Summary and Current Status
Flora Brovina, an ethnic Albanian pediatrician from Pristina was abducted by Serb forces in April 1999 during the NATO air campaign. In early June, just before NATO troops entered Kosovo, she was transferred to Pozarevac Prison in Serbia. In November 1999, Dr. Brovina was brought to trial; one month later she was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment for allegedly conspiring against the government to commit terrorism during the NATO air campaign in Kosovo. The Serbian Supreme Court annulled her conviction in June 2000 and referred her case back to the District Court where she had originally been tried. The District Court—which, we understand, could have decided either to dismiss the case or order a new trial—decided in early July 2000 to proceed with a new trial to be scheduled for Fall 2000. On October 31, 2000, before her retrial took place, Dr. Brovina was released from prison unconditionally by presidential order. She immediately returned to Pristina, Kosovo and has become a spokesperson for the Kosovars, advocating the release of all ethnic Albanian political prisoners still held in Serbian jails.
At the invitation of the CHR, Dr. Brovina's youngest brother, Ilir Brovina, gave a moving presentation at the Institute of Medicine's 2000 Annual Meeting about his sister, Flora. He spoke about her extraordinary accomplishments, as a humanitarian and a pediatrician devoted to helping children, as well as the injustices she has suffered.
Dr. Brovina is well-known and respected in Kosovo and abroad for her commitment to providing health care to women and children and her courage in continuing to provide such vital services after the conflict began. It is believed that her prominence and the respect she had garnered from her humanitarian work may well be the reason that she was targeted for repression. In June 2000 Dr. Brovina was chosen as the year 2000 co-recipient of the prestigious Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights.
Dr. Brovina is a 51-year-old ethnic Albanian pediatrician and acclaimed poet from Kosovo. In the early 1990s Dr. Brovina lost her job as a medical doctor in Pristina Hospital in a purge of ethnic Albanian health professionals. Shortly thereafter, she set up and practiced medicine in a rehabilitation center for displaced women and children in Pristina. The center later became a home to some 25 children whose parents had been killed in the conflict. Dr. Brovina also founded and became president of the nonpartisan Albanian Women's League. The purpose of the organization reportedly was to educate Albanian women, particularly in health-related matters. In her capacity as president, Dr. Brovina helped to organize various kinds of humanitarian aid to women and children in the area, was in regular contact with local human rights groups and humanitarian organizations, and taught women how to administer first aid to their families. Her efforts included the distribution of leaflets with instructions on how to provide emergency care for heart attacks, heat stroke, snake bites, etc. She also taught women to knit sweaters to keep their families warm in the winter. With police permission, the League reportedly once organized a peaceful demonstration in March 1998 to protest against abuses by Serb forces in the area of Drenica.
At great personal risk, Dr. Brovina chose to remain in Pristina after the 1999 conflict began so that she could continue to help those in need. On April 20, 1999, she was abducted from her neighbor's home in Pristina by approximately eight men, most of whom were wearing civilian clothes and several of whom had masks. It is our understanding that, in response to her family's repeated inquiries to the local police about her abduction and whereabouts, they were told by the police that there was no information about the incident. It was learned some months later that Dr. Brovina had initially been held in Lipljan Prison, 17 kilometers south of Pristina, and was subsequently admitted to Pristina Hospital in poor health. (She suffers from angina.)
On May 17, 1999, the Pristina District Court reportedly opened an investigation into Dr. Brovina's case. She was accused of "association for the purpose of hostile activity" under Article 136, paragraph 1 of the Federal Criminal Code, "damaging the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" under Article 116, paragraph 1, and "terrorism" under Article 136, paragraph 1. The May 17 court documents reportedly stated that she was accused of organizing, as president of the Albanian Women's League, the provision of food, clothing, medical supplies, and medical care to members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and of attending League meetings during which alleged terrorist acts were planned. It is our understanding that Dr. Brovina was later accused of being "minister of health" in Kosovo's shadow government of ethnic Albanians and, as such, of having helped to plan additional terrorist acts.
On June 10, 1999, just two days before NATO troops entered Kosovo, Dr. Brovina was among scores of ethnic Albanian prisoners transported from Kosovo to prisons in Serbia. She was sent to Pozarevac prison in eastern Serbia, where she remained until her release. Dr. Brovina was brought to trial in the Nis District Court in Serbia on November 11. She was charged with conspiring to perform hostile acts and terrorism. The third accusation of damaging the Federal Republic's territorial integrity appears to have been dropped. In the weeks just prior to her trial, she was required to speak Serbian during visits by her family and lawyer and stand several meters away from them, presumably so that their conversations could be monitored by prison guards. Her trial was postponed twice because travel by key witnesses was said to be delayed by poor weather. On December 9, she reportedly was convicted of conspiring against the government to commit terrorism during the NATO air campaign in Kosovo and sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment.
The prosecution's case reportedly centered on a statement that Dr. Brovina signed soon after her arrest stating that she was aware that the KLA was involved in the Albanian Women's League and on a photograph of her with a KLA member. She explained at her trial that she had only signed the statement under duress following 200 hours of interrogation. She also said that the KLA member in the photo with her was her friend's husband. The trial was attended by a number of international observers, including a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and representatives of legal and human rights groups, and has been widely described as a political trial. Amnesty International reported that the charges brought against Dr. Brovina were "without foundation." Her trial was one of many brought against ethnic Albanians who were abducted and taken to Serb prisons following the withdrawal from Kosovo of the Yugoslav army and for which convictions have been based on evidence extracted under duress or torture.
Dr. Brovina appealed her conviction in May 2000. On June 6, 2000, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Serbia—which heard Dr. Brovina's appeal against her conviction and examined it for several weeks thereafter—reportedly annulled her conviction and 12-year sentence and referred her case and sentence back to the lower Nis District Court (where Dr. Brovina's original trial and conviction took place) for review. The Supreme Court reportedly made its ruling on the grounds that her trial had violated procedural rules. The Nis District Court—which, under Serbian law, reportedly could either dismiss the case or order a new trial—decided in July 2000 to retry Dr. Brovina. While the new trial was originally scheduled to take place in September 2000, it was postponed twice. It was rescheduled for October 12, at the request of Dr. Brovina's lawyers, because they had not been given the Supreme Court's June decision. According to her lawyers, they could not adequately prepare Dr. Brovina's defense without seeing the earlier decision. A judge also reportedly approved a request at that time that Dr. Brovina be given a pen and paper so that she could help to prepare her case. Her trial was then postponed to November 16 by the Court allegedly because the judge was ill. Dr. Brovina's defense lawyer attributed the delay to "political uncertainty" in Yugoslavia.
We understand that, during her imprisonment, Dr. Brovina was visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross, her family, and her lawyer and that her family was allowed to bring her some medicines for her angina.
On October 31, 2000, Dr. Brovina was released from Pozarevac prison by presidential order. She was escorted out of the prison by officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the U.N. human rights representative in Belgrade, her lawyers, and representatives from nongovernmental human rights groups. Having stated in early October, when it became apparent that her release was imminent, that she would not leave the prison where she was held unless all her fellow ethnic Albanians held in Serb prisons were released as well, Dr. Brovina agreed to being released only after receiving assurances that those ethnic Albanians who remained imprisoned would be released shortly. She immediately returned to Pristina, Kosovo.