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Aferdita Hajrizi

“I can prove it also with the other fact that I was in the attic in my own home with my two surviving children, and I very clearly heard the voice of my mother-in-law telling him, "Nenad, how can you kill my son?" You can ask me whether they were masked. I can tell you very well that these people standing in front of my home, those six policemen, were not masked. They had black berets, and I could see their face very distinctly. We could identify all of them because the road was lit that night.”

Aferdita Hajrizi, a Kosovo Albanian wife and mother, responds to questioning in cross-examination about the identity of the perpetrators who killed her husband, son and mother-in-law. She testified on 26 April 2002 in the case against Slobodan Milošević, and on 26 September 2006 in the case against Milan Milutinović et al.

Aferdita Hajrizi grew up in the town of Mitrovica, in the northern part of Kosovo. In 1984, she married Agim Hajrizi and together they had three children: one daughter, Arbnora, and two sons, Ilir and Arianit.

Mrs. Hajrizi’s husband was a political activist involved in fighting for the rights of Kosovo Albanians. Over the years, he worked in various political positions and for trade unions. In 1995, he was elected Chairman of the Independent Kosovo Trade Union Assembly.

Due to Mr. Hajrizi’s activism, he and his family were frequently subjected to harassment and intimidation by Serb officials. Mrs. Hajrizi received several threatening phone calls and her husband was arrested on multiple occasions and subjected to beatings by the police. On at least one occasion, he was also interrogated by the Yugoslav Secret Services. One day, on 15 March 1999, Mrs. Hajrizi answered the phone and heard an unknown male voice telling her that her family was being watched, and that they would slaughter them all. Mrs. Hajrizi, not wanting to appear afraid, told him that he was welcome to try, that she would defend her family. The male voice became angry, she said, and shouted that he would rape her only daughter in front of her.

After this phone call, Mrs. Hajrizi grew increasingly afraid for herself and her family. She and her husband were especially concerned that there would be a reaction against the Albanian population in Mitrovica in the event of any NATO military activity against Serbia. Their fears proved well grounded.

On the night of 24 March 1999, as the NATO bombing campaign began, Mrs. Hajrizi stored food and water in case they had to flee from Mitrovica. Her husband and their eleven year old son, Ilir, barricaded their front door with an old stove and some wood. They could hear shooting outside in the street.

As it grew dark, Mrs. Hajrizi put her three children to bed in her room. She hugged each of them as she put them to bed, as she later testified, “not knowing that this would be the last time that I would hug and kiss my boy [Ilir].” Her mother-in-law, Nazmije Hajrizi, also went to bed. Mrs. Hajrizi and her husband stayed up, watching the news and trying to understand what was happening outside.

At about 12:30 in the early morning hours of 25 March 1999, Mrs. Hajrizi and her husband heard two vehicles drive up and stop outside their house. They listened to the engines being turned off. When they looked out of their window, they could see two black cars parked in front. Six men got out of the cars, leaving one driver remaining in each.

The lights from the shop across the street illuminated the six men clearly. Mrs. Hajrizi could see that they were all wearing blue and black camouflage uniforms and black berets, which Mrs. Hajrizi recognized as the uniform of the Serb paramilitary police forces, different from the regular police uniform that consisted of a light blue shirt and dark blue trousers.

Mrs. Hajrizi immediately recognized two of the men: one was Nenad Pavićević, who had lived next door to Mrs. Hajrizi and her family for over twenty years; the other was a man called Boban, whom she knew worked with Nenad Pavićević. Mrs. Hajrizi knew that both Mr. Pavićević and Boban were employed by the regular police force. In fact, Mr. Pavićević had arrested Mrs. Hajrizi’s husband the year before. Mrs. Hajrizi later testified: “I have seen with my own eyes, in the middle of the marketplace, they were maltreating Albanians, imprisoning them. They were always active in such activities. Even the young children in Mitrovica know Nenad and Boban.” Mrs. Hajrizi’s husband also clearly recognized two of the other men as Ratko Antonijević and Dejan Savić. They did not know the last two men and they could not see the drivers of the cars.

As Mrs. Hajrizi and her husband watched, the six men pushed open their front gate and began pounding on the front door, trying to break down the barricade. Mrs. Hajrizi’s husband used his mobile phone to call a Union colleague and warn him that the police had arrived at his house and might target other activists as well. Mrs. Hajrizi opened the window to call to her neighbors for help, but one of her neighbors shouted at her to “Get inside!” He then fired a shot at her. Mrs. Hajrizi’s husband then woke up the three children and brought them to her. Together, they gathered in the corridor with her mother-in-law, listening to the sounds of fists and boots pounding on their door.

Mr. Hajrizi told his wife to take the children and hide in the attic. As Mrs. Hajrizi began leading her three children up the attic stairs, they could hear glass breaking and wood splintering as their front door was broken down. Ilir, Mrs. Hajrizi’s eleven year-old son, suddenly broke away from his mother and ran back down stairs to be with his father and his grandmother who had remained on the main floor of the house. Mrs. Hajrizi wanted to chase after him, but she could hear the policemen running up the stairs into the house, so she hurried into the attic and hid herself and her daughter and younger son.

Suddenly, from downstairs, Mrs. Hajrizi heard shots fired. She heard her husband groan and her mother-in-law call out “Nenad, how can you shoot my son?” After this, as Mrs. Hajrizi later testified, “I was then in a state of shock and didn’t know what to do, except hug my younger son close to me.”

Then there was silence. Mrs. Hajrizi’s daughter wanted to go downstairs, but her mother held her back. From downstairs, a male voice shouted in Serbian “Is there anyone upstairs? Come down!” Mrs. Hajrizi held her children still and kept them quiet. She could hear men moving around downstairs and discussing what to do. Then, she heard one of them say “There are more upstairs.” The door at the bottom of the attic staircase opened and she heard a man begin to climb the stairs. The sound stopped and the man on the stairs called up “Come down.” Suddenly, one of the men from downstairs shouted out “Let’s go!” and the man on the attic stairs turned around and went back down, leaving Mrs. Hajrizi and her two children in the dark.

Mrs. Hajrizi was afraid to move for a long time. She listened to hear if there was anyone moving around in the house below, but all was silent. After some time had passed, she decided that she must go down to check, so she left her children up in the attic, took her slippers off and crept downstairs.

When she reached the corridor, she found her husband Agim lying on his back. His hand was resting on the body of their son, Ilir, who lay next to him. Her mother-in-law lay face down, with her hands stretched across Agim’s body. Mrs. Hajrizi could see that her son Ilir had many bullet wounds. There were large pools of blood on the floor. She knew immediately that all three of them were dead. Mrs. Hajrizi later testified: “I remember how horrible it was when I stepped in my son’s blood.”

Mrs. Hajrizi went into the lounge to use the phone, but the line had been ripped out of the wall. She found her husband’s mobile phone and took that with her. Then, she covered the bodies with a blanket so that her two other children would not see them. She brought her children down from the attic, trying to block the bodies from their sight, and led them out into the street. She could hear gunfire nearby, coming from the direction of Latif Berisha’s house, another political activist who was the local leader of the main Kosovo Albanian political party, the Democratic League of Kosovo. Mrs. Hajrizi later learned that Mr. Berisha was also killed that night.

Mrs. Hajrizi did not know where to go, but knew that she must find somewhere safe for the children. She knocked on the doors of her neighbors, but no one answered. Finally, an elderly couple let them in and put them up for the night. She called her brother and told him what had happened and they arranged to meet the next day. She dared not tell him where they were for fear that her husband’s phone had been tapped.

The next day, after meeting up with her brother, Mrs. Hajrizi and her children went into hiding, staying with some of her relatives in the Tavnik neighborhood of Mitrovica. She was afraid to stay with her brother, because the policeman Nenad Pavićević knew where he lived. Mrs. Hajrizi had been told by her relatives that Mr. Pavićević was looking for her and her children. She was too afraid to go and identify the bodies, so her nephew went for her. The police demanded to know where Mrs. Hajrizi and the other two children were. As a result, Mrs. Hajrizi was also too afraid to attend the funeral of her husband, son and mother-in-law; instead, she remained in hiding.

On 28 March 1999, Serbian police and paramilitary forces began to burn down houses and expel the Albanian population from the Tavnik neighborhood where Mrs. Hajrizi and her children were staying. They fled with her brother’s family and were directed by Serb forces to the village of Zhabar, located nearby. After three days in Zhabar, however, Serb authorities forced them to return to Mitrovica.

On 3 April 1999, Mrs. Hajrizi and her family left Kosovo and travelled to Montenegro on buses arranged by the Serb authorities to remove the Albanian population from Kosovo. From Montenegro, they travelled to Albania, then on to Italy and Germany, finally arriving in the Netherlands where Mrs. Hajrizi’s brother lives. Mrs. Hajrizi, who was three months pregnant at the time these events occurred, suffered a miscarriage due to the trauma that she had experienced and was hospitalized for several days upon arriving in the Netherlands.

On 2 December 1999, Mrs. Hajrizi and her two surviving children were able to return to their home in Mitrovica.

On 16 November 2000, the Mitrovica District Court, under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, convicted Nenad Pavićević of the murder of Agim Hajrizi, Ilir Hajrizi, and Nazmije Hajrizi. The Court sentenced him to twenty years imprisonment. The trial took place without Mr. Pavićević’s presence because, as the Court noted, he remains a fugitive at large in Serbia beyond the Court’s jurisdiction.

Aferdita Hajrizi testified in the trial against Slobodan Milošević on 26 April 2002. In this case, many victims’ testimonies were submitted in written form as an exhibit, and appeared before the Tribunal to answer questions from the accused or the court. Aferdita Hajrizi gave statements about these events to the Office of the Prosecutor on 3 June 1999 and 20 August 2001. Slobodan Milošević died in custody on 11 March 2006, and proceedings against him were terminated. On 26 September 2006, Mrs. Hajrizi testified about the same events in the case against six other high-level Yugoslav officials - Milan Milutinović, Nikola Šainović, Dragoljub Ojdanić, Vladimir Lazarević, Nebojša Pavković and Sreten Lukić - who were charged with together with Slobodan Milošević of committing crimes in Kosovo.

>> Read Aferdita Hajrizi’s full testimony and witness statement in the case against Slobodan Milošević, and her full testimony in the Milutinović et al. case. Read also the judgement of the Mitrovic District Court which convicted Nenad Pavičević of the murder of Mrs. Hajrizi’s husband, son and mother-in-law.