Bleeding Heart of the Balkans

In the spring of 1996 I went to Kosovo, the conflict-ridden southernmost province of Serbia & Montenegro, home to a large majority of ethnic Albanians and one of the flashpoints for the conflct that consumed the Balkans in the 90s. I wanted to cover an angle of the Balkan conflict that hadn't already been done to death, and the editor of the Danish Amnesty International magazine agreed to take the story. The story was published in the September 1996 issue of "Amnesty Nyt", the newsletter of the Danish Amnesty. (In the course of writing this story, I would also meet my future wife, an American doctor working in Kosovo at the time)

One of the fires that ignited the war in former Yugoslavia was lit in the Kosova region of southern Serbia. There, the hatred between Serbs and ethnic Albanians has if anything increased since, and there is a real risk that the conflict in Kosova may once again set the Balkans ablaze.

"The Serbs do not have enough police to stop the entire Albanian people, should they choose to join forces against them."

The statement is made by Adem Demaci, an energetic 60-year old writer, winner of the Sakharov prize for his efforts to help the ethnic Albanian communities throughout the Balkans. As the head of the Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms (CDHRF) he has spent the past six years monitoring the Serbian violations of human rights in Kosova. In 1995 alone, his council reported 3487 cases of unwarranted arrests, 3296 cases of torture and violence, and 16 deaths, six of these as a result of torture while in police custody. Since 1989 more than 27,000 violations have been registered and reported to the world outside the isolated region.

The CDHRF are now alone in undertaking this work, following the 1993 eviction of all other human rights observers from Kosova, including Amnesty International and the OSCE by the Serbian authorities. Any criticism of the current state of affairs in Kosova has since been summarily rejected by Belgrade as "an international campaign in support of Albanian seperatists."

Few if any talks are taking place between the opposing parties, and Carl Bildt, special envoy of the EU to former Yugoslavia, has recently stated that he "considers the situation in Kosova the greatest threat against peace in the Balkans."

Amnesty International has on numerous occasions voiced unequivocal criticism of the violent conduct of the Serbian authorities in Kosova and has pointed to the long list of international treaties and conventions which the Serbs have committed to abide by.