AI INDEX: EUR 70/009/2004 1 April 2004
Serbia and Montenegro (Kosovo)
The legacy of past human rights abuses
1.2.1 The Nis Express bombing
On 16 February 2001, 11 Serbs were killed and over 40 injured when the lead bus of the Nis Express convoy, in which they were travelling from Serbia to Kosovo, was destroyed by a remote-controlled bomb near Podujevo, despite advance warning to KFOR, who conducted a search of the route in advance of the convoy and provided a heavily armed escort for the convoy. It was the most serious attack on minority communities since September 1999, when a grenade attack on the market place in Kosovo Polje/Fushe ë Kosovës left two Serbs dead and 47 wounded.
Avdi Behluli, Qele Gashi, Jusuf Veliu and Florim Ejupi were arrested by UNMIK Police, and subsequently detained on the order of the investigating judge at Pristina/Prishtinë District Court on 23 March 2001 in connection with the bombing. They subsequently appealed against their detention on 28 March at Pristina/Prishtinë District Court. The court, consisting of a panel of international judges, ordered the investigative detention of Florim Ejupi for one month - on the basis of comparison of the DNA found on a cigarette-butt at the detonation site with DNA in a German police database - and the immediate release of Avdi Behluli, Qele Gashi and Jusuf Veliu. In violation of the court order, Avdi Behluli, Qele Gashi, Jusuf Veliu - along with Florim Ejupi - were subsequently detained on the order of the SRSG at the Bondsteel Detention Facility (BDF) without charge or trial.(12) Florim Ejupi escaped from BDF on 14 May, allegedly using a wire-cutter hidden in a spinach pie, although it has been subsequently alleged that US forces were complicit in the escape. Following a review of the case by the Supreme Court on 18 December 2001 the three men were released. No one has yet been brought to justice for this crime.
Although Amnesty International has no position on the guilt or innocence of any of the detained men, the organization has serious concerns about the failure to bring those responsible for the Podujevo bus-bombing to justice. Amnesty International is concerned that UNMIK Police was frustrated in its ability to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation, in the light of allegations made by UNMIK police officers that they were obstructed in their investigations by US KFOR personnel.(13) It has also been alleged that despite the severity of the attack, and its effects on both Serb community and potential returnees,(14) insufficient resources were deployed to the investigation, particularly in its later stages. The organization is also concerned about the failure of KFOR and other unknown players to reveal evidence(15) to either the District Court or the Supreme Court. In September 2003 the Kosovo Ombudsperson opened an investigation into the killings. As the Ombudsperson's Office has no jurisdiction over KFOR (see above) the investigations concentrated on UNMIK Police findings. On 18 September 2003, in reply to a request from the Ombudsperson's Office, UNMIK Police Commissioner Stefan Feller replied:
"The investigation of the Nis Express bombing has continued since the incident occurred in February 2001. An intensive case review was recently undertaken that has produced considerable movement in the investigation. An international arrest warrant has been issued for a key suspect in the case and a high profile fugitive search is ongoing.
UNMIK remains committed to bringing to justice those responsible for this crime. Although the investigation is covert by nature, especially as suspects are at large, be assured that all leads and information are being closely followed. As this case remains a continuing investigation it is not possible to provide you with copies of the police reports."
Other racist attacks on minorities which have resulted in killings are referred to in section 4 below.
Amnesty International is calling:
- for an independent inquiry to be established into the failure of UNMIK police to bring the perpetrators of the Nis Express bombing to justice, and into allegations that the UNMIK police investigation was obstructed by KFOR;
- on UNMIK police to do its utmost to bring perpetrators of ethnically motivated killing to justice and thus end the continuing impunity for such crimes.