Massacres in Kosovo never happened, say Canadians who investigated mass graves
The Ottawa Citizen
August 29, 2004
The war crimes tribunal in The Hague is “beginning to panic” over its case against former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic according to a Vancouver detective sent to unearth mass graves in Kosovo and a Canadian filmmaker who documented the exhumations.
“I would think they’ll have a tough time with the charge of genocide with only 5,000 bodies,” said retired Vancouver detective sergeant Brian Honeybourn. “It seems as though The Hague is beginning to panic.”
Mr. Milosevic’s trial is to resume next week with the former Serbian dictator defending himself against charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Former Canadian Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour made history when she laid the charges — the first against a head of state — as the tribunal’s special prosecutor.
Calgary filmmaker Garth Pritchard and Sgt. Honeybourn are critical of Ms. Arbour, now UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and her claims that the Serbs, directed by Mr. Milosevic, murdered as many as 200,000 civilians during its ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.
The alleged massacres were used by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Western leaders as justification for their bombing campaign and intervention in Kosovo, and were regularly and routinely reported as fact on television networks such as the CBC and CNN, as the West backed the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against the Serbs.
“This was a massacre that never happened,” Mr. Pritchard maintains. “I was standing there when the forensic teams were telling Louise Arbour there were no 200,000 bodies and she didn’t want to know.”
Mr. Pritchard, who has produced more than a dozen documentaries on the Balkan and Afghan wars, said yesterday he has been approached by Hague prosecutors to testify in their case against Mr. Milosevic after turning down a request to appear as a defence witness for the former president.
“I was telephoned by an RCMP officer seconded to the Hague tribunal’s investigative unit, a corporal named Tom Steenvoorden, who told me the total number of bodies they have recovered amounts to 5,080, which is a far cry from 200,000,” he told the Citizen.
“I want someone like Peter Mansbridge or Ms. Arbour to tell me where the other 195,000 bodies are. This is a massacre that never happened.”
Mr. Pritchard said he refused to co-operate with the Hague prosecutors, just as he had with representatives of Mr. Milosevic.
Other Canadians who have been named as potential defence witnesses include Citizen reporter David Pugliese and retired Maj.-Gen Lewis MacKenzie, who have both said they will refuse, and war correspondent and magazine publisher Scott Taylor, who has agreed to defend articles he wrote for the Citizen from Kosovo.
Sgt. Honeybourn and forensic team leader Brian Strongman echoed Mr. Pritchard’s doubts that the genocidal massacre by the Serbs ever took place.
“I can’t say that there weren’t 200,000 bodies because I wasn’t covering the entire country,” said Sgt. Honeybourn. “But I never saw any sign of anything like 200,000. If there were that many, then why did they have us exhuming single graves? The biggest mass grave we examined contained about 20 and there was another one of 11. But mostly our nine-member team worked on single graves.”
Mr. Strongman said he recalls that exhumations by the Canadian group and 11 other international teams never matched the “rumours” of mass graves holding the bodies of many thousands.
“We only spent 45 days there,” he said, “but I believe the largest mass grave we investigated held 20 bodies. I was in Bosnia and remember one mass grave that held 200 — certainly we never saw anything like that in Kosovo. Of course, Louise Arbour and people had to talk about figures like 200,000 to justify bringing in NATO.”
Sgt. Honeybourn, a veteran of more than 30 years of police work, was a member of the first Canadian forensic specialist team that joined units from several western countries in the search for the alleged 200,000 buried victims.
Now he maintains that the Hague staff under Ms. Arbour was confused and incompetent.
“Our resources were not maximized, simple as that,” he said. “There seemed to be a pronounced lack of co-ordination, which was extremely frustrating. I don’t think we were deployed properly.”
In the six weeks Sgt. Honeybourn spent digging up fetid graves in Kosovo during the sweltering summer of 1999, the Canadian team exhumed 86 bodies.
Outside of being able to give information to family members of bodies they exhumed and identified, he regarded the mission, which cost Canada more than $1.2 million, as an investigative failure and “a waste of time.”
© The Ottawa Citizen 2004