Albanians have a great friend at the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee

The resolution on Bytyci brothers adds to the long list of contributions that Congressman Engel has made since he was elected Chairman, in January 2019


By Harry Bajraktari

Congressman Eliot Engel

The United States House of Representatives approved unanimously yesterday, on October 22nd, a resolution on the Albanian-American Bytyçi brothers.
The measure demonstrates that the United States will not stop until justice is done for the three sons of our community, who were murdered in Serbia.
It is a signal to President Vucic that no diplomatic or political acrobatics will help the criminals who ordered their murder evade justice.
Congressmen Eliot Engel and Lee Zeldin deserve our gratitude for their great work on this matter. So do Ilir and Fatos Bytyçi who have worked for years to shed light on their brothers’ death.
This vote was another proof of how important it is that we have a great friend today as the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the US House of Representatives.
Congressman Engel has been for thirty years a great supporter of many Albanian causes and has played an essential role especially in the efforts that led to a free and independent Kosova.

Click to read the text of the resolution.

Despite the heavy schedule that comes with his position, with issues from around the world, from China to Russia, to wars in the Middle East, to major trade relations etc, Congressman Engel has kept his word to continue the fight for justice and democracy in the land where Albanians live.
— In the first day as chairman of the Committee, he met with Albanian-Americans from Macedonia and Montenegro to educate himself on their views and concerns.
— In one of his first speeches as chairman he underlined the importance of NATO, thinking about the importance of the liberation of Kosova and the role of a NATO-led peacekeeping force that guarantees its territorial integrity.
— That first month, he also traveled to New York, to attend a Holocaust remembrance event hosted by Albania at the United Nations. “We still have our work to do to follow the brave Albanian citizens who saved Jews during the Holocaust,” Congressman Engel said
— In February, as part of the US Congress leaders who met with the EU’s foreign affairs delegation in Washington he asked EU to fulfill their promise on the visa liberalization of Kosova.
— In March, he co-wrote an op-ed on the 20th anniversary of the liberation of Kosova, focusing on the great lessons of that military intervention and the spirit of bipartisanism in America’s foreign policy.
— In April, he headed a hearing in the Committee of Foreign Affairs on the Serbian war crimes in Kosova that have gone unpunished. A belated but crucial attention was reserved to sexual assaults and the use of rape as a weapon of war by Serbian army and paramilitary. More than 20,000 women were raped during the war of Kosova and one of them Vasfije Krasniqi testified bravely about her story. Ilir Bytyçi, spoke about how justice had failed his three slain brothers and educated US Congress members on the issue.
— It was there that Congressman Engel asked for the Special Chamber in The Hague to be reviewed so it can indict Serbian war criminals whose crimes remain unpunished.
“Rapes were not rare and isolated acts committed by individual Serbian or Yugoslav forces, but rather were used deliberately as an instrument to terrorize the civilian population, extort money from their families, and push people to flee their homes. Rape furthered the goal of forcing ethnic Albanians from Kosova,” the congressman said.
— In May, his Committee of Foreign Affairs declared again that it was “long past time for the EU to grant visa liberalization to Kosova.”
— In June, he delivered personally 28 scholarships to young women from Kosova, who are now studying in the United States. This new education initiative is part of the Millennium Challenge’s Kosova Threshold Program.
— Everything that was said in the resolution that the House approved yesterday, Congressman Engel has said already to President Vucic’s face, when he stopped in Belgrade, in July, on his way to Prishtina Kosova. During this visit in the Balkans Engel met with Albanian leaders in Presheva Valley, Kosova, Albania, and Macedonia.
— In Presheva Valley, he wanted to know more about the views of the ethnic Albanians who live there about their situation and their views on the Kosova-Serbia dialogue.
— In Prishtina, he inaugurated the new United States Embassy in Kosova, one of the largest complex diplomatic headquarters in the region. It was a symbolic gesture as Congressman Engel had also cut the ribbon of the first official US presence in Kosova, in the distant July 1996, when he opened the USIA office there. Kosova was then still suffering under the criminal regime of Slobodan Milosevic, when Engel raised the flag of the United States in the middle of Prishtina.
— Upon his return, in August, the Committee of Foreign Affairs voted unanimously for the resolution that calls Serbia to find and punish the murderers of Bytyçi brothers.
— In the last two months, before this resolution moved to the full House of Representatives, Congressman Engel has been busy lobbying the European Union on behalf of Kosova. He wrote letters to the President of the EU Commission, the President of the EU Council, to the 28 EU heads of state etc. In these letters he pushed “the European Union to certify Kosovo’s Visa Liberalization Plan and grant visa liberalization to Kosova”.
Congressman Engel argued that Kosova had fulfilled its side of the bargain and it was now Brussels that had to fulfill its promise.
— The H. CON. RES. 20 that was approved unanimously on October 22nd, “expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the execution-style murders of United States citizens Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi in the Republic of Serbia in July 1999” is another step towards making sure that justice is done in Kosova and the Balkans.

Photo taken during a visit of Chairman Engel, July 2019 in Peja, Kosova. From left: Jason Steinbaum – Foreign Affairs Committee Director, US Congress, John Calvelli – Executive Vice President of Public Affairs for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Mrs. Patricia Engel, Chairman of Foreign Affairs committee, Eliot Engel, Harry Bajraktari, Former Councilwoman, Lisa Milicaj, John Bitici, and Bajram Curri Mayor, Besnik Dushaj.

This long list is not complete, because it doesn’t include dozens of meetings with leaders, diplomats, and experts on the Balkans, in US and in Europe. Dozens of letters, calls, and interventions on various issues about security, prosperity, and democracy in all the countries where Albanians live.
It is an enormous contribution that shows how committed Congressman Engel is to the advancement of the Albanian people in the Balkans, to progress of freedom and democracy there, with a vision of including the rest of the region in NATO and EU. This is an Albanian dream and also an American promise.
God bless you congressman Engel and God bless America!


Harry Bajraktari is the founder and publisher of Illyria newspaper (1991-1998) and an Albanian-American community leader