A Village Destroyed, May 14, 1999: War Crimes in Kosovo

Overview

On a warm spring morning in 1999, in the midst of NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia, Serbian security and paramilitary forces descended on the small village of Cuska, near the western Kosovo city of Pec. Soldiers with painted faces and masks rounded up the population and forced them to assemble in the center of the village. The women, children, and elderly were separated from any men who had not managed to flee. The villagers were threatened and robbed of their money, jewelry, and identification papers. ...

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Overview

On a warm spring morning in 1999, in the midst of NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia, Serbian security and paramilitary forces descended on the small village of Cuska, near the western Kosovo city of Pec. Soldiers with painted faces and masks rounded up the population and forced them to assemble in the center of the village. The women, children, and elderly were separated from any men who had not managed to flee. The villagers were threatened and robbed of their money, jewelry, and identification papers. Twenty-nine men were divided into three groups and taken into three separate houses, where they were sprayed repeatedly with automatic weapons. Each house was then set on fire and left to burn. This gripping investigative account of the massacre establishes the truth of what happened in Cuska, deepens our understanding of war crimes, and sheds light on the world of paramilitaries who carry out mass killings of civilians in the name of the state.

The events in Cuska are emblematic of the destruction of hundreds of other villages throughout Kosovo. But in this case there was a difference: in each of the three groups of men there was one survivor who managed to crawl from each of the burning houses. They, and many others present that day, told their stories to Human Rights Watch, a research and advocacy organization that monitors abuses in more than seventy countries around the world. Fred Abrahams scanned into his laptop photographs of Serbian security forces apparently left behind when they withdrew from Kosovo, and showed them to victims, who identified the perpetrators.

With an essay by Eric Stover and a collection of arresting photographs by Gilles Peress of the exile and return of Kosovar Albanians to their homes and villages, this book presents a riveting, multifaceted story of unmatched depth and complexity. A final section of "self–portraits" taken by Serbian troops and paramilitaries holds the key to understanding how Serb forces were able to overrun so much territory in so little time.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Assembled under the auspices of the Human Rights Center at the University of California at Berkeley and Human Rights Watch, this book documents, in a manner that leaves no room for doubt or ambiguity, an account of a Serb massacre in the Kosovar towns of Cuska, Zahac and Pavljan. After an introduction by Human Rights Watch communications director Carroll Bogert, the book centers on a series of photographs by New Yorker photographer and HRW research associate Peress taken in the aftermath of the killings, showing fresh graves, massive displacement, bullet holes and trauma victims, along with a family photo album caked with mud and, elsewhere, a man pulling along his exhausted grandmother in a metal cart. In chapters like "The Case," "On Method" and "The Victims," text by HRW senior researchers Abrahams and Stover, who is also a professor at Berkeley's School of Public Health, clearly outline the investigators' discovery process, which included showing to survivors photographs of soldiers that had been scanned into a laptop. A chapter called "Self-Portraits" shows pictures taken by Serbian soldiers of themselves (the undeveloped film was found in a field in Kosovo) backlit by fires and mayhem. The 52 color and 109 b&w photos are most powerful when the authors let the images and victims' words speak for themselves, doing the necessary work of forcing this horror into history. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520233034
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 8/20/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 247
  • Product dimensions: 8.75 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Fred Abrahams is a senior researcher and Carroll Bogert is Communications Director for Human Rights Watch. Eric Stover is Director of the Human Rights Center and Adjunct Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. Gilles Peress is a photographer for the New Yorker and a senior research associate at the Human Rights Center.

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Read an Excerpt

"The soldiers were taking things from us: money, cigarettes, watches, jewelry . . . .One soldier took a knife and started licking it. He put it under the throat of a child. One of my children, my three-year-old son, broke free from my hands and started running to the direction of the group of men, where my husband was. The soldiers shot into the ground close to my son's legs to stop him."
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