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
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Leadership Responds to Murder of...

Feb 16, 2024

WASHINGTON — Following reports of Alexei Navalny’s death in prison, Helsinki Commission Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following joint statement: “Alexei Navalny dedicated his life to seeing Russia free and at peace. Despite every cruel obstacle Putin placed in his way, even a near-fatal poisoning, he did not waver in his condemnation […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Eyewitness Accounts: Ukrainian Children and Adult Ci...

Jan 31, 2024

  Russia’s abduction of thousands of Ukrainian children and adult civilians as part of its war on Ukraine calls for urgent U.S. and international action to both save Ukraine’s children and civilians and to hold Russia accountable for its war crimes. The Ukrainian government has documented close to 20,000 cases of children taken to Russia […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Wilson, Whitehouse, Tillis, Jackson Lee Applaud Incl...

Dec 08, 2023

WASHINGTON, DC – Representative Joe Wilson (SC-2), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Helsinki Commissioner Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Senator Thom Tillis (NC), and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) applauded the inclusion of the Foreign Extortion Prevention Act as part of the FY2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). “We cannot allow authoritarians to extort American […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Making Russia Pay: Sovereign Asset Confiscation for ...

Dec 06, 2023

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States and its partners and allies have frozen an estimated $350 billion in Russian reserves held abroad. Members of Congress – including members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) – and experts have advocated for governments to confiscate and repurpose these funds […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Hearing – Making Russia Pay: Sovereign Asset Confisc...

Nov 30, 2023

HEARING NOTICE – Making Russia Pay: Sovereign Asset Confiscation for Ukrainian Victory Wednesday, December 6th 2:00-3:30 PM Dirksen Senate Office Building 608 Stream live here: https://youtube.com/live/9X0Ip2wjogs In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States and its partners and allies have frozen an estimated $350 billion in Russian reserves held abroad. Members of Congress […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

CSCE Leadership Welcomes New Executive Branch Commis...

Nov 07, 2023

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, today announced the appointment of three Executive Branch Commissioners to the Commission. CSCE welcomed Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander, Deputy Secretary of Commerce Donet Dominic Graves, Jr., and Department of State Coordinator for […]

screen-reader-text
In the News

Lawmakers say Kara-Murza case spotlights administrat...

Oct 26, 2023

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Hamas’ Hostages, Putin’s Prisoners, and Freeing Inte...

Oct 25, 2023

The practice of seizing hostages and political prisoners, as well as actively terrorizing civilians is a constant displayed by Hamas in Israel and Russia’s war against Ukraine. To highlight issues related to the United States’ strategy to free hostages and political prisoners, last year the Commission’s Ranking Member Congressman Steve Cohen and Chairman Joe Wilson […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Hearing: Hamas’ Hostages, Putin’s Prisoners, and Fre...

Oct 20, 2023

Wednesday, October 25, 2023 10:00am – 11:30am Longworth House Office Building 1334 Stream live here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5U-5Mj_WQtE Hamas’ hostages and Putin’s political prisoners have seized the world’s attention, showing the depths oppressors around the world will sink to in terrorizing civilians and undermining democracy. Dictators and terrorists use violence to fuel fear in those they seek […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Israel and Ukraine Against Terror

Oct 19, 2023

Terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli and Ukrainian civilians have shocked the world with their cruelty and sophistication. These unprovoked attacks are fueled by transnational terrorist networks that include Hamas, Russia, and the Iranian regime, and which regularly target Ukrainian and Israeli civilians and infrastructure. Israel and Ukraine face common foes in terrorist networks that use […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Hearing: Israel and Ukraine Against Terror

Oct 13, 2023

Thursday, October 19, 2023 2:00-3:30pm Rayburn House Office Building 2247 Stream here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWxwUk4TvVo Terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli and Ukrainian civilians have shocked the world with their cruelty and sophistication. These unprovoked attacks are fueled by transnational terrorist networks that include Hamas, Russia, and the Iranian regime, and which regularly target Ukrainian and Israeli civilians and infrastructure. […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Hearing: Has the United Nations Failed Ukraine and t...

Sep 27, 2023

Wednesday, September 27, 2023 2:00 pm to 3:30 p.m. Rayburn House Office Building Room 2200 Stream live here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrBXYsQA0Qk In 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the largest land war in Europe since World War II. In its wake, experts and leaders like President Zelenskyy raise serious questions whether a United Nations […]

screen-reader-text