- As Delivered –
Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following opening remarks at the hearing "Kosovo’s Wartime Victims: The Quest for Justice":
"This morning we will take a look back at the wars that ravaged the Balkans two decades ago and shine a light on how the victims in Kosovo are still seeking justice so many years down the road.
"In this Committee, I find it’s often helpful to look back and consider what was happening on the global stage at different times in history—and there was a lot going on twenty years ago. In 1999, as we geared up for the new millennium, the Euro was established. Three former Soviet bloc countries, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic, became NATO allies. Boris Yeltsin resigned as President of Russia, turning over the reins of power to Vladimir Putin.
"And there was perhaps no more precarious situation than in the Balkans. The Bosnia war had recently ended, and the Dayton Agreement, concluded only a few years earlier, was still being implemented.
"But in Kosovo, things were much, much worse. After ten years of crackdowns, human rights violations, of human rights, and severe ethnic discrimination, Slobodan Milosevic—the Butcher of the Balkans—began a campaign to forcibly expel the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo.
"In doing so, he displaced nearly one million people to countries around Kosovo, killed more than 11,000 ethnic Albanians, and initiated a policy leading to the rape of thousands of Kosovar women. Some 2,000 ethnic Serbs also lost their lives in the war.
"I’d like to specifically call attention to a 2017 report from the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center—HLC—titled, “The Cover-Up of Evidence of Crimes During the War in Kosovo: The Concealment of Bodies Operation.” Now, according to HLC, this is what it said:
"Since 2001, mass graves containing the bodies of 941 Kosovo Albanians, mainly civilians killed outside combat situations in Kosovo during 1999, have been found on four locations in Serbia. The bodies found in mass graves belonged not only to males, but also to females and children as well.
"The cause of their deaths, in most cases, was a gunshot wound, mainly to the head, suggesting that the victims did not die in combat but as a result of execution-style killings. The decision to conceal evidence of crimes committed was planned as early as March 1999 at the highest level of the government. No one has ever been held accountable before courts in Serbia for the large-scale operation of concealment of bodies of Kosovo Albanian victims in mass graves. I want to repeat that because it is really shocking. To this day, no one, 20 years, no one has been held accountable before courts in Serbia for the large-scale operation of concealment of bodies of Kosovo Albanian victims in mass graves.
"I also want to highlight the work of Human Rights Watch in calling attention to the victims of Belgrade’s policy of forcible rape of up to 20,000 Kosovar women—20,000. In their report, “Kosovo: Rape as a Weapon of Ethnic Cleansing,” the Human Rights Watch laid out the case starkly:
"The research found that rape and other forms of sexual violence were used in Kosovo in 1999 as weapons of war and instruments of systematic "ethnic cleansing."
"Rapes were not rare and isolated acts committed by individual Serbian or Yugoslav forces, but rather were used deliberately as an instrument to terrorize the civilian population, extort money from their families, and push people to flee their homes. Rape furthered the goal of forcing ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.
"But to this day, 20 years later, there has been little to no justice for the victims. Those who lost loved ones or who were sexually assaulted themselves, have been offered virtually no avenues to confront the perpetrators. Yes, the U.S. Mission in Kosovo examined the crimes, but they did nothing to secure justice for the victims.
"EULEX considered several cases, but the effort was largely fruitless, leading to only a small number of convictions. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia—the ICTY—indicated Milosevic, who later died in prison. They indicted Milosevic, who later died in prison, but it has not achieved much else for Kosovars’ who suffered from his army’s war crimes.
"And regardless of the fact that the vast majority of war crimes during the Kosovo war were committed by forces under Belgrade’s command, the same number of Kosovar Albanians were indicted by the ICTY as Serbs—seven from each country. No one thinks people who committed war crimes should get away with their actions, but nothing underscores the unbalanced international justice arriving from the Kosovo War more than this false equivalency.
"The United States and our European allies could have pressed for justice for the victims of Milosevic’s brutality, but, for the most part, we failed to take any substantive action. Even worse, in my opinion, the United States forced Kosovo to create a so-called “Special Court” to address allegations of violations by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the KLA.
"So let’s see what this means. The Special Court addressed allegations of violations by the Albanian minority, by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. But did not do anything for the Serbs—to the Serbs, who committed such heinous acts of violence. Very very unbalanced.
"No one is saying the KLA was somehow perfect and didn’t commit bad acts of its own, but let’s be crystal clear. The vast majority of crimes, the vast majority—war crimes and crimes against humanity—were committed by the Yugoslav and Serbian security forces. That is a fact. There is no other way to look at what happened.
"No matter, said the United States and the EU; Kosovo needs a Special Court, and we proceeded to force it, force it, upon them. Regrettably, I went along with this so the pressure could come off Prishtina and the country could return to normal.
"All the while, did the State Department come down nearly as hard on Serbia, which committed the overwhelming bulk of the war crimes? Did we and our European allies demand that in exchange for progress in EU accession, Belgrade must address post-conflict justice? No we didn’t. We dumped it all on Kosovo. Hence, Kosovo has a Special Court to investigate itself. Shameful and wrong in my opinion.
"But, my friends, there may be a silver lining. The law creating the Specialist Chambers allows the prosecutor to indict anyone who committed war crimes in Kosovo during the war. But to this day, it seems the Court is only pursuing Albanians. I’d suggest that anyone involved with this court pay attention right now. This Committee will be monitoring the Court closely to see that it addresses the perpetrators of all crimes, which can be prosecuted under its jurisdiction, not only ethnic Albanians.
"In the bigger picture, I think the justice for the victims of the Kosovar War will never be achieved if we—and by “we” I mean our State Department and the European Union—continue to sweep the whole thing under the rug.
"That’s why this hearing is so important. It’s critical that we hear firsthand from those who were brutalized at the hands of Belgrade in 1998 and 1999 and from those who are pressing for justice."