No Genocide, No Justification For War on Kosovo – Toronto Star 3 November 1999

Toronto Star November 3, 1999


Richard Gwyn

IN THE GENOCIDE of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo by the forces of Serb
leader Slobodan Milosevic, the worst incident occurred at the Trepca

As reported by American and NATO officials, large numbers of bodies
were brought in by trucks under the cover of darkness. The bodies were then
thrown down the shafts, or were disposed of entirely in the mine’s vats
of hydrochloric acid. Estimates of the number of dead began at 1,000.

That was six months ago, in the middle of the war undertaken to halt
what both U.S. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony
Blair called “a human catastrophe.” Estimates of the number of ethnic
Albanians slaughtered went upward from 10,000. U.S. Defence Secretary
William Cohen put the count at 100,000.

Three weeks ago, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former
Yugoslavia released the findings of Western forensic teams
investigating the horror at Trepca. There were not 1,000 bodies down the mine shafts at Trepca, reported the tribunal. There were not 100 bodies there.
There was not one body there, nor was there any evidence the vats had ever
been used to dispose of human remains.

Shortly afterward, the tribunal reported on its work at the most
infamous of all the mass graves of ethnic Albanians, at Ljubenic near
the town of Pec. Earlier, NATO officials had said 350 victims had been
hastily buried there by the retreating Serb forces. There were not 350
bodies at Ljubenic, though. There were five.

So far, not one mass grave has been found in Kosovo, despite four
months’ work by forensic teams, including experts from the FBI and the

This discovery – more accurately, this non-discovery – first was made
public three weeks ago by the Texas-based intelligence think tank,
Stratfor. Stratfor estimated the number of ethnic Albanian dead in
Kosovo at 500.

Last weekend, the story was broadcast for the first time by the TV
Ontario program Diplomatic Immunity. (Last Sunday’s New York Times was
still using the “10,000 deaths” figure.)

The story has begun to appear in European newspapers. Spain’s El Pais
has quoted the head of the Spanish forensic team, Emilo Pujol, as
saying he had resigned because, after being told to expect to have to carry
out 2,000 autopsies, he’d only had 97 bodies to examine, none of which
“showed any signs of mutilation or torture.”

Because 250 of 400 suspected mass graves in Kosovo remain to be
examined, it’s possible that evidence of mass killings will yet be
found. This is highly unlikely though, because the worst sites were dug
up first.

No genocide of ethnic Albanians by Serbs, therefore. No “human
catastrophe.” No “modern-day Holocaust.”

All of those claims may have been an honest mistake. Equally, they may
have been a grotesque lie concocted to justify a war that NATO
originally assumed would be over in a day or two, with Milosevic using
the excuse of some minimal damage as a cover for a surrender, but then
had to fight (at great expense) for months.

There’s no question that atrocities were committed in Kosovo,
overwhelmingly by the Serb forces, although the ethnic Albanian
guerrillas were not innocent. Quite obviously, these forces, acting on
Milosevic’s explicit orders, carried out mass expulsions of people,
terrorizing them and destroying their homes and property.

Acts like these are inexcusable. That they occur often in civil wars
(far worse are being committed by the Russians in Chechnya), is
irrelevant to their horror. But they have nothing to do with genocide.

No genocide means no justification for a war inflicted by NATO on a
sovereign nation. Only a certainty of imminent genocide could have
legally justified a war that was not even discussed by the U.N.
Security Council.

No genocide means that the tribunal’s indictment of Milosevic becomes
highly questionable. Even more questionable is the West’s continued
punishment of the Serbs – the Danube bridges and the power stations
remain in ruins – when their offence may well have been stupidity
rather than criminality.

The absence of genocide may mean something else, something deeply
shaming. To halt the supposed genocide, NATO bombed targets in Serbia
proper. Because of “collateral” or accidental damage, such as the
bombing of a train, some 500 civilians were killed (Belgrade claims
almost 1,000 deaths). NATO very likely killed as many people as were
killed in Kosovo.

The number of these dead isn’t large enough to justify NATO’s actions
being called a “human catastrophe.” But, unless proof of genocide can
be produced, NATO’s actions were clearly a moral catastrophe.