30 April 2010
Stop obstruction of the justice system in Serbia

During the war in Kosovo in 1999, over 3,000 ethnic Albanians were the victims of enforced disappearances by Serbian police, paramilitary and military forces. An estimated 800 Serbs, Roma and members of other minority groups were abducted, reportedly by members of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), during and after the war.

Over the past 10 years, more than half of the bodies of the ethnic Albanian victims of enforced disappearances have been exhumed and returned to their families. However, there has been very little progress in bringing perpetrators to justice in Serbia and Kosovo. The fate and whereabouts of more than 1,300 ethnic Albanians are still unknown.

Some criminal investigations have been opened by international police and prosecutors in Kosovo. Nevertheless, Amnesty International considers that the primary responsibility for the investigation of cases of enforced disappearances of ethnic Albanians by Serbian military, police and paramilitary forces lies with the Serbian police and prosecutors. Approximately half of the bodies of those ethnic Albanians, believed in 1999 to have been the victims of enforced disappearances, have subsequently been recovered.
 
Amnesty International considers that there are serious institutional barriers in Serbia, including a lack of political will to end impunity for enforced disappearances. Individuals who once occupied positions in the Ministry of Interior or the Ministry of Defence during the war would prefer that the disappeared and abducted remain buried in the past. They continue to influence the obstruction of the justice system in Serbia.

In March 2009, police officers in Leskovac organized protests against the arrest for war crimes in Kosovo of four former members of the 37th Battalion of the Serbian Special Police Unit. The protesters called for the release of the arrested police officers and public disclosure of the names of the witnesses. The police officers reportedly threatened to kill the witnesses.

In a 2009 prosecution against Serbian police commanders at the Serbian Special War Crimes Chamber of a post-war disappearance of two American-Albanian soldiers (the Bytyqi brothers), a total of 96 witnesses, all of whom were police officers, were heard. They all protected the accused, who were their superior commanders.

 

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Stop obstruction of the justice system in Serbia

Dear Minister,

I am writing to express my deep concern at the failure of the Serbian authorities to end impunity for enforced disappearances that occurred during the armed conflict in Kosovo in 1999.

Under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance the Ministry of Interior is responsible for the prompt, impartial and effective investigation of all cases of the enforced disappearances of ethnic Albanians by Serbian police and paramilitary forces. The Ministry should also prevent any further obstruction of the victims’ access to justice in Serbia.

I therefore urge you to show the political and institutional authority necessary to bring the perpetrators of enforced disappearances to justice through:

- ensuring that former Serbian military and police, along-side other witnesses disclose information on any remaining individual or mass graves in Serbia and Kosovo, and provide testimony to criminal investigations;
- cooperating with the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor in Serbia and the investigative authorities in Kosovo.

Yours sincerely,

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September 2, 2011

Obstruction of the justice system must be stopped in Serbia.
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