Toggle navigation menu.
(ICTY) Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz at December 2017 Helsinki Commission briefing with American University law professor Diane Orentlicher

An Ongoing Quest for Justice in Serbia: The Bytyqi Brother Murders

While adherence to the rule of law is essential in any democracy, it takes on a greater importance in post-conflict settings. Providing justice in cases of egregious, conflict-related crimes is essential to bringing closure to surviving victims or to the friends and family of those lost. It is also important for society to acknowledge what happened by prosecuting those individuals responsible, countering assertions of collective guilt that make reconciliation difficult.

Nowhere in the OSCE region has the provision of justice taken on more importance than in and among the countries of the Western Balkans, where numerous atrocities associated with Yugoslavia’s break-up were committed in the 1990s.

One case of particular importance to the United States is that of the Bytyqi brothers. To date, no one has been successfully prosecuted for the July 1999 execution-style murders of American citizens Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi while they were in the custody of Serbia’s Interior Ministry. While escorting a Romani family to safety in the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict, the brothers were apprehended by Serbian police and jailed for two weeks for illegally entering the country. Rather than being released, the three were placed in the custody of a special operations unit of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Their bodies were found two years later, with hands bound and gunshot wounds to the back of their heads, buried atop an earlier mass grave of approximately 70 murdered Kosovo civilians.

For nearly two decades, the surviving members of the Bytyqi family have sought to have those responsible for the crime brought to justice. When current Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was prime minister, he assured the family and U.S. officials, including vice-presidents, secretaries of state, and members of Congress, that action would be taken. Years later, however, nobody has been charged—let alone successfully prosecuted—for either ordering or carrying out the murders. The United States has repeatedly raised the case in the OSCE, including at the annual Human Dimension Implementation meeting in Warsaw, Poland.

The leading suspect, former Interior Ministry official Goran “Guri” Radosavljevic, has close connections with the ruling Serbian Progressive Party and may be protected from prosecution as a result. While discussing the case at a December 2017 joint briefing of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the international tribunal’s chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz of Belgium noted, “It remains in Serbia very, very difficult to have cases conducted in relation to mid-level or higher-level perpetrators.”

(ICTY) Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz at December 2017 Helsinki Commission briefing with American University law professor Diane Orentlicher

International Criminal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz at the December 2017 Helsinki Commission briefing (also pictured: American University law professor Diane Orentlicher)

At the briefing, Rep. Eliot Engel (NY-16) recalled that President Vucic had promised him and other U.S. officials to bring those responsible to justice soon. “That was a long time ago,” he added, “and it has not yet occurred despite widespread understanding of who was behind the crimes.”

Nemanja Stjepanovic of Serbia’s Humanitarian Law Fund concurred, asserting that Serbia’s War Crimes Prosecutor never accuses “a high-ranking military or police officer or high officials in Serbia, targeting instead “exclusively direct perpetrators of crimes, and from the indictments it is not possible to see their relationship with the state.”

Stjepanovic noted that those Serbian officials who were convicted for egregious crimes by the international court often become part of public life when they return to Serbia after serving their sentences. For example, Vladimir Lazarevic, an army general who served 14 years for crimes committed in Kosovo, became a lecturer at Serbia’s military academy; Nikola Sainovic, also convicted for crimes in Kosovo, is now a leader in the Socialist Party that is part of Serbia’s ruling coalition.

On June 28, 2018, frustration over the lack of progress in the case prompted the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives to mark up H.Con.Res. 20, introduced by Rep. Lee Zeldin (NY-01), regarding the execution-style murders of the Bytyqi brothers.

Reacting to the committee action, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic claimed that Serbia remained serious about addressing the case. However, concrete actions would be the clearest proof of Belgrade’s commitment to the rule of law.

Category
Country
Issue
Date
Filter Topics Open Close
Briefings

The Proliferation of Russian-Style Foreign Agents Laws

Jun 20, 2024

In 2012, Russia adopted a foreign agents law which has been used repeatedly to crack down on independent civil society and opposition, closing organizations and jailing dissenters. Over the past several years, there has been a proliferation of Russian-style foreign agents laws in other countries which, while justified as providing transparency for foreign funding and […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

HEARING – Silenced Dissent: The Plight of Poli...

Jun 13, 2024

Rayburn 2212 Stream live here WASHINGTON—Across the globe, individuals continue to be targeted, arrested, and imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and association. Persecution on political grounds represents a fundamental violation of human rights and democratic principles. Autocrats and dictators’ unjust detention of political prisoners undermines the rule of law, […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Silenced Dissent: The Plight of Political Prisoners ...

Jun 13, 2024

WASHINGTON—Across the globe, individuals continue to be targeted, arrested, and imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and association. Persecution on political grounds represents a fundamental violation of human rights and democratic principles. Autocrats and dictators’ unjust detention of political prisoners undermines the rule of law, stifles free expression, and erodes […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

BRIEFING – The Proliferation of Russian-Style ...

Jun 13, 2024

Thursday, June 20, 2024 2:00 p.m. Cannon House Office Building Room 210 WASHINGTON—In 2012, Russia adopted a foreign agents law which has been used repeatedly to crack down on independent civil society and opposition, closing organizations and jailing dissenters. Over the past several years, there has been a proliferation of Russian-style foreign agents laws in […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission House Leadership Marks Fourth An...

Jun 06, 2024

WASHINGTON—Today, Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) marked the fourth annual Counter-Kleptocracy Month. The U.S. Helsinki Commission has marked Counter-Kleptocracy month since June 2021 when the Commission helped to launch the Congressional Caucus against Foreign Corruption and Kleptocracy (Counter-Kleptocracy Caucus). The Caucus is also chaired by Reps. Wilson and […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Supporting Georgia’s Sovereignty and Democracy

Jun 04, 2024

WASHINGTON—The recent adoption of a Russian-style foreign agent law heralds an openly anti-western turn by the ruling Georgian Dream government, and their concomitant alignment with Russia as well as other authoritarian powers such as China. After three decades of a pro-west, democratizing, and Euro-Atlantic-facing strategic agenda, Georgia’s government is clearly and violently breaking faith with […]

screen-reader-text
Briefings

Russian Crimes Against Ukrainian Civilians: Findings...

May 30, 2024

Russia has targeted Ukrainian civilians since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.  Civilians have been arbitrarily detained, transferred, mistreated, tortured, and even killed extrajudicially as an apparent part of Putin’s war strategy.  Thousands have disappeared or are being held without being able to communicate with their families. In February, 45 OSCE states invoked […]

screen-reader-text
Briefings

Ukrainian Culture in Wartime

May 29, 2024

Russia has damaged or destroyed countless Ukrainian museums, libraries, cultural centers, theaters, schools, and sites of religious and historical significance. These physical attacks are accompanied by the Kremlin’s public denigration and even denial of a distinct Ukrainian national identity. This combination of physical destruction and insidious propaganda has by design posed an existential threat to […]

screen-reader-text
In the News

“MEGOBARI Act” Envisages Sanctions for Undermining, ...

May 27, 2024

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Wilson, Cohen, Hudson, Veasey Introduce MEGOBARI Act

May 24, 2024

WASHINGTON—Yesterday, U.S. Helsinki Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Commissioner Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), and Commissioner Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33) introduced the bipartisan Mobilizing and Enhancing Georgia’s Options for Building Accountability, Resilience, and Independence (MEGOBARI) Act. This vital legislation aims to bolster democratic practices, human rights, and the rule of […]

screen-reader-text
Statements

Helsinki Commission House Leadership Statement on 80...

May 24, 2024

  Today, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) made the following statement: “We unequivocally condemn the brutal deportation of Crimean Tatars orchestrated by the Soviet regime in 1944. This horrific act, which forcibly uprooted an entire population from their homeland, represents a grave violation of human rights, […]

screen-reader-text
In the News

Rep. Joe Wilson introduces bill to sanction individu...

May 23, 2024

screen-reader-text