The Bytyqi Brothers: 20 years later, the fight for justice continues

At the end of the Kosova war in 1999, three American citizens were murdered – execution style – and dumped in a mass grave in Serbia.

Twenty years later, there are answers. But no justice.

Basic Facts: Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi (the “Bytyqi Brothers”) were born in Chicago, IL and later lived in Hampton Bays, NY. They were kidnapped, executed, and dumped into a mass grave by Serbian police in July 1999.

The Bytyqis had joined the Kosova Liberation Army (“KLA”), with nearly four hundred other U.S. residents to help stop Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing in Kosova. At the time, the United States provided various forms of support, including military, to the KLA.

At the end of the war, the Bytyqis were on a humanitarian mission and in plain clothes and unarmed, when they were jailed for crossing an unmarked Yugoslav boundary. A Serbian judge subsequently ordered their release. Immediately thereafter and upon orders of Assistant Minister Vlastimir Djordjevic, Serbian police officers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (“MUP”) in plain clothes and unmarked vehicles kidnapped the brothers and took them to a remote police training facility in Petrovo Selo. Here, the Bytyqis were tortured, executed and dumped into a mass grave with full knowledge of their U.S. nationality. No court or judge was involved.

The execution orders were likely passed down through Lieutenant-Colonel Goran “Guri” Radosavljevic. Both Serbian prosecutors and the Humanitarian Law Center accuse Radosavljevic of intimidating witnesses and interfering in the Bytyqi case.

Broken promises: Numerous high-ranking Serbian officials have pledged and failed to deliver progress on the case. This includes current President Aleksandar Vucic and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic. In the presence of U.S. officials, then-Prime Minister Vucic previously promised and failed to secure progress by the end of Summer 2014 and again by the end of March 2015, before promising to resolve it: “very soon or much sooner than anybody might expect” in June 2015 in Washington D.C. Mr. Vucic later made similar promises to Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

Radosavljevic & the current government: Since 2009, Radosavljevic has been a member of President Vucic’ political party, the SNS (or “Progressive Party”). Radosavljevic is currently on the Executive Board of the party and has appeared on national television with Vucic and former President Tomislav Nikolic during at least two public celebrations since March 2014, evidencing his close ties to Serbian political leaders.

Radosavljevic and units he was in command of are implicated in many other war crimes and their clean-up operations.

U.S. Congress: Senators McConnell, Cardin, McCain, and many others have publicly called for justice in the case. In the 115th Congress, H. Con. Res. 32 was introduced by Representatives Lee Zeldin (R-NY) & Eliot Engel (D-NY), among others.

U.S. State Department: Numerous U.S. ambassadors and diplomats have publicly decried the lack of action in the case. The State Department sees progress in the Bytyqi case as a significant factor holding back bilateral relations. In December 2018, the State Department authorized sanctions against Goran Radosavljevic and his whole family.

NGO’s: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Humanitarian Law Center, and other NGO’s cite the Bytyqi case as a prime example of the lack of accountability for war crimes in Serbia. In Summer 2017, nearly 40 experts signed an open letter highlighting Serbia’s failures in the Bytyqi case

European Union: Serbia opened the EU accession chapter dealing with war crimes accountability in July 2016. The EU progress reports, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, and a OSCE report each acknowledge Serbia’s failings on war crimes accountability.

Systemic problems: The Bytyqi case is just one example of a broken system. To date, Serbian authorities have not prosecuted a single high-level war crimes suspect. This is in part due to the Serbian government’s failure to cure a political environment where high-level suspects are protected, arguably even poisoning the environment. For example:

SNS parliamentarians have accused the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor of “espionage” for sharing information about the Bytyqi case with the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade.
Prime Minister Vucic, President Nikolic, and Foreign Minister Dacic have accused the Humanitarian Law Center of trying to “bring down” the government and country for accusing the current Army Chief of Staff of war crimes.
The government regularly celebrates war criminals. In one prominent example, it sent a plane to the Hague to escort home one of the ICTY’s most cold-blooded criminals to a hero’s welcome. These actions were quickly slammed by ICTY Prosecutor Serge Brammertz.
Prime Minister Vucic once went to bat for the main suspect in the Bytyqi case, saying: “And now, I have been asked, why is he [Guri] a member of Vucic’s party…You should be ashamed of yourself, what do you think, that I will allow someone kicking me in the head and not reply with facts…. Never [would] the enemy of the USA and killer of the American people [] get [an] invitation to NATO.”
In February 2019, Mr. Vucic told a delegation of the U.S. congress that it should think more about extraditing NATO officials to Serbia than extraditing Radosavljevic for the Bytyqi murders.

Bottom line: A toxic political environment and Serbia’s leaders, including President Aleksandar Vucic, protect those who murdered three American citizens. (Source: https://bytyqibrothers.org/)

Ilir Bytyqi testifying during a hearing in US Congress.

Fatos Bytyqi

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