28 February 1998 – 11 June 1999
The Kosovo war was an armed conflict in Kosovo and Metohija, an autonomous province of Serbia, populated mainly by ethnic Albanians, between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (consisting of Serbia and Montenegro) on one side, and the Kosovo Liberation Army (an Albanian rebel group, also known as the KLA) on the other. Internationally, the province as a whole is now mostly known under the name of Kosovo, following its declaration of independence on 17 March 2008. Serbia, on the other hand, officially calls it Kosovo and Metohija, since it still considers it to be an autonomous province of Serbia.
From 28 February 1998 until 24 March 1999, the Kosovo conflict was non-international in nature, but from March 1999, the KLA had air support from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and ground support from the Albanian army.
With the Yugoslav 1974 Constitution, Kosovo became an autonomous province until 1989, when Slobodan Milosevic, Serbian leader, put it under the direct control of Belgrade. In July 1990, Kosovo Albanians declared independence from Serbia, but still failed to obtain independence or restore autonomy.
This triggered the struggle for Kosovo’s independence by Albanians, which led to the creation of the KLA in Macedonia in 1992. Its goal was to unite all Albanians from Kosovo, Greece, Albania and Macedonia into a Greater Albania.
Meanwhile, the situation in Kosovo intensified, with UN reporting that the police was depriving ethnic Albanians of their basic rights (education, employment).After the creation of the Dayton Agreement in 1995, which ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the KLA received a lot of popular support because negotiators in Dayton had not addressed the status of Kosovo. Shortly after, the KLA started launching attacks on police stations and law enforcement. This led to Belgrade responding and increasing the presence of Serbian paramilitaries in Kosovo.
In March 1998, a conflict broke out between the KLA and Serbian police and military. The KLA’s guerrilla offensive led to the rebels gaining control of a third of Kosovo by July of the same year.
On 23 September, UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1199, expressing grave concern regarding massive displacement of people, as well as the excessive use of force by Serbian Security Forces and Yugoslav Army. They demanded an end to hostilities and the maintaining of such a ceasefire.
In September 1998, NATO gave Milosevic an ultimatum to either halt all attacks in Kosovo, or Serbia would face air strikes.
In October 1998, Milosevic agreed to the establishment of the Kosovo verification mission, created by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Its tasks were related to requirements set forth in Resolution 1199, ensuring compliance with the requirements for the solution of the Kosovo crisis and supervising elections.
On 6 February 1999, NATO drafted a peace agreement – known as the Rambouillet agreement, after the French castle where it was initially proposed – and proposed it to Yugoslavia and Albanian majority. The agreement was refused by Yugoslavia, as the proposed level of Kosovo’s autonomy was unacceptable to Belgrade.
Since Milosevic did not respond to the ultimatum to halt attacks in Kosovo, NATO launched a military operation on 24 March 1999, under the name of “Operation Allied Force”. This was done without the approval of the UN Security Council and was the first time that NATO used military force against a state which did not pose a security threat to any of its member states. On 9 June 1999, an accord known as Kumanovo treaty was signed, which ended the war in Kosovo. The Operation Allied Force lasted until 10 June 1999, when Serbian forces retreated from Kosovo.
During Operation Allied Force, Yugoslavia allegedly expelled around 850’000 ethnic Albanians, who ended up as internally displaced persons. According to some reports, many were robbed, beaten, and their houses burned and looted, under a campaign of “ethnic cleansing”.
According to some later reports, the KLA also committed numerous atrocities, among others, illicit organ trafficking in both Kosovo and North Albania. Some of these crimes were also committed immediately after the conflict ended. These alleged crimes were committed against ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians who were considered traitors or collaborators with Belgrade.
On 10 June 1999, UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1244, which allowed NATO to secure and enforce withdrawal of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia forces from Kosovo and established the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Its main task is to ensure normal and secure life in Kosovo, and it still exists today.
In addition, Kosovo Force (KFOR), which is a NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo since 12 June 1999, has a task of ensuring security in Kosovo. It still operates today.
In order for the Kosovo judiciary, which was fragile and disorganised following the war, to be able to try all alleged crimes committed during the war, UNMIK issued regulations which enabled courts to prosecute perpetrators.
In 2000, “Regulation 64” Panels in Courts of Kosovo were created. These panels are mixed chambers at the local courts and are comprised of two international and one national judge. These panels work in collaboration with the ICTY. They have jurisdiction over those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In addition, as of April 2009, the EU Rule of Law Mission to Kosovo became fully operational pursuant to EU Joint Action from February 2008 and decisions of Council of European Union from June 2010 and June 2012. It operates alongside UNMIK, in prosecuting and investigating alleged crimes in Kosovo. This led to UNMIK having fewer functions today. EULEX mandate is to end in 2016.
In 2010, Dick Marty, a member of Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe, published his report on organised crime, illicit organ trafficking and other crimes committed in both Kosovo and North Albania during and immediately after the war in Kosovo. Some high ranking politicians are suspected perpetrators of atrocities during the war. Pursuant to the report, a Special Investigative Task Force (SITF) was created, in order to investigate the alleged crimes. A statement was published on 29 July 2014, where it was confirmed that the findings of the SITF are mostly in accordance with the Senator Marty’s report.
Pursuant to this report, it is expected that 2015 will see the establishment of a special court to prosecute alleged crimes by Kosovo guerrillas mentioned in Dick Marty’s report.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has prosecuted several high-ranking officials for the crimes committed in Kosovo. Among them is Slobodan Milosevic, former Yugoslav president.
In Serbia, the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor was established on 1 July 2003. It was created to identify and prosecute perpetrators of crimes against humanity and international law, and offences recognised by the ICTY Statute, regardless of the nationality, citizenship, race or religion of the perpetrator and the victim, as long as the acts were committed on the territory of former Yugoslavia after 1 January 1991. Its seat is in Belgrade, Serbia.
On 17 March 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. Since Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s statehood, this issue continues to give ground to difficult relations between Belgrade and Pristina even today.