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Kosovo's Liberation: A Remembrance of Triumph and Tragedy
Kosovo's 24th year of Liberation, a turning point in history. A report reveals unimaginable suffering—mass murders, ethnic cleansing, and destruction of homes. The horrors must never be repeated.
Today, the world solemnly marks the 24th anniversary of the Liberation of Kosovo—a defining moment in the region's history that forever altered the course of its destiny. It was a day when the indomitable spirit of the people of Kosovo clashed with the oppressive forces of the Serbian Armed Forces of Yugoslavia, resulting in a significant turning point in the conflict-ridden Balkans.
At the heart of this struggle for freedom stood the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an armed guerrilla group determined to resist the oppressive Milosevic Regime and put an end to the ethnic cleansing, mass murder, and rape of ethnic Albanians. In the face of relentless atrocities committed by the Serbian forces, the international community, despite engaging in diplomatic efforts to quell the violence, found itself with no choice but to resort to NATO's military intervention—a decision that would reverberate across the world.
The horrors endured by the Kosovar Albanians during this dark chapter of history are etched deeply into the collective memory of those who survived. Reflected in a report released by the US Department of State on January 20, 2001, the extent of the Serbian war crimes in Kosovo is unveiled, shedding light on the unimaginable suffering endured by the victims. The report, titled "Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo: An Accounting," draws upon refugee accounts, NGO documentation, press reports, and declassified information from various sources to present a comprehensive account of the human rights and humanitarian law violations that transpired.
The period between March and late June of 1999 stands out as a particularly heinous epoch in which the majority of atrocities were committed against the Kosovar Albanians. The report confirms the deliberate and systematic campaign by Serbian forces to incinerate or destroy bodies, bury them, and then reinter them in an attempt to conceal the evidence of their crimes. The chilling conclusion reached by the US Department of State was that a minimum of 6,000 Kosovar Albanians fell victim to mass murder, with an unknown number of individuals subjected to individual killings, and an indeterminate count of bodies burned or destroyed by Serbian forces throughout the conflict.
Further damning evidence was uncovered by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which reported that over 11,000 individuals were killed in 529 documented mass graves and killing sites in Kosovo. The Prosecutor's Office of the ICTY confirmed the exhumation of 2,108 bodies from 195 of these known mass graves. Extrapolating from this data, an estimated 6,000 bodies were believed to be interred in mass graves yet to be examined—an alarming testament to the scale of the atrocities. The true number of victims surpasses even this staggering figure when accounting for those buried in unknown locations, the significant number of sites where the precise number of bodies cannot be determined, and the victims whose bodies were obliterated by Serbian forces. As such, it is now widely acknowledged that the total number of Kosovar Albanians killed by Serbian forces is likely around 10,000.
The death toll, however, represents only one facet of the unimaginable suffering experienced by the people of Kosovo. A staggering 90% of the estimated 1998 Kosovar Albanian population—over 1.5 million individuals—were forcibly expelled from their homes, casting them into a state of homelessness and despair. The systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing implemented by Serbian forces and paramilitaries resulted in the destruction or damage of tens of thousands of homes across 1,200 cities, towns, and villages.
The horrors endured by the Kosovar Albanians were multifaceted, and the report outlines a litany of crimes committed against them. Serbian authorities engaged in a campaign of forced population movement, with Yugoslav Army units, armed civilians, and police officers expelling Kosovar Albanians at gunpoint from both villages and larger towns. Reports abound of Serbian forces robbing residents before reducing their homes to ashes. As fleeing Kosovars crossed the borders to Montenegro, Albania, or Macedonia, they were subjected to further robbery by Serbian forces.
The devastation continued unabated, with over 1,200 residential areas partially or entirely set ablaze after March 1999. Shockingly, Kosovar Albanians reported that more than 500 villages were burned during this period. Compounding their suffering, Serbian forces callously used Kosovar Albanians as human shields, forcing them to accompany military convoys and serve as protective covers for strategic targets they believed would be targeted by NATO airstrikes.
The horrors of detention were also visited upon the Kosovar Albanians, as Serbian forces systematically separated military-aged men from the general population during the expulsion process. These men were confined to various facilities, ranging from cement factories to prisons, where they endured physical abuse and were coerced into digging trenches. Astonishingly, even today, around 2,000 Kosovar Albanians remain incarcerated in a dozen Serbian prisons, victims of a conflict that has long ended.
The blood-soaked landscape of Kosovo bore witness to countless acts of summary executions, perpetrated at approximately 500 sites throughout the region. Serbian forces sought to destroy evidence by burning, destroying, or exhuming bodies from mass graves. Rape emerged as yet another weapon of terror, with numerous accounts attesting to the widespread organized and individual rape of Kosovar Albanian women by Serbian forces. These heinous acts were facilitated by commanders who actively encouraged their troops to engage in such abhorrent conduct. Sadly, rape remains an underreported atrocity due to the stigma attached to victims within traditional Kosovar Albanian society.
Kosovar Albanian physicians, patients, and medical facilities suffered deliberate attacks, as Serbian forces disregarded the principles of medical neutrality. These forces utilized healthcare facilities as shields for military activities, resulting in the destruction of over 100 clinics, pharmacies, and hospitals—an assault on the very infrastructure meant to protect and preserve life.
Identity cleansing further exacerbated the plight of the Kosovar Albanians. Serbian forces systematically stripped them of identity and property documents, including passports, land titles, automobile license plates, and identity cards. As much as half of the population found themselves without documentation, as Serbian forces sought to obliterate the foundations of Kosovar Albanian society by destroying schools, places of worship, and hospitals.
Even after the withdrawal of Serbian forces in June, Kosovo's struggles did not end. Tragically, acts of retribution were perpetrated against the Serb minority, resulting in the deaths of 200 to 400 Serb residents. Additionally, approximately 23,000 conscientious objectors, draft evaders, and deserters in Serbia continue to face the imminent threat of legal action, a stark reminder of the complex and enduring ramifications of the conflict.
Belgrade’s US Embassy's 2023 Shameful Apology: A Betrayal of Justice
In a stunning display of moral bankruptcy, Christopher Hill, the US ambassador to Serbia, has issued an apology for NATO's intervention in the region, sending shockwaves of criticism and concern throughout the international community. This spineless act raises alarming questions about the principles held by US diplomats in Serbia and Kosovo.
To make matters worse, the representatives of the European Union, Miroslav Lajcak and Josep Borrell, including the US Envoy for the Prishtina-Belgrade dialogue, DAS Gabriel Escobar, and the US Secretary Antony Blinken have shamelessly embraced a conciliatory approach towards Serbia's President, Aleksandar Vucic.
In a stunning display of detachment from reality, US and the EU diplomats continue their futile attempts to sway Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic away from his alignment with Putin and towards the West, at the expense of Kosovo. It is imperative that these diplomats finally embrace a much-needed reality check and acknowledge the unmistakable truth. Vucic, a prominent figure in Milosevic's regime, played a key role in justifying the reprehensible crimes committed against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo during the '90s as the information minister and chief propagandist. Astonishingly, he has never distanced himself from his past, nor has he accepted responsibility for the horrors inflicted upon innocent civilians. Instead, he doggedly persists in solidifying Serbia's control over Kosovo while aligning his nation's foreign policy with the Kremlin, all while enjoying the support of US and EU diplomats. This abhorrent state of affairs exposes the vacuity of the US diplomatic approach, revealing a dangerous disregard for democratic values and a blatant betrayal of truth. While their deceptive rhetoric may cloak them in the guise of democracy, their actions betray an undeniable contempt for both truth and the fundamental principles upon which democracy thrives. It is high time for these diplomats to understand that democracy demands action, not mere words.
As we reflect on the 24th anniversary of Kosovo's Liberation, we honour the bravery and resilience of the Kosovar Albanian people who valiantly resisted the forces of oppression. We must also confront the painful truth of the atrocities they endured—the mass murders, the systematic ethnic cleansing, the widespread destruction of homes and lives, the unspeakable acts of violence against women, and the desecration of their identity and heritage. Through the lens of history, we bear witness to the dark chapters that mar our shared humanity, reminding us of the immense responsibility we bear in preventing such atrocities from ever recurring.
Dear reader, I will leave you with an ecstatic moment that unfolds, brimming with shared jubilation between the liberated people of Kosovo and those who played an instrumental role in their emancipation and liberation.
Cover Photo: Agim Shala, 2 years old, is passed thru the barbed wire fence at the Arab camp as members of the Shala family are reunited after fleeing Kosovo. Albania, May 03, 1999. 𝘗𝘩𝘰𝘵𝘰 & 𝘊𝘢𝘱𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘣𝘺 𝘊𝘢𝘳𝘰𝘭 𝘎𝘶𝘻𝘺/𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘞𝘢𝘴𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘵𝘰𝘯 𝘗𝘰𝘴𝘵.
Photos: Kosovo Will Never Forget.
US Department of State Archive, Jan 20, 2001.
Human Rights Watch.
BBC; CNN; The Guardian.