Organ theft in Kosovo


Organ theft in Kosovo

The Kosovo organ theft/trafficking or Serbian Organ Harvesting (often referred to as Yellow House Case) is an alleged atrocity of organ theft and killing of 300 ethnic Serbs during and after the Kosovo War in 1999, committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army.[1][2] The first allegations appeared in the media with The Hunt: Me and the War Criminals, written by Carla Del Ponte (former ICTY chief prosecutor) in which she claims that Kosovo Albanians smuggled human kidneys of kidnapped Serbs after the Kosovo war ended in 1999, the accusations being backed by her own visit at the site,[1] several witnesses involved in and out of the ICTY, one of whom "personally made an organ delivery" to an Albanian airport for transport abroad, and "confirmed information directly gathered by the tribunal". Carla Del Ponte concluded that if the case had been opened before the Kosovo Albanian declaration of independence, world governments may not have had the same stance on the Kosovo question.[1][3]

In 2010, a report by Swiss prosecutor Dick Marty to the Council of Europe uncovered "credible, convergent indications"[4] that a clinic in Kosovo is implicated in an illegal trade in human organs going back over a decade.[5] The Medicus clinic outside Pristina is reportedly linked to a wider network of organized criminals with links to the highest level of Kosovo's government, including the Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.[5] On January 25, 2011, the report was endorsed by the Council of Europe, which called for a full and serious investigation.

Since the issue of the report, senior sources in Eulex and many members of the European Parliament have expressed serious doubts regarding the report, and believe it to be without foundation whatsoever, "Mr Marty hav[ing] failed to provide any evidence concerning the allegations". In a heated debate, Marty told the MEPs that a witness protection program was needed in Kosovo, before he could provide more details on witnesses to the alleged trafficking as their lives were in danger.[6] Bernard Kouchner, former top UN representative in Kosovo, has recently stated in the media: "We were aware of the extortions, but we never heard of organ trafficking," rejecting the accusations made by Carla Del Ponte.[7]

Contents

Background

After American journalist Michael Montgomery heard of the allegations after the Kosovo War, he contacted the UN. It was never looked into seriously.[8]

Information obtained by the B92 team from sources located in Belgrade claims the Serb prisoners were allegedly trafficked in trucks from Kosovo to a KLA camp in Kukes and then northern Albania (to the village of Gur, Albania, Rripe near Burrel, Mat District[9]) during and after the Kosovo War. The illegal operations were performed (while the prisoners were alive) in Building/Prison #320,[9] 20 km from the "Yellow House" mentioned as the site of the acts by former Hague Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte.[2]

Building/Prison 320 is a neuro-psychiatric clinic. We believe that surgical operations were carried out there on civilians, as the conditions existed for such a thing. There was a prisoner camp there, as well as a KLA camp...

...It differs markedly from what the Albanian prosecutor has been saying, who shut the case back in 2005.

—Serbian War Crimes Prosecution spokesman, [2]

.

It is also believed by the Serbian Government that the prisoners were prepared for operations in the "yellow house", but were re-located when International humanitarian aid such as the Red Cross came by. A large portion of surgical equipment was discovered both inside and outside the house, such as heavy drugs, needles and tubes used for surgical procedures. When the BBC investigated the house, the reply from the family that owns the house and land was that "the father and son in the family used the equipment, since ambulance is far away from here..." and "the local medic dumps his equipment here..."[10]

The victims were deprived of vital organs and then sewn up, only to be operated on again when other organs were needed for export.[3]

The B92 Serbian radio allegedly has documents revealing that Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha was asked by the KLA leader and former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj (His involvement in the organ theft is strengthened by Carla Del Ponte[1]) to send security forces to destroy all evidence connected to the disappearance and organ harvesting of Serbs from Kosovo that were transported to Albania.[9]

Bruno Vekarić, Serbia’s war crimes prosecutor, claims that an additional 40 mental patients from Stimlje are thought to be victims of the organ theft as well.[11]

Hashim Thaci, the Kosovo Albanian leader, on the question why KLA made terrible actions such as organ trafficking after the war, replied that "people from different parts, used the uniforms of the KLA, but we have distanced ourselves from these people, the misuse was minimal"[10]

Interview with the owners of the "yellow house"

"I’m telling you that it was only in 2001 that we painted it white, and only one strip on the ground level, one meter high, was yellow. I’m telling you how it was, if you don’t want me to, then leave! I’m telling you when and the reasons why! We had a wedding, we painted the house white, and at the bottom we left a yellow strip"
—Dashuri Katuqi, granddaughter of the owner

The Hague War Tribunal investigated the house, finding blood stains on the floor and walls of one of the rooms in the "yellow house". The residents initially denied the existence of any bloodstains, before, later, offering a variety of explanations. The owner, Abdulah Katuqi, claims that two children were born in the room in question. The housemates claim that the births took place in 1990 or 1991. The traces of blood was found in 2004 by using fluorescent lights. They also said that the room contained the blood of animals that they had “slaughtered outside, and had cut the meat up inside.”[9]

Re-launched Investigation

The investigation was re-launched on March 21, 2008, by War Crimes Prosecution of Serbia just in head of the release of the book on April 3, 2008. The prosecutors claim they have enough evidence "to search the whole of Albania" for mass-graves of Serbs.[12]

Serbia has urged Albania to cooperate and in late October 2008, Albanian officials replied that the charges were already investigated by the UN and Carla Del Ponte and that the Serbian Government had no new evidence.[13]

On November 14, UNMIK has let Serbia's War Crimes Prosecutors join their side in a new investigation about the yellow house.[14]

On November 20, ICTY (The Hague Tribunal) started cooperating with Serbia on the case. Serbia has received important information from Serge Brammertz (current ICTY chief), evidence of the alleged operation house in northern Albania, but the Albanian side wish not to cooperate. A report shows that seven points are confirmed in the allegations and that the Albanian prosecutor and UNMIK had failed to tell the truth when investigating the findings of different surgical equipment.[15]

In November, 2008, several men were arrested after a bust on an organ trafficking ring in Pristina after a Turkish national was questioned by the Kosovo Police. Two urologists and a manager working in the Medikus clinic, none of whom are qualified for surgical operations, only check-ups, were leading a business from their clinic that lasted from 1998 until their bust in late 2008. They did not wish to comment a connection between the Kosovo Serbs organs and the Medikus clinic.[16]

In June 2009, Igor Jučinac, Milutin Radanović and Predrag Željković, a Kosovo Serb and two Serbians, accused of serving as agents provocateurs were arrested by the Kosovo police, for allegedly offering money for statements on organ trade and mediators finding such information.[17] They are under investigation for inciting people to falsely testify that they were victims of "organ harvesting".[18] All of them were released in February 2010, and case was dismissed by EULEX as unfounded political propaganda.[19]

In August, 2009, representatives of the Council of Europe under Swiss senator Dick Marty were prevented to search houses relating to the case by the local Albanians in the village of Rripe. The mass said that they would not let anybody other than from the Albanian government to investigate the case. The Albanian and Kosovo authorities stated they will not look into the case.[20]

In December, 2009, sources say that four Czech citizens that went missing during the Kosovo War were likely to have been victims of the Organ harvesting, also, 3 Albanian men were arrested in northern Albania after 35 kilograms of heroin were found and evidence of the third being a human trafficker. Names that previously have been in connection with the organ theft case were mentioned once again and several countries in the EU are to investigate the case further. The Serbian War Crime Prosecution have said that new evidence have been found and that the investigation is ongoing.[21] The Council of Europe is still interested in the case and embassies are sending in their data to the War Crimes committee and new potential witnesses have been found that could "open up the case in the real sense of the word".[22]

New progress as of December 27, 2009, are names of several operators of the yellow house being uncovered, as well as further non-Serb victims; Russians and Czechs. The organs were sold "in the West and East, in Turkey, Saudi Arabia…”.[23]

Proof of prison camps in Albania where Albanians disloyal to KLA as well as Serbian civilians were tortured was found in a hotel in Kukes. Both dead and alive Serbians were transported across the border from Serbia into Albania by KLA, witnesses who claimed this are either dead or missing. A team led by Matti Raatikainen discovered blood and surgical tools in the basement of the "Yellow House", however the investigation was halted before it started. In total, around 13,500 civilians are believed to be killed.[24]

In addition, the Albanian government is trying to prevent inquiries into KLA war crimes and the organ trade,[25] even after proof of surgical procedures in the yellow house in the village of Burel was presented to them. Albanian officials believe that the allegations are not credible, while the NGO Human Rights Watch believes otherwise,[26] that simple harvesting on kidneys could have been easily performed even without surgical tools, although many were found at the scene.

2010 Report to the Council of Europe

On the 12 December 2010, a draft[27] report from Dick Marty to the Council of Europe was prereleased,[28] alleging that the Republic of Kosovo's prime minister, Hashim Thaci was the head of a "mafia-like" group responsible for smuggling weapons, drugs and human organs through eastern Europe.[29] This article made waves across the world and led to a series of similar reports.[30][31][32]

According to the report, the KLA held Serb prisoners in a network of six facilities in northern Albania, and that Thaci's "Drenica group" bears the greatest responsibility for the prisons and the fate of those held there.[29] A handful of the healthiest prisoners were then transferred to a farmhouse near Fushe-Kruje near the Albanian capital of Tirana where they were killed for their kidneys.[29] The report states

As and when the transplant surgeons were confirmed to be in position and ready to operate, the captives were brought out of the 'safe house' individually, summarily executed by a KLA gunman, and their corpses transported swiftly to the operating clinic.

Some of the captives were aware of the fate that awaited them and pleaded not to be "chopped up".[33] The organs were then subsequently shipped to Istanbul.[33]

Marty's report was presented to Council of Europe Foreign relations committee on December 16. 2010 and is expected to be on the agenda of Session of Council of Europe in late January.[29][34]

The draft says :

"We have obtained testimonial and documentary accounts from several dozen primary sources, notably including: combatants and affiliates of various armed factions that participated in the hostilities in Kosovo; [and] direct victims of violent crimes committed in Kosovo and the surrounding territories."
—Paragraph 23 - Marty report

The Swiss foreign ministry noted that Marty's report contained "grave accusations made on the basis of countless witness accounts and evidence." [35]

In 2011 Marty retracted from earlier comments and claimed that his report never implicated Thaci directly, but his close associates, and that is "hard to believe that he [Thaci] never heard about that".[36]

On January 25, 2011, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg voted to adopt a resolution based on the Marty report. 166 PACE members voted in favor, while 8 voted against the document. Several amendments proposed by the Albanian delegation were rejected.[37] The resolution calls on the international community and governments in Belgrade, Priština, as well as in Albania, to "undertake measures" in order to clear up the crimes.[38] The previous day the Guardian released NATO documents from 2004 describing Hashim Thaci as being under the control of former KLA logistics head Xhavit Haliti and the Albanian mafia. Haliti was described as "highly involved in prostitution, weapons and drugs smuggling", who "serves as a political and financial adviser to the prime minister". Haliti uses fake passports to travel abroad as he is blacklisted in several countries, including the USA. "Haliti is also named in the report by Marty, which is understood to have drawn on NATO intelligence assessments along with reports from the FBI and MI5," says the article.[39] According to the report, the Medicus case is linked with an earlier organ trade going back over a decade, involving Serb and other prisoners of Kosovo Liberation Army who were murdered for their organs.[5] The report states that after the Kosovo War, around several hundred Serb and other prisoners of the KLA were reportedly held in a network of KLA detention facilities in northern Albania.[5] After medical checks, the healthiest ones were selected, summarily shot in the head and their organs shipped to Istanbul for transplant.[5] Kosovo's government has denied the allegations and criticized the report as "biased", "politically motivated" and "anti-Albanian". Speaking at a press conference, Marty claimed that the content of his report was known to Western intelligence agencies, who deliberately chose to downplay the allegations for the sake of foreign-policy objectives.[40] On January 25, 2011, the report was endorsed by the Council of Europe, which called for a full and serious investigation.[37] In March 2011 Marty presented his report to the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, whose members after the meeting said that Marty didn't provide any evidence, while some of them claimed that he attacked and accused of bias those who questioned his report.[41]

Reactions by the European Union

The EULEX announced that they take the report very seriously and called for evidence.[42] The EULEX Special Prosecutor's Office is to meet with Albanian officials to discuss the organ case (January 17, 2011).[43]

Reactions by Kosovo Albanian politicians

Thaci denied the allegations. His associates announced they would file a lawsuit against Marty.[35]

Interim President Jakup Krasniqi asked the EU not to endorse the report "I welcome your support in not allowing adoption of this report as an official document of the Council of Europe."[44]

Former Kosovo prime minister and KLA commander, currently Social Democrat leader Agim Ceku, accused Belgrade for the allegations. "Every accusation against the KLA comes from Serbia or its helpers," he told Reuters. "It's just an attempt to blacken our war and our victory."[45]

Thaqi promised on the 26th of Dec that he will publish a list of witnesses who contributed to the report that would discredit it, stating “There are witnesses and evidence which shows in what way the report was made".[46]

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha responded by calling Marty "racist" and "anti-semitic",[47] while Albanian MP Shpetim Idrizi alleged that the report "is something ordered by Russia and Serbia, and offers no facts. This is a story full of untruths and propaganda."[37]

UNMIK Chief Lamberto Zannier told the AP that EULEX, which is now in charge of dealing with war crimes in Kosovo, was given every war crimes file that the Yugoslavia tribunal and the UN possessed, including witness statements.[48]

Other reactions

On February 8, 2011, The Wall Street Journal published an article on the website, by Denis MacShane, questioning the allegations in Marty's report. In MacShane's article he states that according to a respected international lawyer of the Hague, Sir Geoffrey Nice, the Marty report provides no evidence, no victims and a witness that does not exist. The witness is referred to as K-144, but the list of Kosovo witnesses range from K-001 to K-116. Nice goes on to dismiss these allegations as attempts to undermine Kosovo's independence.[49]

On February 17, 2011, France24 obtained a classified document[50] which suggests that the UN knew about the organ trafficking and the criminal involvement of senior Kosovo Liberation Army commanders, as early as 2003.

Leaked Documents

UNMIK-ICTY documents (CX-103)

The Associated Press obtained confidential material of the United Nations (given by an anonymous official), which was confirmed on February 20, 2011, by former UNMIK Forensics and Missing Persons Office Head Jose Pablo Baraybar.[48] The 30-page compilation of statements was made by at least eight people "low to midlevel ranking KLA members" to the UN, showing the international bodies failure at the investigation of war crimes committed by ethnic Albanians during and after the Kosovo War.[51][52] The documents have been given the name CX-103.[53]

In 2002-2003,[48] ethnic Albanian witnesses from Kosovo and Montenegro serving in the KLA gave detailed testimonies about the killings and trade of organs of ethnic Serb civilians in the aftermath of the Kosovo War, as late as the summer of 2000. The witnesses explained the scheme; Serbs in the age 25-50[52] were driven by trucks and vans to Albania where they were held in detention centers and some went through medical checks at given locations, how they buried hundreds of victims to hide evidence of the killings, the victims being captives used for their kidneys, livers and other organs. The UN briefly investigated the claims in 2004 but never launched the probe, prompting accusations of double standards from Serbia.[51][52] Most of the victims were Serbs who were abducted in Kosovo between June and October 1999, the document stated.[53]

The captives were held at different KLA-run prisons in Albania, their organs removed at a home set up as a medical clinic (specialized equipment and medical personnel were at place to carry out the operations).[51][52]

Head of the Hague Tribunal Mission to Skopje and Priština Eamon Smith sent a letter to Hague Tribunal Chief Investigator Patrick Lopez Terez on October 30, 2003, informing him about his meeting and conversation with UNMIK Justice Department Head Paul. E. Coffey. Smith first presented his conclusions regarding the human organ trafficking case, explaining that between 100 and 300 people were kidnapped in mid-1999 and transported to detention facilities in northern Albania by trucks and vans.

In December 2003, top justice official in Kosovo Paul Coffey, wrote to ICTY official in Kosovo Jonathan Sutch that the alleged crimes were reported to the UN in Kosovo by "multiple sources of unknown reliability." Coffey said the information was "based on interviews with at least eight sources, the credibility of whom is untested, all ethnic Albanians from Kosovo or Montenegro who served in the KLA."[48][51][52]

One of the witnesses is quoted as telling the UN that the first two organ harvesting surgeries were done "to breach the market," and that traffickers later were able to make up to 45,000 US dollars per body.[52] "The largest shipment was when they did 5 Serbs together. ... He said they took a fortune that time," the source said according to the document. "Other shipments were usually from two or three Serbs," he said.[51][52]

A source said that the organs were taken to the Rinas airport in Tirana and the Istanbul airport, and that workers at the airports were bribed "to close their eyes.". Two sources said they personally took part in delivering body parts to Tirana’s international airport. One source said he was instructed by KLA superiors not to beat the prisoners and that he became suspicious when they were to deliver "a briefcase or a file with papers that would be given to the doctor when the captives were delivered" to the house in northern Albania. He said that he used to bring prisoners there but never drove any of them back.[51][52] Witnesses claim that top ethnic Albanian KLA members, doctors from Kosovo and abroad were fully aware of the transport and surgeries and that they were actively involved in them.[53]

The flight between the two cities takes about 1 hour 45 minutes, sources told the UN, adding that the house where the organs were allegedly harvested was a two-hour drive from the airport. If packed in ice after removal, organs are viable for several hours after extraction — hearts and lungs for four-six hours, livers for 18–24 hours, kidneys for 24–48 hours.[51][52]

The UN and ICTY investigators visited a house in the village of Rripe in 2004 and found pieces of medical equipment, medicine boxes and blood traces.[51][52]

The documents confirm the report of the Council of Europe.[51][52]

References

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