Twenty years have passed since the Kosovo war and justice still eludes the tens of thousands who were raped and/or killed, including three Long Island men executed in Serbian territory, their brother and other victims’ advocates said Tuesday at an emotional Washington, D.C., hearing.
“Victims cannot be ignored,” Ilir Bytyqi of Hampton Bays told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
His brothers, Agron, Mehmet and Ylli, who also lived in Hampton Bays, were killed in 1999. Their bodies were found two years later in a mass grave.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing focused on the Serbian government’s role in the ethnic violence, which included the rapes of about 20,000 people and the deaths of more than 13,000 people.
Chairman Eliot Engel (D-Bronx/Westchester) called attention to the concealment of bodies during the conflict, citing a report by the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center and repeating one point for emphasis.
"To this day, no one — 20 years — no one has been held accountable before courts in Serbia for the large-scale operation of concealment of bodies of Kosovo-Albanian victims in mass graves," he said.
Agron, Mehmet and Ylli Bytyqi in April 1999 joined in the fight against Serbian forces killing ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo. Just after the war's official end, they crossed accidentally from Kosovo into Serbian territory while escorting an ethnic Romani family to the border and were captured and jailed, according to news media and government reports.
Rather than being freed, as a judge ordered, the Bytyqi brothers were shot dead and left in a mass grave, according to the reports.
Engel and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) have sought to pressure Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić to prosecute the former Serbian army general implicated in the Bytyqis' executions. In December 2018, the State Department barred Goran Radosavljevic, believed to have given the order to kill the brothers, from entry into the United States and formally designated him “due to his involvement in gross violations of human rights.”
Engel said Tuesday that he has twice hosted Vučić at the Capitol and met with him a third time, in Munich earlier this year when, Engel said, the president showed the “same old, same old ridiculous dodging” on the Bytyqis’ case.
“He knows that on both sides of the aisle we won’t let this issue go and that is the key. Justice is the key,” Zeldin, who also attended the February meeting in Munich, added Tuesday of Vučić.
The congressman, whose district was home to the Bytyqi brothers, said the United States must turn up pressure on the Serbian government as it moves toward membership in the European Union and improved relations with neighboring countries and the United States.
Former Kosovar President Atifete Jahjaga and others testifying before the panel condemned the “moral equivalency” between the crimes of the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Serbian armed forces, saying so many more atrocities were committed by the latter. They said there has been little to no accountability despite the passage of two decades since the war, which lasted from 1998 to 1999.
One witness, Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman, recounted being raped at gunpoint by a Serbian police officer in April 1999, when she was 16.