In the history of the Council of Europe, no committee report has garnered as many media hits as Dick Marty’s inquiry titled “Inhuman treatment of people and illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo.” 

The report prompted a furious controversy when it was released last month by the Council of Europe’s parliamentary affairs committee. Since then, Marty has been likened to a Nazi propagandist by Kosovo’s outgoing prime minister, Hashim Thaci, and a monkey by Albania’s president, Sali Berisha. Others have welcomed the report and hailed its author as a courageous investigator who puts truth to power, a man who’s unafraid to challenge the misdeeds of Washington, Moscow or any lesser power.

In person, Marty is soft-spoken and professorial. But behind this veneer is a determined former Swiss prosecutor and senator who occupies the curious position of human rights “rapporteur.”

Marty spoke with Michael Montgomery exclusively for the Center for Investigative Reporting and Balkan Insight.

Q: In your report for the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, you liken Kosovo’s outgoing Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, to a mafia boss. Based on your information, is it fair to compare Mr. Thaci to a mafia boss?

A: Some will take issue with the term, I’m sure. What is new in this report, in relation to what has been said in the past, is that we were able to obtain specific details, thanks to people who were eyewitnesses to what occurred and that we describe this group, Drenica, of which Mr. Thaci was no doubt one of the leaders. In this regard, you can say “boss” or you can say “leader,” but either way he played an important role, in crime and in politics. 

Q: You found evidence of a network of makeshift detention facilities in Albania that was used by the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) or operatives linked to the KLA.

A: Yes, from several testimonies, not just one, we learned that there was an entire network of small detention centers and that the detainees were moved from one centre to another. And it is through these eyewitness testimonies that we were also able to gather statements about organ trafficking. I would also like to say, in relation to organ trafficking, that the emphasis being placed on this in the media is exaggerated in relation to the rest of the criminal activity. We state that, certainly, not all of those who disappeared had their organs removed, only a small portion. But that should not obscure the basic fact that these people disappeared and that it is certain they were killed.

Q: You write how some of the abductees who were subjected to a filtering process that included medical tests and ended up at a location in Fushe Kruje near the airport (in Albania). You have very specific information about how these victims were killed, and where their bodies were taken and what happened to the bodies. 

A: Based on testimony we have gathered, there was a sort of selection among the prisoners. Certain prisoners – following, in addition, the collection of blood samples -were selected and taken to a center where they were killed with a bullet to the head, after which their organs were extracted for transport abroad. I must emphasize that this did not occur systematically with everyone who disappeared. I am even stating that we have knowledge of only a small group of cases. And so I think we must stress that this organ traffic, while of the utmost gravity, is not the key point. The key point is that hundreds of people disappeared and were killed.

Q: In your report you write about the relationship between events that happened in Albania in 1999 and 2000 and the more recent “Medicus” case in Pristina. Is there a direct connection between the two cases?

A: Several elements lead us to believe that there is a connection between the two cases: That, ultimately, it is the same international channels at work. It is even of interest to note that the latter case involves organ trafficking that occurred in 2006, while international forces were present in Kosovo. We did not provide further details because we do not wish to interfere with the ongoing investigation by EULEX (the European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo) of the Medicus case. But we believe – and there are several elements that point to this – that the two cases are related, in particular that the same people were carrying out the surgical operations, and the same international channels were involved.

Q: In terms of the information you cite in these reports, this is not hearsay, this is serious information that could be used to build an indictment?

A: Our work is not the work of an examining magistrate or an attorney prosecutor; my work is the political work of an institution that defends human rights. So our work is not an indictment, but more a set of findings, and on the basis of those findings the proper authorities would have to open an investigation. Now, if you ask me personally as a former magistrate and prosecutor, based on the documents and on the testimony we have gathered, certainly an investigation should be opened and it should have been opened a long time ago.

Q: In 2004 a team of officials from UNMIK (the United Nations Mission to Kosovo) and the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) traveled to Rripe, near Burrell, Albania, where they searched a house and spoke with the people who lived there. They found indications of bloodstains throughout the first floor living area and collected evidence such as used medicines and I.V. drip bags. Later, the ICTY’s prosecutor’s office destroyed this evidence without ever having it analyzed and without informing any other authorities including UNMIK. A spokesperson for the tribunal said this was done in accordance with normal procedure. What is your comment? 

A: This is certainly not a normal procedure for any tribunal in the world. When you gather evidence and you believe that you don’t have the necessary proof or you are not the competent authority to continue the investigation, you never destroy the evidence, especially when no statute of limitation has expired. You keep the evidence, because at some later point in time, perhaps, there will be new evidence that will make the old evidence newly significant. So, I do not accuse the ICTY of a conspiracy; I think they made a mistake.

Q: What do you think the main factors were for the West and the UN not to conduct high-level investigations in Kosovo?

A: I think that the philosophy in the beginning was – and this is the expression used by American diplomats – the past is past; we need to look toward the future. As they saw it at the time, they had chosen the team that seemed most up to the task of controlling the local authorities. Political stability and political expediency outweighed the sense of justice, to put it simply. 

Q: A close reading of your report suggests you penetrated the inner circle of this criminal network. Is that a fair statement? 

A: Those are your words. I think that you are not completely wrong, but you must understand that I cannot be more precise because I do not want to endanger those sources that trusted and spoke with me.

Q: Your report has been criticized for being long on commentary, some of it libelous, and short on verifiable facts. Why don’t you cite many of your sources? 

A: First, I would like to remind you that there is a whole series of reports by intelligence agencies from a variety of countries: The [American] FBI, the [British] MI6, the Italian SISMI, the German BND, and other reports. There are crime studies. If we have been able to be more precise, it is thanks to our witnesses. And these witnesses risked their lives. I would remind you that there is currently no witness protection law in Kosovo, and that during the trial of the Haradinaj brothers, of the forty witnesses who spoke up during the investigation, none testified at the trial and several were killed. 

So these witnesses will speak when they have an absolute guarantee that they will be protected, not only during, but also after the trial.

Q: You’ve conducted some very difficult and disturbing investigations in your career, both as a criminal prosecutor but also as a human rights special rapporteur. How does this investigation compare?

A: The greatest difficulty that I have encountered is finding witnesses and, even more, developing trust. Trust had to be built slowly, in order to make it understood that I was fully committed to protecting the witnesses’ anonymity and their lives, and that I would never give out any indications regarding witnesses without their consent. It was very difficult, to develop this trust. Perhaps the fact that I represent an institution such as the Council of Europe, that I work alone with a very small team, and that I am known for my earlier reports, contributed to establishing this trust.

Q: There’s been talk in recent days about the need for “clean hands.” That is, that people who want to be in the new government in Kosovo need to have clean hands and not be under a cloud of suspicion. Do you have an opinion on whether or not someone facing an investigation should be able to serve in the government in Kosovo?

A: I am of the opinion that anyone who assumes political responsibilities should be above suspicion. That is, not only should they be free of a criminal record, not only should they not be the object of an open investigation, but there should also not be all sorts of information casting doubt on their honesty. There is a well-known French expression: “even Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion.”

Q: Is the concept of ‘omerta’ (code of silence) still important in terms of organized crime in Kosovo? 

A: There are aspects that are somewhat similar to the Sicilian mafia of twenty or thirty years ago, and I think that the police or judicial authorities of Kosovo should draw inspiration from methods used by the Italian police. For example, working with high-level informants, people who admit their crimes and help bring down the whole network. The financial aspects must also be taken on. There are Kosovo politicians who have enormous financial fortunes, yet declare absolutely insignificant incomes. And so we must also investigate finances. What is the origin of this money? 

Q: It’s been said about the allegations you make in the report, especially the organ trafficking case – they’ve been investigated many times without any success. Some people say Dick Marty is just re-hashing old allegations. What’s your response?

A: I would respond that, probably, if I myself were a witness, I would talk to someone I trusted but not to international institutions that are not in a position to offer sufficient guarantees of protection. I think everyone knows that UNMIK had great difficulties in its work and that EULEX – and it is senior officials and judges in EULEX who tell me this – has major problems with interpreters, with local collaborators, with searching the information system in a secure way. It is extremely difficult to keep records strictly confidential. If, as a witness, you do not have complete assurance that your statements will be kept confidential, and that you as a witness are truly protected, clearly you won’t talk to these institutions.

Q: The so-called yellow house. What was its function in this whole network? What happened there?

A: The infamous yellow house was one of the centers in the private detention network. It was a transition centre where blood samples were also taken, in all likelihood to establish whether or not the person was compatible with recipients. So it was part of a network, but we know that it was not where organs were extracted.

Q: Do you think people didn’t pay enough attention to what happened to Serbs in Kosovo because of the devastation created by Serbian forces – the ethnic-cleansing, rape and murder. That is, when international institutions arrived in Kosovo, they treated the Serbs as the aggressors and the Albanians as the primary victims?

A: Yes, I think there was a perception that the Serbs were all guilty and the Albanians were all victims. It is true that Milosevic committed horrible crimes. What we refused to see is that there were also Albanian Kosovars who committed crimes. These crimes in no way diminish the gravity of the crimes committed by Milosevic. But I think that you can’t have a justice system for only the vanquished and not the victors. And I would like to stress that this report – and for me it is important to underscore this – is not a report against Kosovo. It is not a report against Kosovars.

I met mothers who had lost their sons in Serbia and mothers who had lost their sons in Kosovo, and between a Serbian mother and an Albanian mother who have both lost their children, there is no difference. And both have the right to know what happened to their children. So this is fundamentally a report for the men and women of Kosovo, because I am certain that there can be no real future for this people without the truth. These people, I know them well because there are many Kosovars in Switzerland. One tenth of the population of Kosovo is living in Switzerland and I know many. I believe they deserve a political class that is above corruption and that does not think solely of its own interests, but of the interests of the population as a whole.

Q: Are you ready to immediately hand your information, your witness list, your testimony, to EULEX so they can conduct an investigation ?

A: I am certainly in favor of a judicial process, but justice must provide guarantees. And when it does, I will ask the witnesses to agree to testify.

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Michael Montgomery

Michael Montgomery is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. He has led collaborations with the Associated Press, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Frontline, KQED and others.

Previously, Montgomery was a senior reporter at American Public Media, a special correspondent for the BBC and an associate producer with CBS News. He began his career in eastern Europe, covering the fall of communism and wars in former Yugoslavia for the Daily Telegraph and Los Angeles Times. His investigations into human rights abuses in the Balkans led to the arrest and conviction of Serbian and Albanian paramilitaries and creation of a new war crimes court based in The Hague. Montgomery’s honors include Murrow, Peabody, IRE, duPont, Third Coast and Overseas Press Club awards. He is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.