At the end of the Kosovo war in 1999, three American citizens were murdered – execution style – and dumped in a mass grave in Serbia.
More than seventeen 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 Kosovo Liberation Army (“KLA”), with nearly four hundred other U.S. residents to help stop Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. 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, 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 from the very top of the MUP 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 Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic. In the presence of U.S. officials, 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 before a think tank crowd 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 PM 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 Prime Minister Vucic and President Tomislav Nikolic during at least two public celebrations since March 2014, evidencing his close ties to Serbian political leaders.
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. 20 was introduced by Representatives Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Grace Meng (D-NY).
U.S. State Department: Numerous U.S. ambassadors and diplomats have publicly decried the lack of action in the case, including the current ambassadors to Serbia and the OSCE. The State Department sees progress in the Bytyqi case as a significant factor holding back bilateral relations.
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 recent 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 recently 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.
- Serbian Justice Minister Selakovic recently defended an SNS-friendly litmus test for the next head of the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor, a position that is currently unfilled and may remain so for more than a year. Minister Selakovic’s position is especially bad for the Bytyqi case given Goran Radosavljevic role within the SNS.
- The same Justice Minister and other cabinet ministers flew a government 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.
- A senior SPS official and partner in the SNS’s governing coalition recently said that the United States has lost the moral authority to press the Bytyqi case as a result of the US airstrike in Libya that may have tragically killed two Serbian diplomats. This proposition was debated on national TV for 30 minutes.
- Prime Minister Vucic recently 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.”
- Mr. Vucic then protested that no one did anything in 13 years to resolve the case and now he is to blame.
Bottom line: A toxic political environment and Serbia’s leaders, including Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, protects the torturers and killers of three American citizens.
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For more on the sequence of events in the Bytyqi Brothers case, visit our Timeline.
To learn about the surviving Bytyqi family and their fifteen-year struggle to achieve justice, visit the About page.
To learn why the Bytyqi Brothers case is relevant now, visit Why Now?