An analysis of the sequences of NATO bombing and patterns of refugee departures from their homes leads to the conclusion that only a small fraction of Kosovar Albanians fled Kosovo as a direct result of NATO bombing raids. The data also suggest that NATO bombs falling in a specific locale were neither a motivation for Kosovar Albanians to flee, nor were they a significant impetus for local Serbs to evict their ethnic Albanian neighbors. Explaining the pattern of refugee flight in distinct phases-first primarily from the west and south, then from the north and east, and then again from the south-requires something other than local or tactical reactions to the NATO air campaign.
The findings in this report suggest that the Yugoslav military, police, and paramilitary apparatus may have used the bombing as a broad political excuse to conduct a previously prepared operation to evict ethnic Albanians. In less than three days after the NATO air campaign began, tens of thousands of people were forced from their homes. The operation to expel Kosovar Albanians was sustained at a high level for over seven weeks. During this period, the Yugoslav authorities maintained a force of more than 50,000 soldiers, police, and paramilitary irregulars inside Kosovo1 and conducted a complex operation to evict more than 850,000 people.2 A campaign on this scale required detailed advance planning. It is our conclusion that the evictions were not spontaneous: mass migration on this scale and in this pattern could only have been driven by a centralized policy, not by individual decisions or emotions of either Kosovar Albanians or local Yugoslav military or police officials.
Refugee movements occurred in periodic surges. Over time, the flow of people leaving their homes emanated from different regions of Kosovo, and the flows occurred in peak periods separated by relatively calmer periods. The phases-periods during which many thousands of people left their homes separated by periods when relatively few people left their homes-correspond closely to the shifts in regional origins of the departing refugees. The coherence of the phases, and their apparent coordination across broad regions of Kosovo suggests that Yugoslav authorities devised and implemented a policy to attempt to clear at least certain regions of ethnic Albanians.
On 27 May 1999, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) announced the indictment of five Yugoslav leaders for war crimes, including deportation.3 The statistical analysis presented in this report supports the allegation by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) that senior Yugoslav officials are guilty of individual or “superior criminal” responsibility for these crimes. We find that the migration patterns of Kosovar Albanians are consistent with the hypothesis that there was a coordinated and organized effort to drive them from their homes. The organization required to coordinate this action had to have been so great that it is implausible that the accused Yugoslav officials did not, at a minimum, know what was happening.
In the data presented here, refugee flows do not follow patterns of mass killings. As with bombing, massacres occasionally coincided with heavy refugee flows. However, there are many areas in which many refugees departed but there were no massacres, and there are other areas in which mass killings were committed yet from which there were relatively few refugees. Qualitative sources provide substantial and consistent evidence that Yugoslav authorities used terror and brutality to force Kosovar Albanians from their homes. However, findings from this report support the hypothesis that the conditions which led to mass killings were more locally specific than the generalized policy which directed forced evictions. For example, Yugoslav forces executed groups of Kosovar Albanians, primarily men, in retaliation for KLA attacks or because the victims lived in villages or towns thought to be KLA strongholds.4
Finally, this report finds that NATO’s bombing was tactically ineffective at stopping the forced eviction of Kosovar Albanians. While NATO bombing was not the cause of the migration, neither did the bombing stop Yugoslav forces from driving hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians from their homes.
1 The OSCE reported that there were 15,000 - 20,000 regulars from the Yugoslav Army and approximately 30,000 police and irregulars in Kosovo during this period (6 December 1999: ch. 3). Police and regular army units coordinated closely with each other; see “Report on Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law in Kosovo in 1998,” (Feb. 1999), New York: No Peace Without Justice (www.radicalparty.com). Return to Text
2 The OSCE’s estimate is 863,000 (6 Dec. 1999: ch. 14). Return to Text
3 See the ICTY 27 May 1999 press release (JL/IPU/403-E). Return to Text
4 Mass killings committed by Serb authorities retaliating for KLA attacks or against civilians in areas alleged to be KLA strongholds were seen in many areas, but especially in the Drenica region. Human Rights Watch documented this pattern before the war (A Week of Terror in Drenica, February 1999; “Humanitarian Law Violations in Kosovo,” October 1998) and during the war (“Ethnic Cleansing” in the Glogovac Municipality, July 1999). The OSCE report describes how Serb authorities subjected areas under KLA control to a “high level of mass killing of men with utmost brutality” (6 Dec. 1999: ch. 5). Return to Text