Podujevo massacre, Kosovo

Vlastimir Djordjevic was the Deputy Minister of the Interior for Serbia and was responsible for all units of the Serbian police force.  In March of 1999, Djordjevic ordered a paramilitary group called the Skorpions to be incorporated into the anti-terrorist unit of the Serbian police force and deployed into Kosovo.  The Skorpions were a well-known paramilitary group that had previously participated in massacres that targeted ethnic minorities in Serbia, including the massacre of over 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica, Bosnia.

On March 28, 1999, the new men were driven by bus to the town of Podujevo, Kosovo.  Within hours of arriving, members of the Skorpions lined a group of local women and children against a wall and opened fire on them.  Sixteen Kosovo Albanian civilians, all women and children, were killed.  Five of the children survived the massacre but sustained multiple serious gunshot wounds.

Djordjevic was charged and tried for his responsibility for this massacre, along with a number of other actions, by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).  Two of the children who survived the massacre, a member of the Skorpions, and several senior police officials testified against him.  Two leaders of the police unit testified in support of Djordjevic, stating that the Skorpion members acted without official authority and were not following orders.

Discussion Questions

  • Who should be prosecuted for the massacre?  Should Vlastimir Djordjevic be held responsible for these killings?  Why or why not?
  • Who should prosecute this crime?  Should it be dealt with by the Serbian government?  Or by an international tribunal like the ICTY, as part of its mandate to prosecute war crimes committed during the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s?
  • Should the person ultimately responsible for the police force and the Skorpions be held criminally responsible for failing to properly discipline and punish the perpetrators for their actions?
    • Additional Facts: Several weeks after the massacre, Djordjevic re-deployed 108 members of the original group of 128 men to Kosovo, where they participated in further operations in ethnic Albanian villages.  All of the men who had committed the killings were redeployed, except for one. Djordjevic was charged by the ICTY with both failing to take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent the killings in Podujevo, and failing to take the necessary and reasonable measures to punish the perpetrators.
  • Can Djordjevic’s actions in incorporating and deploying the Scorpions be seen as evidence of an intent to contribute to the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo?  What evidence would you look for to argue that this was his intention?