War Crimes in Kosovo
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Under Orders
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Under Orders
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Under Orders
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Në Shqip:
Nën Pushtetin E Urdhrave
Krimet e Luftës në Kosovë
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Under Orders
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1. Executive Summary

    The 1999 Offensive 
    The Chain of Command 
    The War Crimes Tribunal 
    Abuses by the KLA 
    Role of the International Community 
2. Background
    Brief History of the Kosovo Conflict 
      Kosovo in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia 
      Kosovo in the 1990s 
      The 1998 Armed Conflict 
3. Forces of the Conflict
    Forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia 
      Yugoslav Army 
      Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs 
      Chain of Command and Superior Responsibility 
    Stucture and Strategy of the KLA 
    Appendix: Post-War Promotions of Serbian Police and Yugoslav Army Members 
4. march–june 1999: An Overview
    The Geography of Abuses 
    The Killings 
    Death Toll,the Missing and Body Removal 
    Targeted Killings 
    Rape and Sexual Assault 
    Forced Expulsions 
    Arbitrary Arrests and Detentions 
    Destruction of Civilian Property and Mosques 
    Contamination of Water Wells 
    Robbery and Extortion 
    Detentions and Compulsory Labor  1 
    Human Shields 
5. Drenica Region
    Staro Cikatovo 
    The April 30 Offensive 
      The Cirez Mosque 
      The Shavarina Mine 
      Detention and Interrogation in Glogovac 
      Detention and Compusory Labor 
    Glogovac Town 
      Killing of Civilians 
      Detention and Abuse 
      Forced Expulsion 
6. Djakovica Municipality
    Djakovica City 
      Phase One—March 24 to April 2 
      Phase Two—March 7 to March 13 
      The Withdrawal 
      Motives: Five Policeman Killed 
7. Istok Municipality
    Dubrava Prison 
      The Prison 
      The NATO Bombing 
      The Massacre 
      The Exhumations 
8. Lipljan Municipality
9. Orahovac Municipality
    Pusto Selo

10. Pec Municipality

    Pec City 
      The “Cleansing” 
      Looting and Burning 
      A Final Killing 
      The Killings 
      The Attacks in Pavljan and Zahac 
      The Perpetrators 
11. Prizren Municipality
    Prizren City 
      Tusus Neighborhood 
      Bilbildere Neighborhood 
12. The Prizren-­Djakovica Road
    Bela Crkva 
    Velika Krusa and Mala Krusa 
      Velika Krusa 
      Mala Krusa 3 
13. Suva Reka Municipality
    Suva Reka Town 
    Village in Suva Reka Municipality 
14. Vucitrn Municipality
    Gornja Sudimlja and Donja Sudimlja 
      The May 2 Convoy Attack 
      Detentions and Expulsions 
      Other Killings 
    Smrekovnica Prison 
15. Statistical Analysis of Violations
    Limitations of the Data 
    General Findings 
      An Analysis of Extrajudicial Executions 
16. The NATO Air Campaign
    International Humanitarian Law and Accountability 
    The Standards Applied 
    Case Studies of Civilian Deaths in Kosovo 
      Refugees on the Djakovica-Decan Road 
      Displaced Civilians in the Korisa Woods 
      Bombing of Dubrava Prison 
    NATO’s Use of Cluster Bombs 
17. Abuses After June 12, 1999
    Attacks on Minorities 
    Violence Against Ethnic Albanians 
    Response of the International Community 
    Kosovar Albanian Prisoners in Serbia Since War’s End 
18. Work of the War Crimes Tribunal
    Domestic War Crimes Trials 
    Investigations of NATO and the KLA 
19. Legal Standards in the Kosovo Conflict
Kosovo As An Internal Armed Conflict
The Applicability Of Common Article 3 And Protocol II
Common Article 3 And The Protection Of Noncombatants
Protocol II And The Protection Of Noncombatants
Yugoslav Domestic Law 



A report of this magnitude would not have been possible without the active participation of many individuals. This book has been a collaboration of Human Rights Watch staff, consultants, volunteers, and numerous people working on human rights issues in Kosovo. 

  The project was coordinated by Fred Abrahams, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. Primary field research was conducted by the following Human Rights Watch researchers, in alphabetical order: Fred Abrahams, Bogdan Ivanisevic, Andre Lommen, Joanne Mariner, Martina Vandenberg, and Benjamin Ward, as well as Human Rights Watch consultant James Ron. Secondary research was conducted by Human Rights Watch associates Sahr MuhammedAlly, Alexandra Perina, Kerry McArthur and Laura Rusu, and two research interns, Kristie Evenson and John Walkup. 

  The report was written primarily by Fred Abrahams and Benjamin Ward, although many of the above researchers provided important editorial input. Joanne Mariner wrote the sections on Prizren and Pusto Selo, Martina Vandenberg wrote the sections on rape, William M. Arkin, Human Rights Watch military consultant, wrote most of the chapter on NATO, and Kristie Evenson helped write the section on landmines. Betsy Andersen, advocacy directory for the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch contributed greatly to the background chapter dealing with the international community. 

  The entire report was edited by Susan Osnos, consultant to Human Rights Watch, and Michael McClintock, deputy program director of Human Rights Watch. Dinah Pokempner, general counsel of Human Rights Watch provided a legal review. Pro bono legal advice was generously provided by Craig Bloom and Jeremy Feigelson of the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. 

  Background sections of the report relied on research and writing conducted by many present and former Human Rights Watch staff who began work on Kosovo in 1990. These people include: Ken Anderson, Jeri Laber, Ivana Nizich, Vlatka Mihalovic, Julie Mertes, Gordana Igric, and Peter Bouckaert. This report, and the Kosovo work as a whole, greatly benefited from the dedication and professionalism of numerous other individuals at Human Rights Watch, including: Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, Lotte Leicht, director of the Brussels office, Jean-­Paul Mathoz, Brussels communications director, Bessie Skoures, Brussels office administrator, Carroll Bogert, communications director, Minky Worden, electronic communications director, Wilder Taylor, general counsel, and Rachael Reilly, who conducted research in Macedonia during the war on the treatment of refugees. Most importantly, Holly Cartner, director of the Europe and Central Asia Division, provided insight, poise, and guidance throughout the Kosovo war and this project. 

  The maps in this report were designed by Michael Miller. Photographs were taken by Human Rights Watch staff Fred Abrahams, Peter Bouckaert, Joanne Mariner, and Benjamin Ward, as well as professional photographers Alban Bujari and Wade Goddard. Assistance with photographs and design was provided by Veronica Matushaj, photo editor and creative services manager at Human Rights Watch. It was formatted for the web by John Emerson, Patrick Minges, and Jagdish Parikh. 

  Various associates at Human Rights Watch also provided invaluable assistance, specifically Alexandra Perina, Alex Frangos, Rachel Bien, Laura Rusu, Kerry McArther, Skye Donald, and Adam Bassine. Alex Frangos designed and maintained the “Crisis in Kosovo” page on the Human Rights Watch website (, which received 1.2 million visitors in 1999. A number of interns and volunteers also provided valuable help. These include Darja Radulovic-­Watkins, Cveta Popovic, and Erkan Ates. 

  The statistical analysis in this report was conducted by an array of experts and interns, many of whom graciously volunteered their time. Dr. Patrick Ball, deputy director of the Science and Human Rights Project at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), designed the statistical analysis. The coding process was coordinated by Rebecca Morgan, a consultant to Human Rights Watch. Dr. Herbert F. Spirer, adjunct professor at Columbia University, professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut, and consultant to AAAS, conducted the analysis, generated the initial graphs, and provided crucial advice and guidance on deadline. Matt Zimmerman at AAAS produced the final graphs and diagrams. Outside reviews were conducted by Dr. Fritz Sheuren and Tom Jabine. Dr. Wray Smith provided his professional expertise. Many hours of data entry were logged by a long list of volunteers: Benedicte Benoit, Sabrina Ait-­Aoudia, Mirela Gegprifti, Artan Kafexhiu, Haim Samuels, Miguel Morales, Yulia Dultsina, Sarah Millar, Aida Repak, Susana Kevorkova, Adam Greenfield, and Jasmina Repak. Human Rights Watch sincerely thanks them for their time. 

  None of the Kosovo research would have been possible without the cooperation and assistance of human rights groups and activists in Kosovo and the region, who work at far greater risk than any foreign-­based organization or individual. Particular thanks go to the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms in Pristina and its many sections throughout Kosovo, the Humanitarian Law Center, the Center for the Protection of Women and Children, the Mother Theresa Society, the Kosova Helsinki Committee, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, the Kosovo Association of Political Prisoners, the Albanian Counseling Center for Women and Girls in Albania, and El Hilal in Skopje and Tetovo, Macedonia. 

  Many professionals—diplomats, journalists, lawyers, humanitarian and human rights activists—provided invaluable help throughout the process. They cannot all be named here. In particular, Human Rights Watch would like to thank the following people: Nora Ahmetaj, Sevdie Ahmeti, Dejan and Duska Anastasijevic, Ardian Arifaj, Judith Armata, Tina Babarovic, Agron Bajrami, Adem Bajri, Ilir Bajri, Fazli Balaj, Sonja Biserko, Zoran Cirjakovic, Vjosa Dobruna, Robin Ellis, Agim Fetahu, Sheri Fink, Josh Friedman, Carlotta Gall, Benedicte Giaever, Bukerija Gjonbalaj, Wade Goddard, Dukagjin Gorani, Baton Haxhiu, Mayke Huijbregts, Ylber Hysa, Natasa Kandic, Flamur Kelmendi, Kosovare Kelmendi, Nekibe Kelmendi, Asif Khan, Bajram Krasniqi, Andrea Lako, Ibrahim Makolli, Paul Miller, Fron Nazi, Lirije Osmani, Marta Palokaj, Jane Perlez, Paul Risley, David Rohde, Destan Rukiqi, Bexhet Shala, Milbert Shin, Eric Stover, Veton Surroi, Gjeraqina Tuhina, Volker Turk, Mark Vuksani, Mary Wyckoff, and Ariana Zherka for their trusted guidance. 

  Human Rights Watch is also thankful to the following organizations for their assistance: OSCE KVM in Kosovo and Macedonia, OSCE Mission to Kosovo, UNHCR Skopje and Pristina, Amnesty International, ICTY, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Skopje and Pristina, UNMIK, KFOR PIC (Skopje and Pristina), and ABC News. 

  Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, Human Rights Watch worked with a large number of highly professional translators and interpreters before, during, and after the war, who did much more than just translate words, and thereby contributed immensely to this report. In particular, Human Rights Watch acknowledges the work of Fisnik Abrashi, Ylber Bajraktari, Ilda Daci, Virtyt Gaceferi, Ilir Gocaj, Albana Kasapi, Adriatik Kelmendi, Garentina Kraja, Yllze Mustafa, Beni Qena, Bujar Saiti, Birol Urcan, and Mimoza Zabergja. Agron Musa and Malsor Krasniqi drove Human Rights Watch staff safely through the precarious roads of northern Albania and Kosovo. Many of these people also undertook personal risks to assist in the gathering of reliable human rights information. 


This report’s main aim is to document the war crimes committed by Serbian and Yugoslav government forces in Kosovo between March 24 and June 12, 1999—the period of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Through well-­researched case studies, as well as scientifically rigorous statistical analysis, the goal is to provide a credible account of the terrible events that have taken place in the hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. 

  At the same time, the report acknowledges that Serbian and Yugoslav government forces did not have a monopoly on abusive behavior. The report therefore provides documentation of international humanitarian law violations committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) as well as by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). 

  Given the intense focus on Kosovo in 1999, it is not surprising that similar studies documenting violations of international humanitarian law in the province have already appeared, including a two-­volume work by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as numerous reports by nongovernmental organizations. We hope that this report breaks new ground by providing both a broad and detailed account of war crimes in Kosovo, along with the political background and context of the conflict. By including first-­hand accounts and testimony, the report also gives voice to the innocent victims of war. 

  Given the poisonous atmosphere in post-­conflict Kosovo, with regular attacks on Serbs and Roma, one must ask whether this report will remind people of past crimes and perhaps provoke further revenge. Is it worth dredging up these terrible stories? 

  First, it is crucial to provide a historical record. Along with the other reports produced thus far, Under Orders: War Crimes in Kosovo will hopefully help future generations to understand better both the conflict and the region. Second, the evidence presented here will be of assistance to war crimes investigators in putting together cases against the Serbian and Yugoslav leadership, as well as against members of the KLA. Assigning individual accountability can help dispel the notion of collective guilt. Lastly, some sectors of Serbian society have expressed interest in evaluating the past. This report might assist that process by providing facts and analysis. 

  The report presents an overview of the Serbian and Yugoslav government campaign between March and June 1999, with an analysis of the governments’ aims and strategies and a breakdown of the kinds of abuses documented, both by region and type of abuse. Another chapter provides a detailed description of the forces in the conflict, including the chain of command of the Serbian police, Yugoslav Army, and the KLA. The crux of the report follows: chapters that document the abuses committed in particular geographic areas, usually defined by municipality. 

  The report includes a chapter of statistical analysis, prepared in conjunction with the Science and Human Rights Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which uses data gleaned from more than 600 Human Rights Watch interviews to examine the trends and patterns of the crimes committed that may not be evident from narrative information. The numbers and graphs help deal in a systematic way with the reports of violations, as well as lend credence to the argument that the Serbian and Yugoslav government campaign of murder, destruction, and “ethnic cleansing” was systematic and well organized. 

  In a chapter on the background to the conflict, the report provides an analysis of the history and human rights abuses that precipitated the armed conflict. A constant theme is the international community’s willingness to turn a blind eye to these abuses in the interest of short-­term political stability, and the West’s lack of a strategic approach to the region. 

  Three other chapters are of great importance, although they fall outside the main focus of the report. One deals with violations after NATO’s entry into Kosovo on June 12, 1999, primarily abuses by ethnic Albanians against non-­Albanians—Serbs, Roma, Gorani, and others—and the international community’s inability and apparent unwillingness to protect these populations. The Background chapter also presents important material about war crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army in 1998, including hostage-­taking and summary executions. Another chapter addresses NATO’s violations of international humanitarian law, specifically the alliance’s failure to minimize civilian deaths during the bombing campaign and its use of cluster bombs. A more comprehensive report on the NATO bombing, Civilian Deaths in the NATO Air Campaign, was published by Human Rights Watch in February 2000. 

  Lastly, the report contains a detailed chapter on the international and domestic legal standards that apply to the Kosovo conflict and a chapter describing the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). 

  Without question, the serious violations being committed by some Albanians in Kosovo today require urgent attention. In addition to the documentation provided in this report, Human Rights Watch has repeatedly condemned these abuses, most comprehensively in a report issued in August 1999, Abuses Against Serbs and Roma in the New Kosovo. This report, however, focuses primarily on the crimes committed against ethnic Albanians during the NATO bombing—crimes that were both wide-­ranging and carefully planned by a government. As this report shows, Kosovo from March to June 1999 experienced a coordinated, state-­sponsored campaign of killings and expulsions. 


Human Rights Watch began documenting human rights violations in Kosovo in 1990. A series of reports then and in subsequent years was based primarily on field missions to the province. 

  The nature of the research changed in 1998 with the beginning of the armed conflict. Four missions in that year and early 1999, including one to northern Albania, focused on documenting violations of international humanitarian law by all sides in the conflict. 

  On March 28, 1999, four days after the commencement of NATO bombing, Human Rights Watch dispatched its first researcher to Macedonia, followed the next day by a researcher sent to Kosovo’s border with northern Albania. For the duration of the war, researchers were based in both places. Brief fact-­finding trips to Montenegro and Bosnia to interview the refugees being expelled from the province were added to ensure more complete coverage. Visa restrictions and security concerns did not allow travel within Kosovo. 

  In general, the research had two aims: to identify and draw public attention to the crimes being committed and to assist the investigations of the ICTY. The former was done by methodically documenting the most serious abuses through the testimony of refugees, as well as trying to discern the patterns of abuse. “Kosovo Flashes” were produced with updates from the field on a near-­daily basis and released to the public. Several lengthier, more in-­depth reports were also released during this period. Human Rights Watch assisted ICTY investigators by alerting them to alleged crimes and, at times, introducing them to potential witnesses. 

  All information was based on refugee accounts, because foreign press and human rights monitors had been expelled from Yugoslavia. Still, the consistency of the refugee statements and their high degree of corroboration allowed a fairly accurate picture to be formed. 

  On June 13, 1999, a Human Rights Watch researcher entered Kosovo just after NATO troops. At least one researcher remained in the province for the next six months to investigate first-­hand the extent of the crimes. The strategy was to look into those incidents that Human Rights Watch had reported on in its initial reports, such as those occurring in Meja, Djakovica (Gjakove), and Velika Krusa (Krusha e Madhe). In addition, many new sites were chosen in order to get a full geographic representation of the abuses. 

  The accuracy of the refugee accounts was astounding. In virtually all of the sites visited by Human Rights Watch after the war, researchers found the facts to be as the refugees in Albania and Macedonia had claimed, down to the names and ages of victims. In one village in the Suva Reka municipality, for example, the bodies of twelve elderly men were found, eleven of them in the village well. Six weeks before, women refugees from the village had told Human Rights Watch that eleven elderly men had been taken away by the Serbian police (the twelfth man was detained after they had left). All of the names matched. 

  With time, many previously unreported incidents surfaced. The executions in Shraravina went unreported because witnesses had remained trapped in Drenica. The killings at Dubrava prison were not known because the survivors had been transferred to prisons inside Serbia. Human Rights Watch pursued these and other cases, although many incidents had to remain uninvestigated due to the sheer number of sites across the province at which atrocities had occurred. Most of the sites of major killings, however, are covered in this report, with a few notable exceptions, such as Kotlina (Kotline), Kacanik, Lukare (Llukare) Duz (Dys), Goden, and Beleg. In general, incidents in the municipalities of Podujevo (Podujeve) and Kosovo Polje (Fushe Kosove) are also under-­reported. 

  As with all research of this kind, there are limitations. Witnesses and victims sometimes had trouble remembering the details of events due to the extreme trauma they had experienced. In some cases, they had been instructed by the KLA not to speak of certain events. All of these complications have been taken into account. Multiple sources were always interviewed for each and every incident in this report. All facts have been corroborated by at least a second source. Whenever necessary, sources are cited in an endnote. In addition, Human Rights Watch researchers visited all of the large-­scale killing sites mentioned in this report, inspecting the physical evidence that remained. 

  The naming of alleged perpetrators was undertaken with particular care. Although Kosovar Albanians often did not know their tormenters, a few names are mentioned in this report. For each, at least three independent sources confirmed their participation in a crime. 

On Names and Terminology 

Much confusion stems from the existence of both Albanian and Serbian names for villages and towns in Kosovo, as well as for the province itself (“Kosova” in Albanian and “Kosovo and Metohija” in Serbian). For the sake of clarity and consistency, Human Rights Watch provides both the Serbian and the Albanian name at first mention of any location. Subsequent references are in the Serbian language only, since this is the English language practice (for example, Pristina and not Prishtina). Names of individuals are always in the spelling of that person’s mother-­language and ethnicity, i.e. all Albanian names are spelled in Albanian. Again for the sake of simplicity, accents and diacritics are not used. 

  The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia—comprised of Serbia and Montenegro—is referred to as “Yugoslavia.” The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is called “Macedonia.” Bosnia and Hercegovina is called “Bosnia.” 

  Much care has been taken to avoid possible recriminations against the witnesses and victims who provide testimony in this report. Although some names are provided when there is no perceived danger, Human Rights Watch has withheld the identity of many sources, even if permission was granted to use a name in full. As such, many witness and victim names are presented either as initials or, when stated, changed entirely. Two villages where rapes are known to have taken place are not mentioned by name. 


AK47/Kalashnikov  Russian or Chinese-­made semi-­automatic rifle 

APC Armored Personnel Carrier 

Arkan Real name, Zeljko Raznjatovic, paramilitary leader during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-­Herzegovina. Indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugslavia (on September 30, 1997, and publicly on March 31, 1999); wanted by Interpol. Shot dead in Belgrade by unknown assailants, February 2000 

Arkan’s Tigers  Serbian paramilitary formation run by “Arkan” 

Black Hand Serbian paramilitary group 

CDHRF  Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, Kosovo-­based human rights organization 

Chetnik Term with connotations to First World War Serbian combat forces under Kosta Pecenac, and to Second World War combat forces under Draza Mihailovic. The term, now derogatory, is used to indicate a hard-­line nationalistic Serb 

DM  Deutschmark/German mark, widely used as hard currency in Kosovo 

DU Depleted Uranium 

EU European Union 

FRY Federal Republic of Yugoslavia 

ICRC International Committee of the Red Cross 

ICTY (United Nations) International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia 

IDP  Internally displaced person 

IOM International Organization for Migration 

KDOM Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission 

KFOR  (NATO) Kosovo Force 

KLA  Kosovo Liberation Army (Ushtria Clirimtare e Kosoves (UCK) in Albanian) 

KPC Kosovo Protection Corps (Trupat e Mbrojtjes se Kosoves (TMK) in Albanian) 

KPS Kosovo Police Service 

KVM Kosovo Verification Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe 

LDK  Democratic League of Kosovo (Lidhja Demokratike te Kosove in Albanian) 

LPK People’s Movement of Kosovo (Levizija Popullare e Kosoves in Albanian) 

MTA  Military Technical Agreement 

MUP  Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs (Ministarstvo Unutrasnjih Poslova in Serbian) 

NATO  North Atlantic Treaty Organization 

NGO  Non-­governmental organization 

OSCE Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe 

OUP  Unit of Internal Affairs in the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs (Odeljenje Unutrasnjih Poslova in Serbian) 

PJP  Serbian Special Police Units (Posebne Jedinice Policije in Serbian) 

SAJ  Serbian Special Anti-­terrorist Units (Specijalne Antiteroristicke Jedinice in Serbian) 

SDB State Security Service (Sluzba Drzavne Bezbednosti inSerbian) 

Serbian cross  Serbian nationalist symbol, comprising a cross and four Cyrillic “S”s derived from the slogan “Only Unity Saves the Serbs” (Samo Sloga Srbina Spasava in Serbian) 

SFRY Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia 

SPS  Socialist Party of Serbia (Socijalisticka Partija Srbije in Serbian) 

SRS  Serbian Radical Party (Srpska Radikalna Stranka in Serbian) 

SUP Secretariat for Internal Affairs in the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs (Sekretarijat Unutrasnjih Poslova in Serbian) 

UCK  Ushtria Clirimtare e Kosoves (Kosovo Liberation Army in English) 

UNHCHR  United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 

UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 

UNICEF United Nations Children’s Fund 

UNMIK United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo 

VJ  Yugoslav Army (Vojska Jugslavije in Serbian) 

WFP  World Food Programme 

White Eagles Serbian paramilitary formation 

WHO World Health Organization

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