An Exquisite Corpse in the Land of Blackbirds: Chapter Twelve

Article published on Dec. 9, 2014
Article published on Dec. 9, 2014

In the early 2000s, was Kosovo the site of organ trafficking, carried out by guerillas on Serbian prisoners? The finale of our investigation, which also marks the end of that carried out by the EU. Loose ends abound.

After more than three years of investigations, the press release is published: the European Union’s organ trafficking investigation is officially closed. 

On July 29, 2014, between the Gaza and Ukraine conflicts, Prosecutor Clint Williamson presents his findings. It’s a crushing blow to the summer’s ‘media black hole’ as the accusation runs deep: a war crime and a crime against humanity. The EU investigation confirms the findings of Carla Del Ponte and the Marty report. During the Kosovo conflict, UÇK (Kosovo Liberation Army —​ Ed.) members may well have killed Serbians to take and sell their organs.

According to Williamson, "this happened on a very limited scale; less than a dozen individuals." It nevertheless remains a "horrible practice, a terrible tragedy, and the small scale doesn't detract from the crime's savagery." They discuss the possible indictment of a dozen high level executives from the former guerilla movement, whose names are not yet known. Williamson’s final report will see the light of day in 2015, in an undetermined country.

In late April, under direct pressure from its Western partners, Kosovo agrees to create a special international tribunal charged with investigating war crimes committed in Kosovo. The tribunal is integrated into Pristina’s jurisdiction and welcomes investigators and international magistrates. To try to limit pressure on witnesses, voices rise to demand the institution be transferred to a different location. Hashim Thaçi has state that the "unjust" tribunal represents "the largest insult to Kosovo," but that its creation was inevitable. Is Kosovo ready to confront its past? The Europeans are extending their hands. For better or worse?

“No new investigation will result because there’s no political will. The situation in Kosovo must not evolve,” Carla Del Ponte foretold. In almost a decade, there have been six Kosovo organ trafficking investigations, from Belgrade to Brussels via Pristina. Presumptions have vanished into thin air. Suppressed evidence, abandoned pursuits, intimidations and thundering denials, incomprehensible inconsistencies and improbable twists have followed. The global picture shows that the affair’s dates are a perfectly timed chronology, as if the disclosures were set to key diplomatic events. The calendar of revelations is imposed upon the region’s geopolitical agenda, notably the recognition of an independent Kosovo. As if a mysterious deus ex machina was pulling the strings of twists that would never appear by accident.

Kosovo has gained autonomy. Certain lawyers nevertheless highlight that the a priori recognition of organ trafficking’s existence, considered a crime against humanity, could have seriously affected the independence process. How can the political legitimacy of an entity including former guerilla fighters accused of war crimes be recognised? Why recognise a self-proclaimed state run by war criminals? What was the international community’s responsibility, which largely supported UÇK (KLA) rebels? Most importantly, how can a war crime be judged in an impartial manner?

As independence has still not recognised by the entire international community, Kosovo, a type of Frankenstein of international law, has created a dangerous precedent. Yes, it’s possible to redraw borders, to intervene militarily and to support a questionable guerilla group that, once in power, will escape all control. Yes, it’s possible to privatise a country in ruin, and a decade of international presence can sometimes mean more corruption than the consolidation of a fragile status quo.

Fifteen years after the war, the indications of organ trafficking remain in the hundreds of missing people whose remains have never been found. The suffering of their loved ones is tangible, their waiting unbearable. With its silence, the international community contributes to suffocate an incredible saga that mixes a geopolitical imbroglio and judicial soap opera. Without any material proof, no bodies, no witness protection, will yet another special court shed any light?

Achieving peace is more complicated than winning a war. From mirages of fuzzy testimonials, masked faces, fluctuating evidence and Balkan accounts of variable truths, the organ trafficking story illustrates the labyrinth of open wounds that has not finished gripping the people of Kosovo and Serbia. Because it was never resolved in a courtroom, the case should soon reach cinema screens. Fiction sometimes comes closer to reality. Director Emir Kusturica chose to explore the subject in his next film. As for Ilir, he never responded to my calls. He told me that Kosovo came from the Serbian word kos, which means blackbird. And that during the giro, the traditional evening family promenade, one can, in all four corners of the country, hear blackbirds’ calls mixing with those of the muezzin. After our encounter, I learned that his family is part of one of the most powerful Mafioso clans in Albania, close to Hashim Thaçi. It’s he who asked me to write the story of his country.