Lecture at University of Mitrovica, Law Faculty : “From the war through peace based on my documentation” – 25.04.2023. by Josef Martinsen

Lecture (university) – Pristina 23/24 April

“Hello, my name is Josef Martinsen, my presence here is thanks to Kosovaro – Swedish Scientific Institute.

I will start this presentation by telling you about the work I did in the Balkans over nineteen years, 1999 – 2018, fifteen years in Kosovo and five years in Serbia. I have experienced the results of atrocities that none should have been exposed to on the threshold of the new millennium. My hope is that the younger generation in Serbia and Kosovo will see the unique opportunity they have to influence their society and turn away from the Balkan’s habitual way of thinking and acting. I can express my view like this because I personally have experienced in Kosovo and Serbia this habitual way of thinking and acting, represented by the following characteristics: lack of equal rights between the genders, communication, negotiation, understanding each other and compromising to create trust and peace for the people.

History shows us that every generation, no matter the country, will have an opportunity to influence their future path in a decisive way. Now, it is up to you to make it happen in your generation.

Fig 1

I had no background that should indicate any talent at all for writing books and doing a documentary film about war crimes in Kosovo in an age of 58 close to retirement. I am educated in the army in Norway, worked there for 17 years and left the army with rank of major. Worked as operational manager for 6 years within the paper industry and office supply. Then 3 years as an independent consultant working for private bank businesses within logistics. In 1988 was hired by the Central Bank of Norway as Assistant Head of Division, working five years dealing with interbank issues and four years with contingency planning for the Central Bank, received early retirement in mars 1998.

In the Summer 1999 I was hired by UNHCR and NCA to clean up water wells in Kosovo for human bodies over 8 months, until Mars 2000. From 2001 to 2005 I documented and wrote the first book about the well killings, and thereafter from 2006 to 2010 the second book and the film were done. Telling the story of how 10600 civilians, women, children, and men were murdered and found in 400 mass graves all over Kosovo. They had been randomly shot, starting from January 1998 until June 1999 by Serbian military, police, and civil militia.

From 2013 to 2018 I stayed in Belgrade and informed the people in Serbia about what had happened in Kosovo 1998-99. The government in Serbia did not inform their own citizen about what took place, they avoided mentioned the man hunt in Kosovo that was directed by Yugoslavian and Serbian leaders in the period from January 1998 until June 1999.

I started the initiative “Truth Commission Serbia-Kosovo”, while in Belgrade, to inform the public about what happened in Kosovo.

Fig 2

I have spent many years studying what happened and doing research about war crime cases committed in Kosovo and Serbia. Four hundred mass graves were reported to the UN Security Council in November 1999 by Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

What I experienced and personally witnessed during my eight months working for the NCA and the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and in the following years documenting war crimes, was literally terrifying. That’s why the committed crimes should be documented and prosecuted and thus become part of your history. I am saddened by the fact that the young generations know only a few facts of what took place in Kosovo during 1998-99.

I was thinking… How could something like this happen on the eve of a new millennium in the very heart of Europe?

After my assignment with UNHCR/NCA came to an end in March 2000, I started in 2006 on a personal initiative due to friends urging me to write another book. The only thing I could think of was documenting the background of those four hundred mass graves containing thousands of civilians. No official authority, including the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) or the acting local authorities or historians or writers at the time had taken any initiative to document the circumstances around the mass graves and the events leading up to the war crimes that took place over eighteen months from January 1998 till June 1999.

Before I started the book project, November 2006, regarding the 400 mass graves, I contacted the Director at the Institute of History Dr. Jusuf Bajraktari and the Director of the Archive of Kosova, Dr. Jusuf Osmani and asked them for advice concerning my book project. To my surprise they said that I should start as soon as possible otherwise evidence could be lost, because it was already seven years after the war. They told me they were barred from acting on this and other cases by UNMIK and the local authorities at the time, since there was not allocated resources to their departments. I asked for a written recommendation for my book project which they issued, see below:

Fig 3

With this document I could access NGO’s and UNMIK and ask for documentation and data necessary for my book project. Data sources I used were:

Fig 4

1 = International Committee Red Cross – Prishtina (ICRC)
2 = International Crime Tribunal for former Yugoslavia – the Hague (ICTY)
3 = Office for missing persons forensic/UNMIK/EULEX – Prishtina (OMPF)
4 = Humanitarian Law Centre – Belgrade (HLC)
5 = Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

In the bibliography section of my book “What Happened in Kosovo 1998-99”, you will find references to testimonies from Serbians and Albanians who participated in the atrocities or personally witnessed what occurred:

– Some of these testimonies are recorded in the book “Podujevo 1999, Beyond Reasonable doubt” published by the Humanitarian Law Centre, which documents the details of the Podujevo war crime case that took place on the 28th of March 1999 (pages 5-201). The book refers to the five-year court proceedings, convictions and verdicts talking about one of the Serbian Interior Ministry’s reserve units called “The Scorpions”, who were responsible for killing more than fifteen civilians – children, women and men – in a backyard. Members of the Scorpions made Confessions about these atrocities.

– Svetlana Djordjevic, a taxi driver 1995-99 in Kosovo Polje wrote in 2003 “Svedocanstvo o Kosovu” (ISBN 86-8299-43-0) telling about her experiences of the atrocities committed by the Serbian police forces. Due to persecution and harassments in Serbia she got asylum in Norway.

– In the article “Serbia’s Kosovo Cover-Up: Who Hid the Bodies?” (Published in BIRN investigation 23 April 2015) author Marija Ristic writes that the Belgrade officials and policemen who took hundreds of murdered Albanians’ corpses from Kosovo to Serbia and concealed them in mass graves have never been prosecuted in their home country.

– Fadil Muqolli, from the village of Old Poklek, lost his whole family – wife, children, mother, father, and siblings – fourteen in total, who were massacred among the fifty-two people killed and burned in a single house. In an interview Fadil told me that he was willing to forgive the perpetrators providing that the Serbian authorities acknowledged the atrocities committed by their forces. The region, he said, would never recover psychologically unless the governments involved understood the necessity of acknowledgement. Germany recognized and acknowledged the Nazi’s atrocities during World War II and that paved the way for normalization.

The present situation now in April 2023, 24-25 years after these events, is still not where it should be. The tension that has prevailed in the last hundred years has been sort of a Gordian Knot. However, there is a time in every nation’s history when a new generation with new ideas takes the scene and changing a country’s direction and future fate.

Maybe you are the generation who will change your nation’s future?

Last part of my lecture

It is very strange how time has flown for me since 2010 when I presented my war crimes documentation. For everyone else also time has clearly flown, except for the raped women during the war in Kosova, especially for the first 423 raped women who found the courage to sign a document, when asked for by UNMIK and the local authorities, for them time has almost stood still. UNMIK and the new Albanian political authorities needed in 1999 documented evidence of abuses against civilians committed by the Serbs in Kosova in 1998-99. The group of 423 raped women signed and were promised protection, support and help in the local environment when they moved home, but help never came! Since 2010 after having the first meeting with some of the women who were raped, I understood that my work in Kosova could not end yet. A new page cannot be opened in the lives of these women without first filling the empty space that was created. The political leaders cannot move on in life with other tasks until given promises are fulfilled. For years I have sent letters to the previous and current Prime Minister for the 423 female war victims, to compensate for the lack of support that was promised, but nothing happened.

Fig 11

Three books were written since 2003 by local female writers and I wonder how many politicians have read these books?

– Historit Tmerri 1998-1999 (History of Horror) of Sanije Gashi (2010)
– Rrefime Tronditëse 2003, Luljeta Selimi (Femrat e Dhunura Gjatë Luftës së Kosovës)
– Pa Apologji (Without Apology) by F. Ramosaj (2005), Printed by Dukagjini

Well, here a digression at the end:

(In religion, a prophecy is a message that has been communicated to a person by a supernatural entity.)
Here the other night I got a prophecy like this:

“There will rest a curse upon Kosova until the 423 female war victims have got their rightful excuse and compensation.”

Thank you for listening!