Justice for the Bytyqi Family

Justice for the Bytyqi Family

Hon.
Benjamin L. Cardin
United States
Senate
112th Congress Congress
Second Session Session
Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Mr. President, today is the 37th anniversary of the Helsinki process. Starting with the signing of the Helsinki Final Act on August 1, 1975, this process began as an ongoing conference which helped end the Cold War and reunite Europe. It has continued as a Vienna-based organization that today seeks to resolve regional conflicts and promote democratic development and the rule of law throughout the region.

While serving in both chambers of the U.S. Congress, it has been a unique and rewarding privilege to engage in this diplomatic process and its parliamentary component as a member and chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, with the goal of improving the lives of everyday people. While they may be citizens of other countries, promoting their human rights and fundamental freedoms helps us to protect our own. It is, therefore, in our national interest to engage in this process.

On this anniversary, however, I do want to focus on three U.S. citizens who suffered the ultimate violation of their human rights when they were taken into a field and shot, deliberately murdered, in July 1999 by a special operations unit under the control the Interior Ministry in Serbia. They were brothers: Ylli, Agron and Mehmet Bytyqi.

The Bytyqi brothers were Albanian-Americans from New York. Earlier in 1999, they went to Kosovo to fight as members of the Kosovo Liberation Army in a conflict which eventually prompted a NATO military intervention designed to stop Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and his forces. When the conflict ended, the Bytyqi brothers assisted ethnic Roma neighbors of their mother in Kosovo by escorting them to the Serbian border. Accidently straying into Serbian territory, they were arrested and sentenced to 2 weeks in jail for illegal entry. When released from prison, they were not freed. Instead, the Bytyqi brothers were transported to an Interior Ministry training camp in eastern Serbia, where they were brutally executed and buried in a mass grave with 75 other ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. Two years later, after the fall of the Milosevic regime, their bodies were recovered and repatriated to the United States for burial. Ylli, Agron and Mehmet were never given a fair and public trial, an opportunity to defend themselves, or any semblance of due process. Their post-conflict, extrajudicial killing was cold-blooded murder.

In the last decade Serbia has made a remarkable recovery from the Milosevic era. I saw this myself last year when I visited Belgrade. This progress, however, has not sufficiently infiltrated the Interior Ministry, affording protection to those who participated in the Bytyqi murders and other egregious Milosevic-era crimes. Nobody has been held accountable for the Bytyqi murders. Those in command of the camp and the forces operating there have never been charged.

The same situation applies to the April 1999 murder of prominent journalist and editor Slavko Curuvija, who testified before the Helsinki Commission on the abuses of the Milosevic regime just months before. There needs to be justice in each of these cases, but together with other unresolved cases they symbolize the lack of transparency and reform in Serbia's Interior Ministry to this day. Combined with continued denials of what transpired under Milosevic in the 1990s, including the 1995 genocide at Srebrenica in neighboring Bosnia, these cases show that Serbia has not completely put an ugly era in its past behind it. For that reason, not only does the surviving Bytyqi family in New York, as well as the friends and family of Slavko Curuvija, still need to have the satisfaction of justice. The people of Serbia need to see justice triumph in their country as well.

I want to thank the U.S. Mission to the OSCE in Vienna, which under the leadership of Ambassador Ian Kelly continues to move the Helsinki process forward, for recently raising the Bytyqi murders and calling for justice. I also want to commend the nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Serbia, Michael David Kirby, for responding to my question on the Bytyqi and Curuvija cases at his Foreign Relations Committee hearing by expressing his commitment, if confirmed, to make justice in these cases a priority matter. On this anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, I join their call for justice.

 

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    As the regional security organization in Europe, how can the OSCE use its tools, standards, and commitments to help manage the humanitarian crisis and ensure that security and economic challenges are addressed? What has the US government done, and what should it be doing? The hearing will examine the reasons for the current crisis; relevant OSCE and other European agreements, commitments, and structures; the response of the OSCE, the EU, and the US; potential security issues related to the ability of extremists to infiltrate the refugee stream; and the potential for refugees to become victims of human trafficking.

  • Bipartisan Congressional Delegation Represents US at OSCE Parliamentary Assembly; Also Visits Ukraine, Czech Republic

    Forty years after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act established the precursor to today’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), five members of the Helsinki Commission and four other members of Congress traveled to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session in Helsinki to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to confronting Russian aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere. Led by Commission Co-Chairman Senator Roger F. Wicker (MS), the bicameral, bipartisan delegation organized by the Helsinki Commission included Commission Chairman Representative Chris Smith (NJ- 04); House Commissioners Robert B. Aderholt (AL-04), Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Alan Grayson (FL-09); and Representatives Gwen Moore (WI-04), Michael Fitzpatrick (PA-08), Richard Hudson (NC-08) and Ruben Gallego (AZ-07). Before attending the Annual Session from July 5 to 7, several members of the delegation also visited Ukraine and the Czech Republic. A central concern to the delegation throughout the trip was Russia’s restrictions on democracy at home and aggression in Ukraine, along with Russia’s threat to European security.

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Deplores Attack on Serbian Prime Minister during Srebrenica Commemoration

    WASHINGTON—Following the stone-throwing attack on Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic at Saturday’s ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) issued the following statement: “Such violence is unworthy of the memory of the thousands of innocent civilians who were massacred in the genocide 20 years ago. Prime Minister Vucic’s attendance at the ceremony demonstrated a willingness to seek reconciliation and learn from the past.  I add my voice to those who have condemned the mob attack in the strongest possible terms and I urge the Bosnian authorities to take the necessary steps to apprehend and prosecute those responsible.” Rep. Smith is the author of the recently passed H. Res. 310, which affirms that the policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing implemented by Serb forces at Srebrenica constituted genocide, and condemns statements denying that the massacres meet the definition of genocide. Since 1995, Rep. Smith has worked to see that the perpetrators of the horrific acts at Srebrenica are punished and that closure is provided to survivors and victims’ families.

  • Urging Passage of H. Res. 310

    Madam Speaker, this week, the world pauses to remember and reflect on the Srebrenica genocide, horrific acts of brutality, wanton cruelty, and mass murder committed in Srebrenica beginning July 11, 20 years ago. This week, we pause to honor those brave Bosniaks who suffered and died, victims of genocide. This week, the people in the United States and men and women of goodwill throughout the world again extend our deepest condolences and respect to the mothers and surviving family members who have endured unspeakable sorrow and loss that time will never abate. And this week, the international community must recommit itself to justice, once and for all, for those who perpetrated these heinous crimes. Today, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are incarcerated, awaiting final disposition of their cases before the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for multiple counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of laws and customs of war. Twenty years ago, Madam Speaker, an estimated 8,000 people were systematically slaughtered by Bosnian Serb soldiers in the United Nations-designated “safe haven” area of Srebrenica. They killed Muslim women and children, but especially sought out and murdered adult males in that area. These brutal killings were not committed in battle. They were committed against people who were unarmed and helpless and who had been repeatedly assured by Dutch peacekeepers that they would not be harmed if they surrendered. The evidence is overwhelming that the executions were committed with the specific intention of destroying the Bosnian Muslim population of that area. This intention is the central element in the crime of genocide. The U.N. peacekeeping forces in Srebrenica were charged with enforcing Security Council Resolution 836, which had pledged to defend the safe areas with “all necessary means, including the use of force.” But when the moment of truth came, the U.N. forces offered only token resistance to the Serb offensive. Their military and political commanders had redefined their primary mission not as the protection of the people of Srebrenica, but as the safety of the U.N. forces themselves. When Bosnian Serb Commander Ratko Mladic threatened violence against the blue- helmeted soldiers here is the way one of those soldiers described the reaction. And I quote him: ‘‘everybody got a fright. You could easily get killed in such an operation. As far as I knew, we had not been sent to Srebrenica to defend the enclave, but, rather, as some kind of spruced-up observers.’’ So that is what the peacekeepers became: observers to genocide. Soon they became something more than observers: enablers. On July 13, the Dutch blue-helmet battalion handed Bosnian Muslims who had sought safety within the U.N. compound over to the Serbs. They watched as the men were separated from the women and children, a process which was already well known in Bosnia—it was at the time—as a sign that the men were in imminent danger of being executed. These men were never heard from again. At one congressional hearing I chaired in March of 1998—and I had six of them— Hasan Nuhanovic, the indigenous translator working for the U.N. peacekeepers in Srebrenica, testified. He was there in the room. Hasan lost his family in the genocide. He was there when Mladic and the commanders of the Dutch peacekeepers talked about the terms. Here is what he told my panel, in part: “On July 12, the day before the fall of Srebrenica, the Bosnian Serb Army commander, General Ratko Mladic, requested a meeting with the Dutchbat commander, Lieutenant Colonel Karemans, and local representatives of Srebrenica in the nearby town of Bratunac outside the enclave . . . During the meeting, Mladic assured the Dutch and local delegation that no harm would come to the refugees in Potocari . . . “Upon returning to the camp, three local representatives are ordered by Dutchbat deputy commander, Major Franken, to prepare a list of all males, all men and boys between the ages of 16 and 65 among the refugees inside and outside the camp. The list of the males among the 6,000 inside the camp was completed the same day . . . “On July 13, the Dutch ordered 6,000 refugees out of the Potocari camp. The Serbs were waiting at the gate, separating all males from the women and children. Major Franken stated that all the males whose names were on the list would be safe . . . I watched my parents and my brother being handed over to the Serbs at the gate. None of them have been seen since. “I want to explain here that the people hoped that the Dutch were going to protect them, the U.N. peacekeeping troops and all other members of all other organization who were present in Srebrenica who were inside the camp, the people hoped that they would be protected, but the Dutch soldiers and officer gave no other option to the refugees but to leave. So the refugees inside were told to leave without any other choice. My family was told on the evening of 13 July that they should leave. About 6 p.m., there were no more refugees inside the camp. “I don’t know if this is the topic of the meeting or hearing, but the same night the Dutch soldiers had a party inside the camp because they received two or three trucks full of beer and cigarettes. They played music while I was sitting, not knowing what happened to my family.” As he went on to say later, they had all been slaughtered. In July of 2007, Madam Speaker, I visited Srebrenica, where, together with my good friends President Haris Silajdzic and the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Reis Ceric, I spoke at a solemn memorial service and witnessed the internment of hundreds of wooden coffins of newly discovered victims of the genocide. It was a deeply moving experience to see 12 years then after the genocide— now it is 20 years—families still grieving loved ones whose bodies were being identified, often miles from the killing sites, as Serb forces, trying to hide the evidence of their crimes, moved the bodies of their victims. For the record, 10 years ago—in 2005— the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H. Res. 199, which I authored, which clearly and unambiguously condemned the Srebrenica massacre for what it was: genocide. That resolution was a landmark in the recognition of the Srebrenica massacre as a genocide. Two years later the verdict of the International Court of Justice found the same, in confirming the ruling of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Today the international community is nearly unanimous when it proclaims that the Srebrenica massacre was a genocide. The resolution today, of course, supports that as well. Astonishingly, Madam Speaker, there are some genocide deniers. That is why this resolution condemns statements that deny that the massacre at Srebrenica constituted genocide. Just last weekend Milorad Dodik, the president of Republika Srpska, asserted that the Srebrenica genocide is a lie. Madam Speaker, just as it is doing in Ukraine, Russia is utilizing misinformation and historical revisionism in an attempt to destabilize Bosnia and the Balkan region. Today Russia vetoed a British U.N. Security Council resolution that reaffirms that Srebrenica was a genocide. Russia has encouraged Serbia itself to protest the resolution and emboldened genocide denialism in the Republika Srpska, one of Bosnia’s two constituent entities. Madam Speaker, this resolution also encourages the administration to fulfill other neglected responsibilities. In particular, it urges the Atrocities Prevention Board to study the lessons of Srebrenica and issue informed guidance on how to prevent similar incidents from recurring in the future. As you may know, the Atrocities Prevention Board is a U.S. interagency committee established by the administration in 2012 to flag potential atrocities. However, since its creation, the board has been marked by inaction and a complete lack of transparency. This is unacceptable, especially as conflicts with disturbing parallels to Bosnia before the genocide continue to fester in Syria, the Central African Republic, Burma, and in Burundi. Africa, in particular, would stand to benefit from a more active board. The conflict in Burundi is currently at a tipping point, and it absolutely needs attention.  Madam Speaker, despite the need for much greater atrocities prevention in U.S. policy, there have been many promising developments in the Balkan region, and this needs to be underscored. In particular, I would note that Serbia today is not the Serbia of the Slobodan Milosevic era. That era was marked by nationalist aggression against neighboring countries and peoples, as well as considerable repression at home. One of those who testified at one of my hearings on Serbia, Curuvija, a great young leader, was murdered on the second day after our bombing began by Serbian people. And the persons who did that have now been held to account. So what has happened there—thankfully, there have now been significant changes in Serbia. I want to thank my colleagues. I do hope we will have a strong show of support for this resolution. I reserve the balance of my time.

  • Chairman Smith and Serbian Foreign Minister Support OSCE Role in Promoting Peace in Ukraine

    WASHINGTON–On February 25, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, held a hearing at which Ivica Dacic, the Foreign Minister of Serbia and Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), testified as to his plans for Serbia’s 2015 leadership of the OSCE. The chief issue facing the organization is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the humanitarian needs of the people of eastern Ukraine, including the OSCE’s role in monitoring the Minsk cease-fire agreement. Both Russia and Ukraine are among the 57 member states of the OSCE, the world’s largest regional security organization. Opening the hearing, Chairman Smith said that Foreign Minister Dacic’s leadership of the OSCE “comes at a moment of tragedy, of tremendous human suffering.” Smith emphasized that “one OSCE member – the Russian government – is tearing the heart out of a neighboring member, Ukraine.” “Understanding that the OSCE is a consensus organization – meaning that the Russian government has an effective veto over many significant actions – we believe that the OSCE is still able and responsible to speak the truth about the conflict, to find ways to limit it, and to help the people of Ukraine,” he said. Foreign Minister Dacic emphasized that “the Serbian Chairmanship will make every effort to help restore peace in Ukraine.” In its role as Chairman of the OSCE, Dacic said, “Serbia brings to the table good relations with all the key stakeholders, and we are making every effort to serve as an honest broker and use our leadership role to utilize the OSCE toolbox impartially and transparently.” Foreign Minister Dacic also discussed the fight against human trafficking and anti-Semitism with Chairman Smith.  Other members of the Helsinki Commission participating in the hearing included Senator Ben Cardin, and Congressmen Joe Pitts, Alcee Hastings, and Steve Cohen.

  • Serbia's Leadership of the OSCE

    In 2015 Europe was faced with a number of security and human rights concerns, especially with regard to Russian aggression in Ukraine. In this hearing, OSCE Chairman-in-Office Ivica Dačić testified to several Commissioners about Serbia's plans for leadership of the OSCE in 2015. He noted that in addition to persistent efforts supporting Ukraine's security and territorial integrity, they would place a special emphasis on strengthening rule of law, freedom of expression, and freedom of the media. Mr. Dačić also emphasized that the active engagement of the United States within the OSCE is critical to the organization's effectiveness.

  • Chairman Smith Urges OSCE Leaders: Respond to Humanitarian Needs in Eastern Ukraine

    WASHINGTON—A renewed effort is underway in the Organization for Cooperation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to urge it to respond to humanitarian needs in eastern Ukraine, and to follow through on OSCE commitments to fight human trafficking and anti-Semitism. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) led the U.S. Delegation to the annual Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) last week in Vienna, where he spearheaded this push. Smith expressed particular concern about the potential for human trafficking of vulnerable groups stemming from the current conflict in Ukraine. In a question to Ivica Dačić, the OSCE’s Chairman-in-Office for 2015 and the Foreign Minister of Serbia, Smith drew attention to the needs of internally displaced persons and the potential for human trafficking in eastern Ukraine. He noted that, among the nearly one million internally displaced persons, woman and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, and raised concerns that criminal gangs are taking advantage of the conflict:   “Is the OSCE equipping the special monitoring mission and other OSCE entities working in the Ukraine conflict zone, or with IDPs, to recognize and protect human trafficking victims, and is the OSCE taking trafficking prevention measures for this particular vulnerable population?” At a private meeting during the event, Chairman Smith met with Chairman-in-Office Dačić  to discuss the humanitarian, human rights, and security concerns arising from the Russian-backed conflict in eastern Ukraine. Smith encouraged Serbia to vigorously uphold the commitments made at the at the 10th  anniversary of the OSCE's Berlin Conference on anti-Semitism, and to review and reform the OSCE’s contracting regulations to ensure that OSCE activities do not contribute to trafficking in persons. He also urged Chairman-in-Office Dačić to promote an appropriate commemoration by the OSCE of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. Chairman Smith also met the Director of the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Michael Georg Link. In addition to human trafficking and anti-Semitism, the two discussed OSCE election observation missions, as well as the organization’s current efforts to protect freedom of religion. In a meeting with Ambassador Madina Jarbussynova, the OSCE Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, Chairman Smith spoke about the most effective ways to fight human trafficking and assist with the rehabilitation of trafficking victims – including by working with faith-based organizations, as well as by encouraging participating States to adopt legislation preventing child sex tourism, such as Chairman Smith’s legislation currently pending in the U.S. Senate. Chairman Smith has pioneered OSCE engagement in fighting human trafficking and anti-Semitism. Since 2004, he has served as the OSCE PA’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues – click here to read his most recent report. Starting in 2002, Smith led the movement to put anti-Semitism on the agenda of the OSCE, and he continues to work closely with Rabbi Andy Baker, the OSCE’s Representative on Combating Anti-Semitism, to ensure a more vigorous implementation of OSCE commitments in the area. In 2005 Smith authored H. Res. 199, a landmark congressional resolution recognizing the atrocity at Srebrenica in which an estimated 8,000 civilian men and boys were murdered by Serb forces as a genocide.

  • Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs to Testify at Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: “Serbia’s Leadership of the OSCE” Wednesday, February 25, 2015 2:30PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2200 Serbia’s 2015 Chairmanship-in-Office of the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) comes at a pivotal point in European security. The OSCE, a regional security organization based known for its work in promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, operates on the front lines of Russia-Ukraine conflict and seeks to counter backsliding on human rights in other countries of the OSCE region.   Serbia’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Ivica Dačić, will testify before the Helsinki Commission in his capacity as Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE. He takes the helm to conclude the implementation of a joint leadership plan developed with Switzerland, which chaired the OSCE in 2014. Minister Dačić is expected to discuss the Serbian Chairmanship-in-Office’s priorities, including resolution of the conflict in and around Ukraine; reconciliation and cooperation in the Western Balkans; reforming security sector governance; combating transnational threats, including foreign terrorist fighters, terrorism, and cyber-security; safeguarding journalists; fostering freedom of expression, assembly, and association; combating organized crime and its linkages to human trafficking; combating corruption; and improving water governance. He will also provide insights regarding the ongoing work of the OSCE.

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