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Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The report Kosovo/Kosova, As Seen As Told is in two parts. The first catalogues the abuses of human rights in Kosovo

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from October 1998 to June 1999--from the establishment of the OSCE-led Kosovo verification mission to the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Serbia secured by the NATO air campaign. The second part of the report covers the period from June to October 1999--the first four months of the international presence in Kosovo established at the end of the crisis.

Both parts make for disturbing reading and give pause for thought. I will share with the House some thoughts on the implications of the report's findings. I pay tribute to the work of the Kosovo verification mission and in particular to the men and women from Britain who played a crucial role in establishing it. The mission was the result of an agreement between the government of President Milosevic and the OSCE to allow international monitors into Kosovo to give 200,000 internally displaced people, particularly the tens of thousands living in the hills, the confidence to return to their homes--without which, the Secretary-General had warned, there might be a humanitarian catastrophe.

The presence of the KVM helped temporarily to avert such a catastrophe. Britain sent an initial deployment of 120 verifiers, who were among the first on the ground in early November 1998. They did important and often dangerous work that winter, until the OSCE reluctantly took the decision in March 1999 that the situation was too dangerous to allow the mission to continue.

The findings of the KVM report are damning. I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, who, with her usual style and flair, captured the horror that was alive in the region before NATO's intervention. I do not hesitate for a moment to repeat some of the quotations that the noble Baroness gave from the OSCE report, for it is important to give a sense of balance and proportion. It stated that,

    "on the part of Yugoslav and Serb forces, their intent to apply mass killing as an instrument of terror, coercion or punishment against Kosovo Albanians was already in evidence in 1998 and was shockingly demonstrated by incidents in January 1999 (including the Racak massacre and beyond)".

It added that,

    "arbitrary arrest and detention and violation of the right to a fair trial became increasingly the tools of the law enforcement agencies in the suppression of Kosovo Albanian civil and political rights".

It also said that,

    "rape and other forms of sexual violence were applied, sometimes as weapons of war".

The House will recall images of horror and terror from Kosovo over the past year. Just over 12 months ago, the world was shocked by the discovery by the KVM of the victims of the massacre at Racak, as many noble Lords have said, when more than 40 Kosovo Albanians were shot at close range and dumped in a ditch. That massacre prompted the Contact Group to summon the Belgrade government and the leadership of the Kosovo Albanians to peace talks in France to resolve the crisis in the province by a political settlement.

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The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said that the responsibility for Racak has never been established. I remind the House that the Serbs refused to allow the War Crimes Tribunal to investigate Racak. If the Serbs wanted the truth to be discovered, they would have co-operated with the tribunal as the Security Council had demanded. The Serbs refused.

A lot of nonsense has been spoken about the Rambouillet negotiations. With respect and much regret, I cannot agree with the sentiments expressed in that respect by my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden. Those negotiations were not an attempt to impose NATO government over Kosovo. The agreements worked out by European, Russian and US negotiators were to keep Kosovo within FRY and to restore the autonomy that Milosevic had stolen 10 years before. The negotiations were not an attempt to impose NATO forces across the territory of FRY. We asked FRY to negotiate with NATO arrangements to allow NATO allies and others, such as Russia, to supply the troops they would send to Kosovo to underpin the political settlement there.

The negotiations were not an attempt to force the Serbs into rejecting an agreement to give NATO some sort of excuse for bombing. We were committed to making the negotiations succeed and worked hard to achieve that objective. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and his French counterpart, as chairman of the talks, spent hours at Rambouillet persuading the two sides to reach agreement.

Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the implementation appendix of the Rambouillet accord gave NATO and its allies full access to FRY territory? That was not the case in the agreement that ended the bombing last June.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it was clearly thought necessary at that stage for that requirement to be added and I do not resile from it for a moment. In the end, the Albanians accepted the agreement, even though it fell short of what they wanted, but the Serbs refused. It was not a hidden NATO agenda but a clear Serb one that was to blame for that failure. As the KVM report makes clear, while the Serbs were meant to be negotiating in France, their forces were beginning a spring offensive in Kosovo. That offensive was under way before NATO action began.

My noble friend Lord Judd rightly mentioned the complexity of the conflict between the Serbian and Albanian people resident in Kosovo. When NATO launched its first air strikes, 70,000 refugees had already been displaced from Kosovo in neighbouring states--as well as 200,000 people internally displaced within Kosovo. NATO intervened to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. The Serbs reacted by accelerating the brutal offensive already under way. NATO, in response, made clear that an objective of its campaign would be the return to Kosovo of all those people expelled by Milosevic's ethnic cleansing. That objective was secured.

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The report's authors spoke to hundreds of Kosovars during the enforced exile. They report an interview with a refugee explaining why he fled Kosovo last May. The man was in his house in Pristina when five or six armed men arrived. They started to smash up the house, placed a bucket over the man's head, then proceeded to kick him in the stomach and ribs. They demanded money, then threatened to kill him. They held a lighter to the man's face and burnt his moustache and mouth. They beat him with rifle butts. They said if they found him again they would kill him. The next day, the man fled Kosovo for Macedonia.

Anyone who doubts that NATO had to intervene to stop what was being done to innocent victims in Kosovo should read the OSCE report--and read it fully.

The justification for our intervention in Kosovo was to stop the appalling repression--as the UN had demanded--and avert the humanitarian catastrophe, of which the UN had warned. The alternative would have left the EU and NATO as spectators while Serb atrocities continued and accelerated. If we needed any extra flavour, I suggest that we have only to remind ourselves of the powerful words of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who gave the House graphic evidence of what she saw with her own eyes.

The criticism that we cannot intervene in every crisis invites the retort: does that justify doing nothing in any situation? As the Foreign Secretary said in his Chatham House speech last Friday, try telling that to the Kosovo Albanians, whose long years of suffering were ended by NATO.

The OSCE returned to Kosovo in June 1999. The organisation was given responsibility within the United Nations Mission for democratisation and governance, police training, institution building and human rights monitoring. In pursuance of this last function, some 75 human rights monitors have been at work in Kosovo over the past eight months. The second part of the OSCE report is the result of their work.

The report notes that serious human rights violations have continued to occur in Kosovo. I am sure that the House will agree that the persecution and intimidation of the Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo is appalling. It is right that we should condemn it. NATO intervened to uphold the principle of a multi-ethnic Kosovo, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, touched upon in his speech. We should not let others destroy this now. But, as the OSCE report brings out, what is happening now is very different in scale and nature from the state-sponsored terror and ethnic cleansing practised by the forces of the Milosevic regime in Kosovo.

Since we have a few moments, I shall take the opportunity to reply to some of the specific issues that have been raised in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, was right to concentrate on the challenges with which we are faced for the future, and progress is being made in tackling them. Bernard Kouchner, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Kosovo, notes in his foreword to the report that

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many of the abuses documented in Kosovo since last June have been committed by members of Albanian armed groups against other ethnic Albanians and non-Albanians. There have also been allegations against Serb armed groups.

However, all our efforts have brought good fruit. The result has been a significant decline in levels of violence and intimidation; but one murder a week is one too many. I accept that entirely. Part of the answer is that Kosovo needs a fully functioning criminal justice system, as has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Judd and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. Dr Kouchner's recent decision to revert to the legal system which applied in Kosovo before Milosevic stole its autonomy has helped. As a result, the UN Mission is finding it much easier to recruit local judges and prosecutors. In the past week alone some 130 were sworn in.

I shall now turn to one or two specific questions that were raised in the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, asked about the sanctions against Serbia and what is happening as regards the Danube. Sanctions are intended to maintain pressure against the regime in Belgrade led by men indicted for crimes against humanity. So far as concerns the Danube, the EU would be ready to consider supporting work to clear the Danube. However, Milosevic has so far refused to co-operate.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, as regards support given to the OSCE we are one of the OSCE's strongest supporters. We contribute 10 per cent of its budget in Kosovo and 10 per cent of its personnel, including more than 30 UK policemen training the future local police force in the OSCE-run training school. In addition, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, who raised the issue of the 2,000 police, we agree that UNMIK needs more police. Some 60 RUC officers are in place, recognised as among the most effective in the international presence. Furthermore, we continue to monitor that issue.

The EU has an important role to play, but the international community can only do so much. The lasting answer has to come from the people of Kosovo. The special efforts of UNMIK and KFOR devoted to minority protection can only be a temporary solution, treating the symptoms rather than the disease itself. The people of Kosovo must take on their responsibilities. Those responsibilities are very broad indeed. This Government will continue to play a leading part in working to achieve the goals of peace and security for all Kosovars, be they Serbs or Albanians resident in that country.

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