gun bullets lying in a rutted track." "So many bullets," said investigator Yves Roy. "All over the field." There were also "bone fragments and pieces of clothing," along with rubber gloves "apparently used by the Serbs exhuming the bodies."(28) We have here 139 men whose fate is well attested to, but who do not figure in the early body-counts. How many more Izbicas?
Corpses have also been carefully hidden. A Scotland Yard investigator working near Prizren said in August that his team had found "a mass of bodies in an advanced state of decomposition that appear to have been systematically burnt and put in a very deep hole at or below the water-table near a stream. I don't think you could devise a more practical or effective way of burying people who would never be found."(29) How many more Prizrens?
The sceptics seem to assume that in addition to being strategically inept, Slobodan Milosevic and his cohorts are personally stupid and uncalculating. The Milosevic regime has been living with the stain of the war-crimes indictments from Srebrenica and the other mass gravesites in Bosnia for years now. Virtually the entire Serb leadership was indicted during the Kosovo war, an unprecedented measure, for crimes against humanity. They are well aware that the forensic evidence is a critical ingredient of the case against them. Might any positive inducement have existed to cover the magnitude of their crimes? To make it easier to attribute verified atrocities to "wayward" paramilitary elements? To enable the regime to get itself off the hook with the international community, as indeed now seems to be happening with the recent U.S. overtures to Milosevic?
The question of the destruction of bodies and evidence brings us to the subject of the Trepca mines in northern Kosovo, which were widely alleged in the early days of the KFOR occupation to have served as the site for the disposal of hundreds, even thousands, of bodies. Now the International Criminal Tribunal states it has found "no solid evidence" of atrocities at Trepca. What lies between these two junctures?
French forces first entered Trepca in the early days of the KFOR occupation. They searched the facilities, including the massive smelters. Unlike virtually all those (including subsequent French forces) who followed in their wake, these troops had muscle, and a willingness to use it in the right circumstances. Confronting "what the French said were Serbian attempts to keep them out," they searched the facilities and "reported to the [War Crimes] tribunal in The Hague that they had uncovered piles of ethnic Albanians' clothes, shoes, family photos and identity documents in the smelting area and near the mine shafts." They also stated "that the vats had been thoroughly cleaned before Serbian troops stationed in the complex left. The cleaned parts stood in stark contrast with the filth that characterizes the other parts of the mine. There were several large ash heaps, ... and French troops found numerous empty bins of hydrochloric acid." Moreover, urgent concern was expressed by investigators and Kosovar Albanians alike "that the evidence is being slowly removed or destroyed by Serbs still inside the complex. French soldiers who were in the mine a few days ago say some of the piles of clothes and belongings have disappeared."(30)
Numerous eyewitness reports from the scene suggesting both the disposal of bodies and the subsequent destruction of evidence? Naturally, the ICTY raced to the scene, with an escort of French troops, to secure the site from possible further destruction. Or rather, it didn't. It dithered. For days, and weeks. In fact, it was September -- three months -- before the Tribunal's investigators reached Trepca. This lassitude amounts to culpable negligence on the part of the ICTY -- and of French commanders, who refused pleas from Kosovar Albanian leaders to provide an armed escort to Trepca, fearing that such a move might inflame tensions in ethnically-divided Mitrovica.(31) How much longer might it have given the Serb occupants of Trepca to destroy the evidence reported by French eyewitnesses, or to dump it in the mile-deep mineshafts that the investigators' technology apparently could not plumb?(32) Would they not have had an overriding incentive to do so, certainly after the allegations received international publicity?
These questions carry us into the realm of speculation, which may be where the subject of Trepca will remain. There is as yet only suggestive, hardly conclusive, evidence of the systematic disposal and destruction of bodies there. But there is the separable issue of the glacial pace of the ICTY's investigations and the unwillingness of KFOR troops to provide armed support for the Tribunal's forensics teams. Certainly the lackadaisical approach to Trepca does not support the thesis now being bandied about: that the Tribunal and KFOR troops were under intense and corrupting pressure to fit their findings into NATO propaganda framework and pin every atrocity possible on Milosevic.(33)
On the subject of cursory investigations, it might be worth mentioning another European forensic pathologist whose comments on deaths in Kosovo attracted a flicker of media notice in late August 1999, well over two months after the KFOR occupation and Tribunal investigations commenced. A Greek Cypriot pathologist, Dr. Marios Matsakis, visited Kosovo independently on a Physicians for Human Rights fact-finding mission, and claimed to have visited an area of numerous apparent mass graves in Pristina's main cemetery, one of which was larger than anything yet disclosed by the ICTY. "There must be hundreds of bodies there," Matsakis told Reuters. He claimed to have "observed the opening of one trench grave [in July] in which at least five bodies were buried. All had been shot. There was at least one layer of bodies beneath the five found in the trench, witnesses said. Seven other filled-in trenches lay parallel in the immediate area but were not opened."
"It is unacceptable that the site has not been excavated yet," Matsakis protested. "I would have thought teams of [forensics] experts would have come by now. I myself volunteered to do it." Time and weather were destroying critical evidence, he added. His opinion was seconded by Dr. Fadil Batalli, a Pristina forensics expert, who had visited the cemetery in search of a friend's body: "It is a shame that this site has not been closed off. It should be a priority for investigators." Evidence was adduced from an alleged eyewitness who said he had watched from his house as a process of mass burial of corpses unfolded before his stunned eyes: "I peeked through the fence and I saw a tractor hauling a wagon packed with bodies. The tractor came back loaded with more bodies four times that day. I saw a Roma take a pole with a hook on the end of it and pull the bodies off one by one like dead fish into the trench ... It was terrifying. I thought I would be killed next."
But the accusations did not seem to spur the ICTY to action. Tribunal representative Jim Landale stated that the organization knew about the alleged site: "There have been reports of as many as 200 bodies buried there, but of course we can't confirm that until we have conducted an investigation. Once we have determined the site's value, we will plan our next step in light of the resources at our disposal." According to Reuters, the ICTY "planned a preliminary investigation within weeks." Again, we are talking about a series of alleged gravesites on the outskirts of Kosovo's major city, where the Tribunal's operations are based.(34)
Finally, there are the missing, though they have been rarely noted in the recent media debate.
Five years ago, in Europe's worst massacre since the Second World War, thousands of non-combatant men were executed or tortured to death at Srebrenica.(35) In the year or two after the massacre -- in which women and children, but not elderly men, were expelled to safety in Bosnian government-controlled territory) -- the Red Cross compiled a list of some seven thousand missing Muslim men. No more than a handful have turned up alive. Some 3,000 of their corpses have now been exhumed and piled up in the combination memorial and mortuary at Tuzla, and hundreds more are added every spring and summer.(36) The rest of the men, it is now generally acknowledged by all except Serb apologists and optimistic relatives, are also dead.
And in Kosovo? The Red Cross has so far registered "1105 men and teenage boys" missing in one city -- Djakovica -- alone. (There were also at least 50 missing women.) In all, between seven and ten thousand Kosovoars have been reported missing, and the tally can be expected to rise. How many of the dead will ever be reported missing is another matter. The Red Cross has registered 17,628 Bosnians missing from that conflict, which is generally held to have killed 150,000 people at a minimum, and very likely 200,000.(37) Thus, only a few months after the end of the Kosovo conflict, or a particularly murderous phase of it, there were about half as many missing in Kosovo as in Bosnia. And if one subtracts the catastrophe of Srebrenica from the Bosnian total (the victims of the massacres in the U.N. "safe area" account for fully one-third of the missing), one is left -- astonishingly -- with roughly the same number of missing from Kosovo so far as from the entire Bosnian war.
On November 7, 1999, John Sweeney published an article in the British Observer discussing the quandaries of atrocity reportage in wartime. At the end of the piece, Sweeney described his reaction to John Laughland's charges in the U.K. Spectator that "those [of us] who covered the Kosovo war ... had flammed up the numbers of Serb killings of Albanians because we were playing NATO's tune, fiddling to the political resonance of our masters.
"My first reaction," Sweeney wrote, "was cold rage":
Laughland is, I understand, a teacher at the Sorbonne. While he was sipping pastis not a few of us were standing on the Albanian border watching some of 800,000 refugees limp past. I met 15 men who said they were from a village called Little Krushe [Velika Krusa] and were the survivors of a terrible massacre. Eight months, countless pieces for The Observer and two Channel 4 Dispatches later, I can affirm everything they told me turned out to be true: 106 men and boys were machine-gunned then set on fire in a hay barn. The bodies have not been found. Some of the widows and orphans believe their men are not dead. That they have no bodies to bury does not mean their men are not dead. It is not NATO propaganda to deduce that if 106 bodies have disappeared, they have to be in a mass grave somewhere. One day -- down a mineshaft, on a river bed, wherever -- we will find them. And we'll count them, every last one.
Let us hope we have the tenacity to pursue the matter. One frankly doubts it: the Criminal Tribunal has announced it will wind up its investigations this year, though thousands of corpses from Bosnia continue to surface years after the fact. Those concerned to verify the fate of thousands or tens of thousands of Kosovar Albanians should press for the Tribunal's mandate to be extended, until all unexamined gravesites have been fully investigated, and all areas of Kosovo have been properly searched for sites as yet unknown. If the Tribunal's energy and resources prove unequal to the task, perhaps peacekeepers and non-governmental organizations will have to take up the slack.(38)
Because the sceptics are right about this much: Numbers matter. They matter because orders of magnitude must always be factored into the policy and humanitarian equation. Thus, if it turns out by the best evidence and projections that the Milosevic regime's evil in Kosovo was a qualitative departure from the Serbs' standard operating procedure -- if the paramilitary thugs upon which his regime relies miraculously turned into human-rights activists -- then important critical questions should be raised about the policy initiatives and military strategies followed at the time. These policies indeed depended for much of their legitimacy (I leave aside their efficacy or independent atrocity) on the claim that a pattern of systematic war crimes was evident. But the opposite is also true. If such a largescale campaign of genocidal atrocities in Kosovo is borne out -- and in my view it has so far been borne out -- we will have to think hard about how to stop it happening again.
1. Sebastian Junger, "The Forensics of War," Vanity Fair, October 1999.
2. The Sunday Times, October 31 1999.
3. The Washington Times, November 9 1999.
4. My sense is that this had more to do with a general lack of interest in the subject of atrocities against males than with a desire to give NATO propagandists a free ride. It is striking, for example, that I can find no story in either The New York Times or The Washington Post focusing on the phenomenon of gender-selective executions of men (by "focusing," I mean with a headline and lead devoted to the subject), though it was sporadically broached in passing. This was true generally of the broad range of electronic media I consulted during the Kosovo war. Commentary on the issue was extremely sparse, with only a tiny handful of sources (including Canada's Globe and Mail and, more consistently, Agence France-Presse) bothering to cover the subject in any detail. This can be contrasted with the saturation coverage of the refugee "crisis" in Albania and Macedonia, and with the regular feature treatment accorded to the issue of the rape of women in Kosovo. The scale of wartime sexual assault against ethnic-Albanian women is even harder to ascertain and verify than the deaths and disappearances of ethnic-Albanian men, given the natural and culturally-ingrained reticence of the survivors to testify. But there is no doubt that rape was, by any reasonable measure, a much lesser atrocity during the conflict than the gender-selective mass executions standardly meted out to "battle-age" men. It is also quite possible that the rape and sexual abuse of ethnic-Albanian men exceeded that of women, given the widespread and brutal incarcerations of males, and the sexual sadism -- along with mass killing -- that has pervaded such Serb-run institutions during the Balkans wars.
5. BBC Online, April 19 1999.
6. Reuters dispatch, April 19 1999.
7. The New York Times, April 19 1999.
8. The Guardian, April 22 1999.
9. The National Post (headline), November 4 1999.
10. The Washington Post, July 19 1999.
11. The population figures for East Timor are based on the 430,000 registered voters for the August 1999 plebiscite, and demographic projections based on approximately 50 percent of Timorese below voting age.
12. For example, see the Agence France-Presse dispatch of October 4 1999, citing "a senior UN official" who "said ... that up to half a million people remained unaccounted for"; BBC Online, October 4 1999, citing "hundreds of thousands" missing; The Washington Post of October 5 1999, quoting another UN official as saying "There's 600,000 people around someplace"; "300,000 still missing in East Timor," The Guardian, October 6 1999; The Sydney Morning Herald, October 9 1999, stating that "the whereabouts of up to 400,000 people who fled the purges of bloody pro-Indonesian militia are yet to be found."
13. For my own part, I worked to compile materials on the "disappeared" in East (and West) Timor, and to express the strongest possible concerns about their whereabouts and physical safety. I felt no more compunction about doing so in the Timorese case than in Kosovo. And I relied no more, if no less, on government and other official sources in seeking to penetrate the fog of conflict and gain a provisional sense of the truth, while there was still time to intervene in the tragic events. As in my earlier activist efforts around Kosovo, most of the supporting evidence was drawn from consistent refugee accounts and the reports of non-governmental organizations, including the heroic Timorese who joined together while the United Nations fiddled and procrastinated, to ensure that vital forensic evidence of atrocities was rescued before the onset of the rainy season. For what it is worth, I consider the U.N.'s self-serving estimates of the death-toll in Timor (allegedly numbering only in the "hundreds") to be absurdly low; a substantial weight of evidence, unchallenged at the time of writing (July 2000), suggests at a minimum thousands of people killed, and possibly tens of thousands. See, in this regard, my article for ZNet, "East Timor: Where Are the People?"
14. Muratovic quoted in Mark Danner, "Bosnia: The Great Betrayal," New York Review of Books, March 26 1998; Danner, "Endgame in Kosovo," New York Reivew of Books, May 6 1999.
15. The term "genocide" must be used with care, but it is by no means the case that the destruction of a targeted population must be total in order to qualify. Citing the United Nations definition of genocide (1948), John B. Allcock carries the argument to the opposite extreme: "It is often assumed that in order to qualify as genocide, killing must take place on a very large scale, with perhaps thousands if not millions of victims. It is important to note, however, that within the terms of the UN Convention, no account is taken of the number of victims. The execution of a handful of villagers for reasons of national, ethnical, racial, or religious identity might be legitimately regarded as an act of genocide." (Allcock, "Genocide," in Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia: An Encyclopedia [ABC-CLIO, 1998], pp. 99-100.) My preferred definition reworks that of Steven Katz (although Katz would take great issue with the italicized addition): genocide is "the actualization of the intent, however successfully carried out, to murder in whole or in substantial part any national, ethnic, racial, religious, political, social, gender or economic group, as these groups are defined by the perpetrator, by whatever means." (Quoted in Kurt Jonassohn and Karen Björnson, Genocide and Gross Human Rights Violations [Transaction Publishers, 1998], p. 132.)
16. Helsinki Federation for Human Rights bulletin, April 14 1999.
17. The Globe and Mail, April 6 1999.
18. Agence France-Presse dispatch, April 16 1999.
19. The Washington Post, April 8 1999.
20. See the Kosovo materials at www.interchange.ubc.ca/adamj/gender.htm.
21. Associated Press dispatch, June 12 1999.
22. Ian Traynor in The Guardian, April 1 1999. Traynor's full phrase, probably the most chilling of the war, was "a genocidal cull of ethnic-Albanian males."
23. Chicago Tribune, October 7 1999.
24. Reuters dispatch, November 11 1999. Some of the victims, however, were Serbs, and the Tribunal was also reported to be considering war-crimes charges against the Kosovo Liberation Army.
25. The Washington Post, July 19 1999.
26. Agence France-Presse dispatch, September 30 1999.
27. Reuters dispatch, November 11 1999. See also Agence France-Presse dispatch, November 10 1999.
28. The New York Times, June 29 1999.
29. The Sunday Times, August 20 1999.
30. The New York Times, July 7 1999.
31. According to a senior French officer, Col. Arnauld Bellynck: "We are soldiers. We are here to keep the peace, not investigate war crimes." The New York Times, July 7 1999. Perhaps as a result, the Trepca mines and a smelting complex at nearby Zvecan were "apparently the only ones to be investigated so far" in the French-held, Serb-dominated area north of Mitrovica -- that is, months after the peace, in one of the alleged epicentres of Serb mass killing (UPI dispatch, September 23 1999). The investigators did, however, stumble across a field near the Zvecan furnaces where 28 men's bodies were recovered from a mass grave.
32. As best as I have been able to determine, the team limited itself to investigation of the shallow ventilation shafts at the mine. They nonetheless discovered "traces of human bodies" in one of the ventilation shafts, according to an unnamed French official. A camera lowered into the shaft "filmed what could be a human bone," said the official. "In addition, the material that was lowered down the shaft came up with the strong odour of a corpse." Agence France-Presse dispatch, September 23 1999. An attempt to clarify the specific findings of the ICTY investigators elicited a "no comment" from the Tribunal (e-mail from spokesperson Paul Risley, January 11 2000); but none of the claims in this paper was specifically disputed.
33. The thesis also assumes that NATO's propaganda framework revolves around a reflexive hostility towards the Milosevic regime -- a highly dubious proposition, given the support the U.S. has given to the regime (including its hold over Kosovo) at many points in the past decade, and the patent unwillingness of U.S. and other western forces to arrest indicted war criminals in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
34. I am not suggesting that the estimate of hundreds killed at the site can be accepted prima facie; rather, that the nature of the allegations, and the apparent unimpeachability of the source, warranted a rapid investigation, rather than one conducted weeks or months later, if ever. See also the protests of Sgt. Brian Honeybourn, a Canadian police officer who assisted in the forensic investigations. Sgt. Honeybourn "questioned the competence and efficiency" of the Criminal Tribunal, and described the examination of "a suspected mass gravesite in a drainage ditch at Chikatovo, where one or two busloads of Albanian Kosovars allegedly were machine-gunned and then covered with dirt by Serb paramilitary forces." "I got down in the ditch," Sgt. Honeybourn recalled, and "sticking out of the dirt were two human hands, mummified to about the wrist. Now, to a police officer, where people are murdered and left is what we call a pristine crime scene, because you don't have just people buried, you have evidence of the cause of death there as well. And we weren't allowed to work that ... To me there is no excuse for this at all. I have mentioned to ICTY several times that that would be an ideal site to investigate, but to my knowledge the Chikatovo drainage ditch hasn't been touched yet." ICTY spokesperson Paul Risley responded blithely: "I would be surprised if every single team and every single investigator that we had operating in Kosovo throughout this entire past four months was entirely satisfied with the range of support and assistance that the tribunal was able to provide them with." The National Post, September 10 1999.
35. The definitive reconstruction of the Srebrenica events is David Rohde, Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, Europe's Worst Massacre Since World War II (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997). See also Jan Willem Honig and Norbert Both, Srebrenica: Anatomy of a War Crime (Penguin, 1996); Chuck Sudetic, Blood and Vengeance: One Family's Story of the War in Bosnia (W.W. Norton, 1998); and Eric Stover and Gilles Peress, The Graves: Srebrenica and Vukovar (Scalo, 1998).
36. In August 1999, 250 Srebrenica victims, "some with their hands tied behind their backs" according to the Tribunal spokeswoman, were exhumed and moved to the mortuary. UPI dispatch, August 10 1999.
37. The late Balkans specialist Petra Ramet estimated that "as of December 1994, between 200,000 and 400,000 people had died since June 1991 as a result of the war between Serbs and non-Serbs, and at least 2.7 million people had been reduced to refugees." Ramet, Balkan Babel, Second Edition (Westview, 1996). If a somewhat lower estimate is preferred, note that this one was made before the brutal Serb (and subsequently Croat/Muslim) offensive in 1995. It does not, for example, include the death-toll at Srebrenica.
38. As these constructive comments suggest, my criticisms of the ICTY should by no means be taken as a condemnation tout court of the Tribunal's role in Kosovo. If concerns can be raised about the overall planning of the operations, we should nonetheless acknowledge the unprecedented opportunity that Kosovo has presented for rapid forensic investigation of war crimes, and applaud the dedicated performance of the professionals in the field.