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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  • Commission Hearing Surveys State of Ethnic Relations in Kosovo

    By Bob Hand, CSCE Staff Advisor The Helsinki Commission held a hearing June 19, 2002 on the prospects for ethnic harmony in Kosovo amidst recent reports of ongoing human rights abuses against minority groups. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing. Commissioner Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH) also participated. "Vandalizing or bombing churches is not just wrong, it is beneath the dignity of any Albanian who suffered under the Milosevic regime," Smith said, stressing that "revenge is not justice." He condemned the inexcusable acts of repression brought upon Albanians during the former Yugoslav President's rule. Co-Chairman Smith appealed for cooperation among all parties involved and called for fostering a climate of tolerance. Leaders within Kosovo, within minority communities, and in the Yugoslav Government have a crucial role to play, Smith noted. Senator Voinovich expressed alarm over the human rights situation in Kosovo. 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Dr. Trajkovic detailed a situation whereby the Albanian majority seeks the "Albanization and not multi-nationalization" of Kosovo. In this way, Kosovar Albanians dominate the hospitals, the universities, the media, and even the transportation sector, creating a highly segregated and polarized society. Islamic extremists, who go unpunished, are attempting to "wipe out the foundations of a civilization" by destroying churches, headstones, and cultural monuments, Trajkovic added. Ms. Percival discussed the ICG's recently released report on Kosovo, noting that Mitrovica is a "frequent flashpoint for confrontation and a source of instability." Attacks and reprisals are commonplace. Offering a multi-track plan of action, Percival recommended that the international community take four specific steps: pressure Belgrade to end its policy of incitement and continued support for parallel institutions; encourage the rule of law; establish a specially administered area in the north where Kosovar Serbs live; and promote UNMIK's transparency. Deputy Prime Minister Covic defended the right of Serbs in Kosovo to be free from "inexcusable persecution". "In Kosovo and Metohija, whatever the final solution might be, our desire is to have a strong and successful multi-ethnic society," Covic asserted. Covic said ethnic Serbs continue to flee Kosovo, in response to worrisome figures on the number of killings of Serbs, attacks, and missing persons. Kosovar leaders have shunned a bi-lingual society, inter-ethnic tolerance, unbiased police and an independent judiciary in favor of extremism, Covic maintained. Co-Chairman Smith, concerned about reports of pervasive criminality in Kosovo, raised the issues of missing persons, human trafficking, and perpetuation of parallel institutions. Ms. Percival said that UNMIK, in cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), continues to exhume bodies from mass graves and is making efforts to account for missing persons. Though UNMIK established a trafficking and prostitution unit, the witness protection program is very weak. Mr. Covic responded that Yugoslav authorities are working hard to identify remains and find missing persons, noting the wide disparity between estimates of missing Albanians and Serbs. He added that Yugoslavia takes the issue of human trafficking very seriously and that anti-trafficking legislation is pending in Belgrade. Dr. Gashi labeled Yugoslav support for parallel institutions as an attempt to sabotage UNMIK's institutions. To calm the psychological insecurity, the Serbs have to demonstrate the will to work with us, Gashi testified. Mr. Covic stressed that parallel institutions were not created by the current Yugoslav authorities and once the Serbs' basic human rights in Kosovo are met, there will be no need for parallel institutions. Dr. Gashi reiterated his commitment to equal rights, an open civil society, and cooperation. In response to concerns raised, he indicated that a strong consensus exists among Kosovars opposing the destruction of Serb property and violence against Orthodox nuns and lay people in Kosovo. In light of the OSCE/UNCHR report, all witnesses agreed to its generally accurate portrayal of the situation and reasonable recommendations. Urging all parties to move forward, Senator Voinovich pressed for more information on allegations that Belgrade is "meddling" in the governance of Kosovo. Commissioners Smith and Voinovich pledged to continue their support for U.S. and international engagement to help resolve pressing issues in Kosovo. Any perpetrator of a human rights violation in Kosovo needs to be held accountable, Smith concluded. The hearing came to a close after Co-Chairman Smith recognized Daniel Serwer of the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) for a few closing remarks. Serwer stressed the need to support the creation of an infrastructure in which the next Kosovo parliament can effectively operate. USIP had recently hosted in Virginia a session on inter-ethnic cooperation among Kosovo parliamentarians. Thirty of the participants attended the hearing. An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses are located on the Helsinki Commission's Web site, http://www.csce.gov. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives, and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission intern Derek Politzer contributed to this article.

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    Hon. Christopher H. Smith, Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, presided this hearing on the prospects for ethnic harmony in Kosovo. The hearing discussed the situation of human rights in Kosovo, focusing on minority ethnic rights following the release of an OSCE-UNHCR report which emphasized the need for progress in upholding minority rights and refugee returns. Congressman Smith was joined by very distinguished witnesses. Alush A. Gashi, from the political party of Kosovo's President Rugova (LDK) and Foreign Affairs Secretary; Rada Trajkovic, leader of the Serb coalition within the Parliament and leader among the Serb community in Kosovo ("Povratak"); Valerie Percival, projector Director for the International Crisis Group (ICG); His Excellency Nebojsa Covic, Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia, with the responsability of representing Belgrade in Kosovo and southern Serbia; and Daniel Serwer, Director of Balkans Initiative.

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    This hearing discussed the escalating tensions in the Balkans and potential actions by NATO, the OSCE and the U.S. to address the situation.   Witnesses expressed their concern that the latest outbreak of violence threatened to undermine efforts by the international community to bring a degree of order to the region.  This hearing also discussed the OSCE’s work in Kosovo.

  • Calling for Lasting Peace, Justice, and Stability

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my good friend the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman) for his leadership in bringing this very important resolution to the floor today and to my good friends on the minority side and the gentleman from American Samoa (Mr. Faleomavaega) for his leadership and the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Gejdenson). This is the time for us to make this statement, and I think we are doing it collectively as a Congress. Hopefully our voices will be heard in Serbia.   Mr. Speaker, I am an original cosponsor of H. Res. 451 and I strongly support its passage here today. In a series of hearings that we held on the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, the atrocities committed in Kosovo by Yugoslav and Serbian forces have been very amply documented and the continued incarceration of Kosovar Albanians in Serbian prisons were detailed in very numbing detail. The culpability of Milosevic for war crimes and crimes against humanity for which he has been indicted has also been made clear. It is also obvious that there is an unacceptable lack of security in Kosovo, evident in the frequent instances of violence and destruction in the period since the conflict ended. Last week, Mr. Speaker, major change finally came to Yugoslavia. The people voted to throw Slobodan Milosevic out of office. And when he would not leave, they took to the streets to make clear that they had had enough.   While President Kostunica takes a nationalist point of view, he nevertheless appears willing to work towards democracy and the rule of law rather than create more problems. I was pleased to hear that he has already indicated his willingness to look into the cases of Kosovar Albanians who right now, today, are languishing in Serbian prisons. I believe he will, and every friend of democracy fully expects him to do the right thing. At one of our Helsinki Commission hearings, we heard terrible testimony, horrible conditions about these people who have been held in these terrible prisons, Kosovar Albanians who have committed no crimes. We ask, we demand that they be released now, immediately. Let the Albanians go.   Mr. Speaker, in closing, I think it is critical that we strongly condemn all of the violence which is occurring in Kosovo today regardless of the ethnicity of the victim, regardless of the ethnicity of the culprit. I have been a strong critic of Serbian repression in Kosovo in the past. As a matter of fact, when I met Milosevic the first time in Belgrade in the early 1990s, I raised the issue of his police, his thugs who are committing egregious abuses against the Kosovar Albanians and called on him and his thugs to stop it. But let me also say that none of us want to accept any wanton acts of violence whether it be revenge against Serbs or other members of minorities in Kosovo. Therefore, and I think this is important in the resolution, the Campaign Against Violence mentioned in this resolution is absolutely critical for all sides to accept and to implement. I would hope that the Albanians will criticize Albanians and Serbs will criticize Serbs when that Campaign Against Violence is transgressed. We need peaceful nonviolence in Kosovo and in Serbia. This resolution calls on all parties to stand down.

  • U.S. Statements at the 1999 OSCE Review Conference

    In February 1999, officials from 90 governments, including representatives from many OSCE participating States, visited Washington for the First Global Forum on Fighting Corruption among justice and security officials. Participants concluded that their governments must cooperate more closely if they were to succeed in promoting public integrity and controlling corruption among their officials. OSCE efforts served as an example to others when the international community gathered in the Netherlands in 2001 for the Second Global Forum on Fighting Corruption.

  • Milosevic’s Crackdown in Serbia and Threat to Montenegro

    At this hearing, with Commissioners Chris Smith (NJ-04) and Benjamin Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) in attendance, witnesses testified on the atrocities committed by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Foremost on people’s minds was the conviction and sentence of years in prison of a Serbian journalist for committing “espionage” after he wrote about Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. More broadly, the hearing examined Milosevic’s efforts to perpetuate his power by forcing changes to the Yugoslav constitution and cracking down on forces in Serbia.  Also in attendance were Branislav Carak of the Serbian Independent Trade Union; Stojan Cerovic, fellow at the U.S. Institute of peace; Dr. David Dasic, head of the Trade Mission of the Republic of Montenegro; and Bogdan Ivanisevic, researcher at Human Rights Watch.

  • Torture in the OSCE Region

    In advance of the 2000 commemoration of the United Nations Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing to focus on the continuing problem of torture in the OSCE region. In spite of these efforts and the efforts of our Commission, including introducing and working for passage of two bills, the Torture Victims Relief Act and the Reauthorization of the Torture Victims Relief Act, torture continues to be a persistent problem in every OSCE country including the United States. This briefing considered two specific problem areas, Chechnya and Turkey, as well as efforts to prevent torture and to treat torture survivors. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Dr. Inge Genefke, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims; Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for  Europe and the Middle East, Amnesty International; and Douglas Johnson, Executive Director of the Center for the Victims of Torture – highlighted statistics about the number of torture victims in Turkey and Chechnya and related violations of individual rights.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing on Kosovo's Displaced and Imprisoned

    Mr. Speaker, this week the Helsinki Commission held a hearing to review the current situation in Kosovo and the prospects for addressing outstanding human rights issues there. More specifically, the hearing focused on the more than 200,000 displaced of Kosovo, mostly Serb and Roma, as well as those Albanians, numbering at least 1,600 and perhaps much more, imprisoned in Serbia. Witnesses included Ambassador John Menzies, Deputy Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State for Kosovo Implementation; Bill Frelick, Director for Policy at the U.S. Committee for Refugees; His Grace, Bishop Artemije of the Serbian Orthodox Church; Andrzej Mirga, an expert on Roma issues for the Project on Ethnic Relations and the Council of Europe; Susan Blaustein, a senior consultant at the International Crisis Group; and, finally, Ylber Bajraktari, a student from Kosovo. The situation for the displaced, Mr. Speaker, is truly horrible. In Serbia, most collective centers are grim, lacking privacy and adequate facilities. While most displaced Serbs have found private accommodations, they still confront a horrible economic situation worsened by the high degree of corruption, courtesy of the Milosevic regime. The squalor in which the Roma population from Kosovo lives is much worse, and they face the added burdens of discrimination, not only in Serbia but in Montenegro and Macedonia as well. There is little chance right now for any of them to go back to Kosovo, given the strength of Albanian extremists there. Indeed, since KFOR entered Kosovo eight months ago, it was asserted, more than 80 Orthodox Churches have been damaged or destroyed in Kosovo, more than 600 Serbs have been abducted and more than 400 Serbs have been killed. The situation for those Serbs and Roma remaining in Kosovo is precarious. Other groups, including Muslim Slavs, those who refused to serve in the Yugoslav military, and ethnic Albanians outside Kosovo, face severe problems as well, but their plights are too often overlooked. Meanwhile, the Milosevic regime continues to hold Albanians from Kosovo in Serbian prisons, in many cases without charges. While an agreement to release these individuals was left out of the agreement ending NATO's military campaign against Yugoslav and Serbian forces, with the Clinton Administration's acquiescence, by international law these people should have been released. At a minimum, the prisoners are mistreated; more accurately, many are tortured. Some prominent cases were highlighted: 24-year-old Albin Kurti, a former leader of the non-violent student movement; Flora Brovina, a prominent pediatrician and human rights activist; Ukshin Hoti, a Harvard graduate considered by some to be a possible future leader of Kosovo; and, Bardhyl Caushi, Dean of the School of Law, University of Pristina. Clearly, the resolution of these cases is critical to any real effort at reconciliation in Kosovo. This human suffering, Mr. Speaker, must not be allowed to continue. Action must be taken by the United States and the international community as a whole. Among the suggestions made, which I would like to share with my colleagues, are the following: First, get rid of Milosevic. Little if anything can be done in Kosovo or in the Balkans as a whole until there is democratic change in Serbia; Second, bring greater attention to the imprisoned Albanians in Serbia, and keep the pressure on the Milosevic regime to release them immediately and without condition; Third, rein in extremists on both sides, Albanian and Serb, in Kosovo with a more robust international presence, including the deployment of the additional international police as requested by the UN Administrator; Fourth, find alternative networks for improved distribution of assistance to the displaced in Serbia; Fifth, consider additional third-country settlement in the United States and elsewhere for those groups most vulnerable and unable to return to their homes, like the Roma and those who evaded military service as urged by NATO. Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I intend to pursue some of these suggestions with specific legislative initiatives, or through contacts with the Department of State. I hope to find support from my fellow Commissioners and other colleagues. Having heard of the suffering of so many people, we cannot neglect to take appropriate action to help, especially in a place like Kosovo where the United States has invested so much and holds considerable influence as a result.

  • Kosovo’s Displaced and Imprisoned (Pts. 1 – 3)

    This hearing focused on former residents of Kosovo who were forced to leave their homes because of the conflict. Slobodan Milosevic was identified as a key figure in the displacement and the commissioners and witnesses discussed the possibility of the end of his regime.

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    This briefing addressed the current situation of human rights in the former Yugoslavia and examined the role of the OSCE in bringing human rights to the forefront and attempting to hold governments accountable to their commitments in the post-Cold War era. Representatives from the Helsinki Committees in Montenegro and Kosovo, as well as the Director of the International Helsinki Foundation, were present at the briefing and spoke about the difficulties of raising awareness about human rights problem in each country with respect for the individual circumstances within the countries, and about the steps that might be taken in the future regarding increasing transparency within human rights.

  • Report on Human Rights: the Role of Field Missions

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  • Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia: Electoral and Political Outlook for 1999

    Robert Hand, policy advisor at the Commission, led a discussion regarding Bosnia and its different regions. He spoke of the situation in Bosnia in 1998 and the power of ethnically-based political parties, retained through nationalism, corruption, and control of the media. Reconstruction in Bosnia is poor due to poor economic conditions and the continued displacement of certain populations.  The witnesses - Luke Zahner, Candace Lekic, Jessica White, Roland de Rosier, Kathryn Bomberger, Brian Marshall – have served in regions all over Bosnia and gave valuable input on the differences between regions and their rehabilitations processes after the Dayton Accords. They also spoke of the influence of Republika Srpska and the Bosnian Federation on said regions.  Paying attention to these differences, the state, is important in that the United States wants to support only those that successfully implement the Dayton Accords. 

  • WHITHER HUMAN RIGHTS IN RUSSIA?

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  • The Milosevic Regime Versus Serbian Democracy and Balkan Stability

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    Senior Advisor to the Commission, E. Wayne Merry, chaired this briefing which was part of a series by the Commission on the subject of religious liberties within the OSCE region. This series was prompted by a perceived developing problem of restrictions on religious liberties in several participating states to the OSCE. At the time, the Commission was devoting most of its attention to the countries that that traditionally had a much more tolerant view toward religious minorities, such as those in Western and Central Europe. Participants in this briefing included Francesca Binda, Karen Gainer, and Paul Rowland, all with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI) personnel Eric Jowett and Kent Patton.

  • Deterioration of Religious Liberty in Europe

    This briefing addressed the persisting question of problems of religious liberty and the patterns of discrimination against religious minorities and other belief groups that had developed in a number of countries in the OSCE region in the aftermath of the Cold War. Efforts of improving religious liberty in former communist countries were discussed, as well as the need for spending time and attention on countries farther west, like France, Belgium, and Austria, in which concern for religious minorities was also expressed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights without Frontiers and James McCabe, Assistant General Counsel of Watchtower Bible and Tract Society – examined the multi-tiered system that European countries employ regarding religion, and the different statuses and treatment of citizens based on where their religion falls within this system. The issues faced by minority religious associations, like being targeted by fiscal services, were also topics of discussion.

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