FHP calls on authorities to solve murders of Bytyqi brothers

The Humanitarian Law Center (FHP) has issued a statement on the anniversary of the killing of three US citizens of Albanian origin.

Source: B92, FHP

The brothers Bytyqi traveled to Serbia to fight in the ranks of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the 1999 war in Kosovo. They were captured by Serbian authorities shortly after the war and sentenced to 15 days in prison for having illegally crossed the state border between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Albania.

The three were released early from a prison in Prokuplje, from where they were collected by unknown persons. The brothers were eventually executed with bullets fired to the back of their heads. The bodies were discovered in 2001 in a mass grave in a police training ground in Petrovo Selo.

The FHP NGO's press release on Monday, entitled, "The government of Serbia must determine criminal responsibility for the insensitive murder of the brothers Bytyqi," reads as follows:

"July 9, 2018, marks 29 years passing since the killing of the brothers Mehmet (21), Agron (23) and Ylli (25) Bytyqi, committed by members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia (MUP). Almost two decades of continuous failure of investigative actions undertaken by the War Crimes Prosecutor's Office and the Interior Ministry in sheddling light on the killings of Mehmet, Ylli and Agron, points out that the perpetrators of the 1990s crimes are still stronger than the institutions and the rule of law, that justice in Serbia remains selective, and that those responsible for the execution of the Bytyqi brothers are above the law.

The Bytyqi brothers were arrested at the entrance to Serbia for illegally crossing the border, to be released from prison after serving their sentence, and then killed. Their bodies were found in the spring of 2001 in a mass grave in Petrovo Selo. On 23 August 2006, the War Crimes Prosecution indicted former members of the 124th PJP Intervention Brigade Sreten Popovic and Milos Stojanovic, for war crimes against prisoners of war. The defendants in this case were acquitted due to the lack of evidence. The trial was marked by obstruction by the MUP and threats to police officers who testified during the hearings. Vladimir Vukcevic, a former war crimes prosecutor, confirmed during his visit to RTV N1 on July 2, 2018, that there was obstruction in this case.
According to the evidence produced during the trial and publicly available data, the killing of Agron, Ylli and Mehmet was ordered by the then Interior Minister of Serbia Vlajko Stojiljkovic. The command was transferred by the command chain to the executer. In the chain of command, the then head of the Public Security Departmen Vlastimir Djordjevic, convicted by the Hague Crimes Tribunal for crimes in Kosovo, as well as former commander of the PJP and the teaching center in Petrovo Selo, today a businessman, founder of the NGO Center for the Study of Terrorism and member of the Main Committee of the Serb Progressive Party, Goran Radosavljevic Guri.

Although 19 years have passed since the murder of the Bytyqi brothers, the United States does not allow this crime to remain uninvestigated, unpunished, and forgotten. On May 21, 2015, members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Congress presented to the House of Representatives a resolution on the importance of establishing responsibility for the killing of American citizens Mehmet, Agron and Ylli Bytyqi in 1999 in Serbia. This resolution was again before the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on June 28, 2018, when it was adopted. By adopting a resolution in the Foreign Affairs Committee, the path for its adoption before the full membership of the US Congress was opened. Members of the Bytyqi family also attended the session to discuss the resolution. In the resolution, it is clearly pointed out that "any progress in the resolution of this case, or a lack thereof, must remain a decisive factor in the further development of relations between America and Serbia," and that it is condemnable that 'no one has been found guilty of executing the brothers Bytyqi or any other crime related to their deaths.' The adoption of this resolution, according to US Ambassador Kyle Scott, is an expression of the impatience and frustration of the United States, because for 19 years there has been no truth in this case.

The Bytyqi case illustrates well the fact that in Serbia there was never a political will to have cases like this investigated and to punish the responsible ones. This is also evident from the fact that the only occasion when the Serbian authorities mention the Bytyqi case are meetings with US officials. During his visit to Washington in June 2015, then Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic promised that Serbia would 'very quickly' shed light on this crime. However, even three years after this promise there is no progress in this case.

Serbia is still very far from engaging in any systematic undertaking to establish the truth and responsibility for the crimes committed in the past. After 19 years, witnesses are dying, and the memory of the Bytyqi case in Serbia is slowly fading. For the War Crimes Prosecution, one of the priorities should be to investigate and prosecute as soon as possible the current and former officials believed to be responsible for the death of the Bytyqi brothers and thus show that the perpetrators of the 1990s crimes are not stronger than the institutions and the rule of law in Serbia."


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