Genocide in Kosovo?

By cockburn, Alexander | The Nation, November 8, 1999 | Go to article overview

Genocide in Kosovo?


cockburn, Alexander, The Nation


So, is there serious evidence of a Serbian campaign of genocide in Kosovo? It's an important issue, since the NATO powers, fortified by a chorus from the liberal intelligentsia, flourished the charge of genocide as justification for bombing that destroyed much of Serbia's economy and killed around 2,000 civilians, with elevated death levels predicted for years to come.

Whatever horrors they may have been planning, the Serbs were not engaged in genocidal activities in Kosovo before the bombing began. They were fighting a separatist movement, led by the KLA, and behaving with the brutality typical of security forces, though to a degree infinitely more restrained than those backed by the United States in Central America. One common estimate of the number of Kosovar Albanians killed in the year before the bombing is 2,500.

With NATO's bombing came the flights and expulsions and charges that the Serbs were accelerating a genocidal plan; on some accounts, as many as 100,000 were already dead. An alternative assessment was that NATO's bombing was largely to blame for the expulsions and killings.

After the war was over, on June 25, Bill Clinton told a White House press conference that on Slobodan Milosevic's orders "tens of thousands of people" had been killed in Kosovo. A week before, from the British Foreign Office came the statement from Geoff Hoon that "according to the reports we had gathered, mostly from the refugees, it appeared that around 10,000 people [that is, Kosovar Albanians] had been killed in more than 100 massacres." Of course, the US and British governments had an obvious motive in painting as horrifying a picture as possible of what the Serbs had been up to, since the bombing had come under increasingly fierce attack, with rifts in the NATO alliance.

The NATO powers had plenty of reasons to rush charges of genocide into the headlines. For one thing, it was becoming embarrassingly clear that the bombing had inflicted no significant damage on the Serbian Army. All the more reason, therefore, to propose that the Serbs were collectively guilty of genocide and thus deserved everything they got.

Throughout the end of June and July there were plenty of press accounts running along lines similar to a July 4 dispatch in the New York Times from John Kifner with this sentence in its lead paragraph: "The bodies keep turning up, day after day, and are expected now to number 10,000 or more."

On August 2 Bernard Kouchner, the UN's chief administrator in Kosovo, said that 11,000 bodies had already been discovered in mass graves in the province. According to a useful and interesting analysis put out on October 17 by Stratfor.com (an independent operation based in Austin, Texas, that offers intelligence briefings gratis on the Internet), Kouchner cited the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Republic of Yugoslavia as his authority, but the tribunal has said it hadn't provided any such information. Nonetheless, the 10,000 figure became the baseline, with some estimates soaring far higher. Teams of forensic investigators from fifteen nations, including a detachment from the FBI, have been at work since June. …

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