Americans can learn some lessons from the findings of a special European Union prosecutor who believes Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leaders killed Serbs and others in the late 1990s in order to harvest and sell their organs.
On Tuesday, Clint Williamson — an American diplomat appointed EU prosecutor in 2011 to investigate crimes against humanity in Kosovo — released a scathing statement that accused the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) of murdering a handful of people and then trafficking their kidneys, livers, and other body parts. KLA leaders now run the tiny Balkan country’s government.
“If even one person was subjected to such a horrific practice, and we believe a small number were, that is a terrible tragedy and the fact that it occurred on a limited scale does not diminish the savagery of such a crime,” Williamson said in the statement.
Williamson determined that KLA fighters tortured and killed around 10 Serbian and Albanian Kosovar prisoners in secret camps in northern Albania, removed their organs, and sold the parts abroad for transplantation.
The KLA also murdered, kidnapped, and detained people illegally, and in general oversaw a reign of terror against its non-Albanian and Albanian opponents after the group won Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in 1999.
The important thing for Americans to recall here is that the KLA achieved victory with the help of United States and NATO bombers attacking Serbian forces.
At the time, President Bill Clinton portrayed the KLA as freedom fighters challenging Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic — a genocidal monster who died in a Hague prison cell in 2006. A few years ago, grateful Kosovars erected a bronze statue of Clinton in downtown Pristina, their capital.
But now, it turns out, members of the KLA were probably monsters, too.
“Our separatists are always good guys,” said Alan Kuperman, a public affairs professor at the University of Texas who has written about the moral hazards of intervening militarily for humanitarian purposes, speaking to VICE News. “Neither side was the good guy or the bad guy in this conflict in Kosovo. The way the story was portrayed in the 90s was always a caricature.”
The overlap with the US position on Russia’s involvement in Ukraine is troubling, said Kuperman.
“We condemn these separatists in Ukraine because they shot down a civilian plane,” he said. “They are evil, and Russia is bad for supporting them. But our separatists in Kosovo were trafficking in humans, in drugs, and allegedly in organ parts. But we’re not bad for supporting them. There’s a real double standard or hypocrisy.”
Serbia, human rights advocates, and EU and NATO officials have long alleged that the KLA operated like a mafia after independence, using intimidation and violence to consolidate power. And when he was fighting with the KLA, current Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci was known as “The Snake.”
“There is no doubt that in Kosovo there was widespread, systematic, and ethnically motivated persecution of the Serbian and non-Albanian population,” said Marko Djuric, director of the Serbian agency that oversees Kosovo, in a statement this week. “That is a truth that remains registered in the tragic history of this region.”
Serbia does not yet recognize Kosovo’s independence. It even operates its own mail system and other government agencies clandestinely in the country.
Williamson said he’d like to indict unspecified Kosovo leaders, but he can’t file charges until Kosovo establishes a special court to hear them. A statement by the Kosovo government said the special court will soon be up and running.
“This is the best evidence that Kosovo is a state of law and that it will continue to take all necessary steps in cooperation with international partners in this process,” the statement said.
But Williamson will need to convince Kosovar witnesses to testify against their leaders in order to make the charges stick. In a mafia state, that won’t be easy.
“As long as a few powerful people continue to thwart investigations into their own criminality, the people of Kosovo as a whole pay the price as this leaves a dark cloud over the country,” Williamson said.
Follow John Dyer on Twitter: @johnjdyerjr
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