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The Office of War Crimes Issues and Kosovo

David Scheffer, United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues

With respect to Kosovo, this is a matter that began for us in my office, the Office of War Crimes Issues in the State Department, as early as March 1998 with the first massacre in Kosovo at that time. We started to work this issue with the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. There were some early issues that were involved - financing investigations; we put money up for that—a substantial amount, actually. We also had to work out issues of whether or not the tribunal had jurisdiction in Kosovo, and we were strongly supportive of that proposition: and it is the proposition that prevailed, that it does has jurisdiction. And we also tried to continue to maintain our surveillance and information gathering capabilities with respect to the atrocities in Kosovo throughout 1998. When the worst atrocities began to occur, starting in January of 1999 with the Račak Massacre and then cascading into the horrific crimes beginning in March of 1999 in Kosovo and stretching into June of 1999, almost my entire office became dedicated to the Kosovo effort: determining what was going on, determining how we could best assist the War Crimes Tribunal, providing it with information ensuring that perpetrators of these crimes could be identified to the greatest extent possible. What was the character of these crimes? What was the pattern of military movement? How did those military movements correspond to atrocities occurring on the ground? So, we were deeply involved on a day-to-day basis with that operation, and also trying to get out to the world as much information as we could about the character of the criminal activity in Kosovo. When the NATO operation began and the withdrawal of the Serb forces took place, we worked extremely hard to get the Federal Bureau of Investigation into Kosovo—and we succeeded in doing so—to provide forensic support to the War Crimes Tribunal, to go to crime scenes throughout Kosovo. This was the largest crime scene in Europe since World War II. And the FBI has done a tremendous job; in fact, they deployed again in August of 1999 to do many more sites for the War Crimes Tribunal. So, we’ve been deeply involved in working that out and getting our teams on the ground to do forensic work. I might also add, by the way, that after the beginning of the conflict around April 1 or so, as the refuges were streaming out of Kosovo, I was able to get to the border at Blace, Macedonia: the first, you know, U.S. official other than Ambassador Chris Hill, our ambassador to Macedonia, to get to that border. And I was there just as they were starting to come across the border and the trains were dumping them out. And I was able to spend three days interviewing these refugees and getting a very good picture of the crimes that they were experiencing in Kosovo, a very early stage of the conflict. And that enabled me to alert Washington, in a very concrete way, as to the seriousness of what was being reported, and launching from that point forward as comprehensive an information gathering process as we could and expanding those refugee interviews through U.S. government interviewers on site, as well as a large army of non-governmental organizations that got on site in Albania and Macedonia to undertake these very critical interviews of refugees who serve as live witnesses to the criminal conduct in Kosovo.

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About David Scheffer