Ivo Skoric on Wed, 9 Dec 1998 19:32:15 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> (Fwd) Detention and Abuse in Kosovo


Torture and Abuse Widespread in Serbian Detention Facilities
 -- OSCE Urged to Monitor Conditions --

(December 8, 1998) -- At least 1,000 ethnic Albanians are currently
believed to be in Serbian prisons and police stations, according to Human
Rights Watch. In "Detention and Abuse in Kosovo," released today, Human
Rights Watch charges that many have been subjected to beatings and torture
to extract confessions or to obtain information about the Kosovo
Liberation Army (KLA), and are being tried on charges of "terrorism." 

               "The Serbian government's military offensive may have
slowed down for the winter," said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of
Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division.  "But the legal
offensive is in full swing, despite the government's promise to grant an

               On October 14, the Serbian government announced a general
amnesty for "crimes related to the conflict in Kosovo."  The Serbian
parliament declared that no one would be prosecuted for crimes related to
the conflict, "except for crimes against humanity and international law."
Despite these promises, large numbers of ethnic Albanians remain in
custody and Human Rights Watch has no information that anyone arrested
during the conflict has been released as a result of this amnesty. 

               The most recent Serbian government figures, from October 3,
state that 684 ethnic Albanians have been arrested for committing or
supporting "terrorism."  But local and international human rights groups
believe the actual number is closer to 1,500.  Detained individuals
include human rights activists, doctors, humanitarian aid workers, and
lawyers, many of whom were physically abused. 

               Five individuals are known to have died in detention since
July 1998 from the violence inflicted on them by the police or prison
guards.  Hundreds of others have been injured from beatings with rubber
batons and torture, including the use of electric shock. 

               "The accusation of terrorism' has cast a wide legal net
around many ethnic Albanians, for whom there is no evidence of contact
with the KLA, or of criminal conduct," said Ms. Cartner.  "Simply being an
Albanian in Kosovo is enough to merit an arrest and torture." 

               The Serbian government has obstructed efforts by the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit detainees,
especially those in pretrial detention, despite Security Council
resolutionsmandating full access.  Similarly, lawyers and family members
have difficulty visiting their clients and relatives in prisons and police

               Trials began in September and are continuing through the
winter.  In addition to the use of torture to extract confessions,
defendants are often denied access to a lawyer, not allowed to view court
documentation, or refused permission to present witnesses on their own

               Human Rights Watch also documents illegal detentions
committed by the KLA.  Estimates of ethnic Serbs and Albanians abducted by
the KLA range from 100 to 300, but it is not known whether these people
have fled the region, are in hiding, have been killed, or are currently in
KLA custody.  The ICRC has been denied access to KLA detainees, which
raises additional concerns for their safety. 

               The KLA has released some people from detention, such as
thirtyfive ethnic Serbs captured during fighting in Orahovac in July.  On
November 27, two ethnic Serbian journalists with the staterun Tanjug press
agency were released after spending more than one month in custody.  Their
trial by a KLA military court did not meet international standards of due
process, and they were denied visits by the ICRC and family members. 

               In addition to its recommendations to the Yugoslav
government and the KLA, Human Rights Watch urges the OSCE Kosovo
Verification Mission actively to monitor the treatment of those in
detention through regular visits to prisons and police stations.  The OSCE
should try to interview detainees, publicize abuses, raise objections with
the authorities, and recommend corrective action. 

               "Human rights abuses are central to the Kosovo conflict,"
said Ms. Cartner.  "The OSCE should be monitoring and publicly reporting
on the ongoing abuses, especially the mistreatment of those in detention,
both Albanians and Serbs." 

The full report, including photographic evidence, is available at

For further information contact:

Elizabeth Andersen, in New York (12/8): (212) 2161265; in
Washington D.C. (12/9): (202) 3716592
Fred Abrahams, mobile + 3275528890

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