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

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9780520233034: A Village Destroyed, May 14, 1999: War Crimes in Kosovo

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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From the Inside Flap:

"Seldom does a book take readers so powerfully inside war crimes--both into the pain of the victims and, even more chilling, into the minds of the perpetrators. In a Washington so timid about supporting the international institutions designed to prevent such horrors, this book should be mandatory reading."—Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost: a Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa

"This searing documentary takes those large abstractions--ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity--and confronts us with the anguishing reality: the faces of the alleged killers and their victims, stories of shattered families, desolation of a ruined community. The book is also a stunning example of careful, determined pursuit of evidence by frontline human rights workers, our best hope for accountability and justice in the wake of systematic evil. This unparalleled account thus records the worst--and the best--of human capacities."—H. Jack Geiger, M.D., founding member and past president of Physicians for Human Rights

"Marshalling precision in the face of obfuscation, clarity in the face of desolation, and lucidity in the face of oblivion, the authors and creators of A Village Destroyed have somehow managed to meld witness and majesty. Truth is beauty--sometimes the only solace left to us--and this is a harrowingly beautiful book."—Lawrence Weschler, author of A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers

"Gilles Peress's photographs take us where we have never gone before: into the killing zones of Kosovo where ethnic Albanians were tortured, executed, robbed, and driven from the land. Here is an astounding record that will make it impossible for us to say that we never knew what happened in Kosovo or how."—Gloria Emerson, author of Gaza: A Year in the Intifada

" A Village Destroyed is a very important book, offering a revealing examination of how contemporary human rights investigations and international efforts to do justice are transforming the context in which great crimes are committed."—Aryeh Neier, President of the Open Society Institute

"By some of the best investigators and reporters in the human rights movement, A Village Destroyed helps comfort the afflicted by letting them speak in their own voices. Let us hope it also serves to afflict the comforted."—Juan E. Méndez, Vice-President, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

"This is a groundbreaking work. It is the anatomy of a crime: the destruction of a village. The photographs and witness accounts are of astounding power. The book is crucial for anyone who wants to know what happened in Kosovo."—Laura Silber, co-author of Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation

About 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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