Reading progress update: 256 of 277 pages.
The airport of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, is called Kosovo Polje — roughly translated, “blackbird field” (“kos” is blackbird in Serbo-Croat). Kosovo Polje is also the name of the battle (and battlefield) which, in 1389, opened the door for the Ottoman conquest of large chunks of the southern Balkans. Although the Serbian Empire had already crumbled of its own accord almost 20 years earlier, in 1371 (and although both armies were decimated in the 1389 battle; the difference being that the Serb forces didn’t have any reinforcements, whereas the Ottomans did), it is this battle which, to the present day, forms the cornerstone of Serbian nationalism. Serbian leaders and activists, even centuries later, again and again timed important events to take place on the anniversary of the battle (declarations of war, crucial battles and conquests within a war, important speeches, etc.) — not least among these, the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by a Serbian nationalist; the event that kicked off World War I.
When Koff went to Kosovo in 2000, they couldn’t fly into Kosovo Polje airport — it was war-damaged and closed. Although the Dayton Peace Process had, by that time, returned Bosnia and Croatia to the path towards peace, stability, justice and reconciliation, Slobodan Milošević and his cronies still weren’t done. Having lost their grip on Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, they turned their attention with ever greater force to Kosovo; after WWII an autonomous region within Serbia, but largely inhabited by Albanians (who for the most part, like the majority of Bosnians, are Muslims — whereas the majority of Serbs are Orthodox Christians). Tensions rose as Kosovo was stripped off its autonomous status, there was retaliatory violence by the radical Albanian “Kosovo Liberation Army” (KLA) — which, make no mistake, wasn’t any better than any of the other armed players of the 1990s’ Balkan wars –, and the Serbs rejected a peace plan that would have restored Kosovo’s autonomous status. Eventually, it took NATO bombardment for the Yugoslav and Serb forces to withdraw; however, even that didn’t put an immediate end to the violence and ethnic cleansing on the ground (again, both by and against Serbs and Kosovo Albanians, though again, too, the Serbs took the cake). In June 1999, Kosovo was at last placed under temporary international administration, and Milošević was indicted by the ICTY Office of the Prosecutor; originally for the events in Kosovo, with indictments for Croatia and Bosnia following later.
A few takeaways from the “Kosovo” section of Koff’s book, before I move on to the ICTY side of things:
* By this time, Koff had come a long way from the grad student who, four years earlier, had just been happy to be doing what she’d always dreamed of and what she believed was right. Like most everybody else involved in international humanitarian missions, Koff in 2000 had realized that there’s no quick fix for bringing a country from war back to lasting peace and reconciliation. Collecting the evidence of war crimes and prosecuting the perpetrators is an important, but only one building block within that process.
* She’d also learned that law enforcement works in circles (or rather, spirals): Once dedicated criminals have learned where they are vulnerable, they’re not just going to stop their criminal activity — rather, they’ll just up the ante (and force law enforcement agencies to follow suit in turn in order to be able to stay on their tracks). This is true for hackers, troll farms and other cybercriminals just as much as it is for war criminals, who — once they had clued into the fact that buried bodies may be unburied and used as evidence — in the final years of the 1990s simply started burning them, or disinterred them and reburied them hundreds of kilometers / miles from the combat zone, in territory under their own control. (Which in turn, however, of course, still doesn’t do away with the eye witness accounts of the murders. And in a genocide, there will always be bodies that are left behind to be found by investigators, just because of the sheer magnitude of this “crime of crimes” (not my term but that used by an ICTY judge in one judgment, IIRC in connection with Srebrenica)).
* The U.N., in turn, had also learned a few lessons from operations on the ground in Rwanda, Bosnia and Croatia, and was now finally giving their people some training at the start of the mission; most importantly, in connection with antipersonnel mines, as well as interactions with the local population and the — albeit as it turned out, for Koff only theoretical — prospect of a (much-needed) psychological debriefing. (If they were also trained in hostage situation behaviour, she doesn’t say as much — maybe it took yet another few years for that to become the standard it now is, too.) (On a personal note, the walkie-talkie goof exchanges — “hey, what are you guys having for dinner?” — sound familiar, too.) More importantly, the psychological training Koff now finally received enabled her to put her own experience, which probably included at least one or even two severe burn-outs, into perspective and understand what exactly had been happening to her.
* In terms of gaining a larger perspective on her current mission, she had also come full circle from Rwanda: Whereas there, that wider perspective had resulted from the small size of her team (thus making for a greater scope of responsibility for every team member) and from the limited resources (requiring a high degree of cooperation and discipline), in Kosovo her ability to see beyond the day-to-day realities of her own role was fostered by having assumed managerial duties and thus, having gained more of a bird’s eye view — of an operation much larger and, despite some bureaucratic snafus, much more professionally organized than those in Rwanda.
* Yet, although this final section is almost as long as the first one (Kibuye), I’m getting much less of a precise sense of what her job consisted (other than snippets here and there, like preparing orthodontical charts and helping with the exhumations in the graveyeards in the first two weeks). I don’t know to what extent this is due to the work routine in a morgue and the numerous procedures coming together there — or due to the fact that a substantial amount of the work in the morgue(s) was done by pathologists, not forensic anthropologists –; in any event, I had the same feeling after the section about Kigali (where part of her job was likewise morgue-related). In the other sections, I learned a lot about the way bodies are located and positioned in a grave, how they are exhumed, and where the challenges of this work are. I also learned (in all parts of the book, including Kosovo) about her teams’ interactions with the victims’ families and friends, those families’ and friends’ responses to their loss and to the work done by the forensic experts, and the challenges in identifying the victims (as well as the way in which these challenges could be overcome — and the limitations that circumstances imposed on all that). In the Kibuye, Bosnia and Croatia sections in particular, I was right there with Koff on the ground, in the graves, establishing the graves’ parameters, clearing away back dirt, exhuming bodies (though I will say my mind refrained from going down the “partly decomposed / maggot-riddled” road), and examining bullet wounds and the effect of blunt force trauma and machete cuts on the bodies / skeletons found. In the majority of both the Kigali and Kosovo sections, however, I felt at a much greater distance from the actual work processes — there, I was closest to her narrative when she was talking about her encounters with the victims’ families and other survivors of the massacres. By and large this didn’t get too substantially in the way of my overall assessment of the book, but if there’s one thing that niggles, it is this (and Koff’s concluding remarks on the origins of the conflicts — I have actually finished the book in the interim, but I’ve decided to reserve my comments on this part for my final review).
Now, on to the ICTY side:
Those indicted for war crimes in Kosovo were on the Serbian side:
- Slobodan Milošević,
- Vlastimir Đorđević, as well as
- Nebojša Pavković, Milan Milutinović, Nikola Šainović, Dragoljub Ojdanić, Nebojša Pavković, Vladimir Lazarević and Sreten Lukić
— and on the Kosovo Albanian side:
• The forced deportation of approximately 800,000 Kosovo Albanian civilians; to facilitate these expulsions and displacements, forces of the FRY (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) and Serbia deliberately created an atmosphere of fear and oppression through the use of force, threats of force, and acts of violence.
• The murder of hundreds of Kosovo Albanian civilians – men, women and children, which occurred in a widespread or systematic manner throughout the province of Kosovo.
• Sexual assaults carried out by forces of the FRY and Serbia against Kosovo Albanians, in particular women.
• A systematic campaign of destruction of property owned by Kosovo Albanian civilians accomplished by the widespread shelling of towns and villages; the burning and destruction of property, including homes, farms, businesses, cultural monuments and religious sites; as a result of these orchestrated actions, villages, towns, and entire regions were rendered uninhabitable for Kosovo Albanians
Assistant Minister of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs (Ministarstvo unutrašnjih poslova or MUP) and Chief of the Public Security Department (RJB) of the MUP responsible for all unitsand personnel of the RJB in Serbia, including Kosovo. For orchestrating the ethnical cleansing and genocide of Kosovo Albanians, as well as the mass rape of Kosovo Albanian women, sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment in the appeals judgment of January 27, 2014 (down from 27 years as ordered in the February 23, 2011 trial judgment; the appeals chamber found fault with some of the trial chamber’s determinations particularly in regard to ethnical cleansing / forced deportations).
No less than 55 pages of the judgment against Đorđević — which (not counting a “confidential annex”) is a total of 970 pages long — cover the evaluation of the forensic evidence regarding the bodies discovered in the various grave sites, not a small part of which bodies had been disinterred and moved all the way to Serbia in an effort of concealment. Of these 55 pages, the initial 3, as well as several pages in the individual sections, are concerned with establishing the credibility of the report(s) prepared by Eric Baccard, the chief pathologist of the Office for Missing Persons and Forensics (OMPF) team to which Koff belonged. In addition to OMPF, there were also various other national and international teams conducting the same sort of work — British, French, American, Danish, etc. (one of the British teams was headed by Val McDermid’s friend Dr. Sue Black, whom we “met” in Forensics, and whose ICTY-related experience reportedly forms the basis of McDermid’s Skeleton Road) — and as Baccard had been retained to also conduct an examination of the various national teams’ approaches, so as to ensure the reliability and comparability of their findings, his report covered more than the work of the OMPF team. This, and the fact that Koff isn’t specific as to which grave sites she worked on — or respectively, from which grave sites originated the bodies which they examined in the Orahovac morgue — makes it a bit difficult to pin down which of the evidentiary findings in the judgment may be related to her work specifically. Based on the dates of her missions (April / May and July 2000), I can’t find anything in the judgment’s section on the Baccard report that would match — even though Koff’s particular friend, the team’s chief anthropologist José Pablo Baraybar, also testified; yet, the OMPF-related section of the judgment refers exclusively to mass graves discovered and exhumed only in 2001.
- Nebojša Pavković (Commander of the Third Army of the Yugoslav Army (Vojska Jugoslavije or VJ)), sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment in the appeals judgment of January 23, 2014.
- Sreten Lukić (Head of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs — Ministarstvo unutrašnjih poslova or MUP — staff for Kosovo & Metohija), sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in the appeals judgment of January 23, 2014.
- Nikola Šainović (Deputy Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)), sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment in the appeals judgment of January 23, 2014.
- Dragoljub Ojdanić (Chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army (VJ)), sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in the trial judgment of February 26, 2009 (sentence was not appealed).
- Vladimir Lazarević (Commander of the Priština Corps of the VJ), sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment in the appeals judgment of January 23, 2014.
- Milan Milutinović (President of the Republic of Serbia), acquitted.
The charges against these men were essentially the same as against Đorđević (see above). Though the February 26, 2009 trial judgment comprises three volumes and a total of almost 1,500 pages and, again, goes into great detail as to the nature of the forensic evidence (including the expert reports and testimony of Eric Baccard and José Pablo Baraybar), again I can’t find any gave / exhumation sites that specifically seem to match up with any exhumations that Koff might have been involved with — I really wish she had been more specific where the bodies she worked on had been found.
- Haradin Bala (Guard at the KLA Lapušnik / Llapushnik prison camp; participated in the torture of at least 4 and the murder of 9 prisoners), sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment by the appeals judgment of September 27, 2007.
- Fatmir Limaj and
- Isak Musliu
(both allegedly KLA commanders in the Lapušnik / Llapushnik area and responsible for the prison camp there) were acquitted, after their participation in any crimes could not be proven with the requisite amount of certainty. Probably successful campaigns of witness intimidation were at least partically responsible for this outcome.
I can’t find any indications that Clea Koff was part of the forensic team that provided evidence for this prosecution, though José Pablo Baraybar testified as to the cause of death of the murdered prisoners. The trial chamber did not dispute his findings; rather, again, the difficulties were in tying the deaths to the accused.
If I’m not missing anything, every other Kosovo Albanian politician and KLA officer / member indicted by ICTY was also acquitted, for one reason or another. The ICTY trial and appeals chambers obviously had their reasons for these dispositions, and by and large, it is probably true that the Serbs committed the largest amount of war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. Still, I remember that a lot of Serbs considered ICTY biased against them, and statistics such as the above would doubtlessly have fueled those flames.
Overall Review and Comments on the Book’s Other Sections:
Overall Review: https://themisathena.info/clea-koff-the-bone-woman
Buddy Read Announcement: HERE.
Related Post: Kofi Annan: Interventions: A Life in War and Peace