AAAS report attributes exodus of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo to deliberate Yugoslav policy

April 13, 2000

Washington, DC (April 13, 2000)-A new AAAS report concludes that the mass exodus of refugees from Kosovo in the spring of 1999 was most likely the result of a deliberate Yugoslav policy of "ethnic cleansing." The report, written by Patrick Ball, deputy director of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program, is being released Friday, April 14, in Pristina at a conference sponsored by the East-West Management Institute / Institute for Policy and Legal Studies.

Using border registries, surveys of residents of refugee camps and other data with innovative statistical methods, the study breaks new ground for human rights analysis. Policy or Panic? Patterns of Kosovar Albanian Refugee Flow, March - May 1999 can be found online at policyorpanic starting April 14, and will be available in English, Albanian and Serbian.

"Patrick Ball and AAAS have made a substantial contribution to our understanding of human rights violations in Kosovo," said Fred Abrahams, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. "This report provides rigorous scientific analysis of the Œethnic cleansing' that is objective and irrefutable."

By comparing the number of people who left each municipality over time to the periods when NATO bomb attacks occurred, the study concludes that only a small fraction of ethnic Albanians fled Kosovo as a direct result of NATO bombing raids. According to the study, the mass exodus of refugees from Kosovo occurred in patterns so regular that they must have been coordinated. "In the context of qualitative accounts given by refugees, the most likely explanation for the migration is that Yugoslav authorities planned and implemented a centrally organized campaign to clear at least certain regions of ethnic Albanians," the report said.

"Unlike previous analyses which have relied exclusively on refugee testimonies, this study examines the causes of the refugee exodus by evaluating the statistical patterns of the exodus itself," the report said. "Using innovative statistical methods, the study breaks new ground for human rights analysis by contextualizing the claims made by witnesses with analysis of objective administrative data."

The report is based on administrative records maintained by Albanian government officials who registered hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians as they passed through the small border post near the village of Morina between March and May 1999. The report also examines other official records of refugee movements and surveys conducted in refugee camps in Albania, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

It's been almost a year since the United Nations took control of Kosovo, yet there is concern that fighting could resume. During the conflict last spring, several theories were advanced as to why the Kosovars were leaving: Yugoslav officials said it was because of NATO bombing, while others pointed to fighting between the Kosovo Liberation Army and Yugoslav government forces or attributed it to the Kosovars' own fear or panic. NATO officials, however, argued that Yugoslav forces were subjecting Kosovar Albanians to a systematic policy of "ethnic cleansing."

The AAAS report answers the question by pointing to a centralized policy as the cause of the mass migration on such a large scale and pattern. "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 Kosovo and conducted a complex operation to evict more than 850,000 people," the report said. "A campaign on this scale required detailed advance planning."

The report includes findings on a number of other topics, including the effectiveness of NATO bombing to stop the policy of ethnic cleansing. "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," the report said. "Only a small fraction of Kosovar Albanians fled Kosovo as a direct result of NATO bombing raids."

Nor were the mass killings linked in a systematic way to the exodus of the Kosovars, the report found. "Refugee flows do not follow patterns of mass killings," the report said. "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."

More than 850,000 ethnic Albanians were forced form their homes and fled Kosovo during this period. Refugees arriving in the camps gave detailed accounts of massacres, rapes, and other atrocities. Families told stories of being forced from their homes, being stripped of their identities and seeing their men taken from them, unsure of what became of them.

"The first priority of a people who have suffered atrocity is to establish the truth," Ball said. "Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic suggested that Kosovars fled their homes to escape NATO's bombing, although most of the refugees themselves told of being shelled by Yugoslav forces or of being threatened with death if they did not leave."

Ball traveled to Albania last spring and worked closely with Albanian and Kosovar partner organizations such as the Tirana-based Institute for Policy and Legal Studies to collect data from the refugees. Ball and Fritz Scheuren, a top statistician and AAAS member, set up a framework to measure scientifically the human rights abuses. Their methods included probability sampling, conversational interviews, relational databases and statistics.

Science has proven to be a helpful tool in the often politically charged process of gathering and analyzing evidence of human rights abuses. For example, the truth commission in South Africa used quantitative analysis to show that the overwhelming majority of killings before 1990 were committed by the South African Police. In the analysis of genocide in Guatemala, the truth commission used quantitative analysis to show that in several crucial regions, rates of indigenous people killed by the state were five to eight times greater than rates among non-indigenous people.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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