The forensic expert picked to advise the United Nations Jenin inquiry commission, charged with determining whether Israelis conducted a “massacre” there, was previously appointed by the European Union and NATO to investigate claims that a “massacre” took place in the Kosovo village of Racak in January 1999 – at which time she allegedly withheld vital information and thus helped usher in the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and subsequent troop deployment in its southern Kosovo province.

Finnish pathologist Dr. Helena Ranta was named as an adviser to the three-man panel appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan last week.

The commission was named in response to Palestinian claims of civilian slaughter and mass graves in the wake of Israel’s successful search-and-destroy mission targeting terrorists and their infrastructure in several West Bank towns.

Israel decided yesterday not to grant the U.N. team access, sparking a meeting by the Security Council which decided to give Israel an additional day to reconsider.

‘Crime against humanity’

Ranta, when she was head of the EU Forensic Expert Team, was engaged to investigate reports that Yugoslav armed forces slaughtered Albanian civilians in the Kosovo village of Racak on Jan. 15, 1999.

Following the forensic investigation by her team, at a March 17, 1999, news conference, Ranta referred to the Racak deaths as a “crime against humanity,” charging that the “victims” were “unarmed civilians,” according to BBC reports.

Despite contradictory results gathered by two other forensic teams – as well as doubts concerning the events in Racak raised by European media, including the Paris Le Monde and the London Times – one week later, NATO began its 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.

In the midst of the campaign, on May 22, 1999, the “International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia,” or ICTY, issued indictments for “Crimes against Humanity and Violations of the Laws or Customs of War” against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four of his associates for their part in the alleged Racak massacre.

Although Ranta made the charges that directly led to the NATO intervention, her team’s full report was suppressed by the U.N. and the EU for a full two years, until February 2001. When it was finally published in Forensic Science International, the report revealed that there was no evidence of a massacre, even though the OSCE observer mission in Kosovo, led by U.S. diplomat William Walker, was quick to come to such a conclusion.

However, by that time, Yugoslavia had been bombed, leaving its infrastructure heavily damaged and part of its territory occupied, while its former president currently stands trial at The Hague for charges that include the Racak “massacre.”

As an April 18, 1999, Washington Post article stated: “Racak transformed the West’s Balkan policy as singular events seldom do.”

This echoes the words of Daniel Bethlehem, a Cambridge University international legal expert and Israel’s external adviser on the U.N. Jenin inquiry. As reported by Ha’aretz, in a memorandum sent to the Israeli government, Bethlehem writes: “If the committee’s findings uphold the allegations against Israel – even on poor reasoning – this will fundamentally alter the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian leadership and may make it impossible for Israel to resist calls for an international force, the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state and the prosecution of individuals said to have committed the alleged acts.”

Thus, the lessons of Racak and the role of Dr. Helena Ranta concerning it may be highly indicative of the direction in which the U.N. Jenin inquiry is headed.

Withheld information

As the Hague indictment against Milosevic and his associates claims: “On or about 15 January 1999, in the early morning hours the village of Racak … was attacked by forces of the FRY (Yugoslavia) and Serbia. After shelling by … [Yugoslavian forces] the Serb police entered the village later in the morning and began conducting house-to-house searches. Villagers who attempted to flee from the Serb police were shot throughout [Racak]. A group of approximately 25 men attempted to hide in a building, but were discovered by the Serb police. They were beaten and then were removed to a nearby hill, where the policemen shot and killed them.”

In her March 17, 1999, press conference and statement, Ranta herself claimed that “… there were no indications that the people … [autopsied were] … other than unarmed civilians. …”

Yet she failed to mention the fact that she had not performed forensic testing on the hands of the dead, nor the fact that it was established that the bodies were shot from various distances and directions – and none at close range, which would contradict the version that the deceased were “unarmed civilians” who were summarily executed.

Furthermore, as pointed out by Chris Soda of Yugoslaviainfo, Ranta used the Scanning Electron Microscope with an Energy Dispersive X-Ray analyzer (SEM/EDX) method, for which samples must be obtained from the skin surfaces of a victim at the scene. Any delay in obtaining residues, movement of bodies or washing can diminish or destroy gunshot residues.

Having used this method, Ranta concluded that the findings for any traces of firearms use were “negative.” Yet, contrary to the standards required by the procedure, she did not start analyzing the bodies until six days after the time of death. Furthermore, according to her own admission, the bodies had been both moved and turned over during that time.

During her press conference, Ranta also made the claim that “… medicolegal investigations cannot give a conclusive answer to the question whether there was a battle [that took place],” but nevertheless concluded that the victims were non-combatants because, among other things, “… no ammunition was found in [their] pockets.” She declined, however, to reveal a fact extensively recorded by various media – that the entire operation had been filmed by the AP news service and observed by the OSCE and print media reporters, whom the Yugoslav forces had actually invited to come. For on that day, Yugoslav forces were closing in on Albanian Muslim KLA terrorists who had waged numerous murder attacks against police and civilians in the previous months, and whose stronghold Racak actually was.

The AP film shows extensive footage of battle between Yugoslav and KLA forces, and there is also a great deal of published media testimony to the fact that an armed battle took place in which Yugoslav forces reported having killed “15 KLA members.” Ranta never refers to this in her statement, nor does the ICTY indictment.

The OSCE observers that entered the village after the battle found no evidence of any “massacre,” nor of any civilians killed, just as they received no such testimony from any of the villagers. It was not until the next day that journalists were directed by a KLA member to a gully just outside the village in which the bodies lay.

Still, many of the journalists present, such as Renaud Girard of the French Le Figaro daily, noted the absence of shell casings and blood at the “massacre site.” Another French paper, Le Monde, wondered how it was possible for the Serb police to dig a trench and then kill villagers at close range while under fire by KLA forces.

The questions piled on. Yet Ranta never addressed them, and in fact ignored the evidence that would have set the context for the deaths that occurred at Racak.

Just two days later, on March 19, 1999, U.S. President Bill Clinton addressed his nation in order to prepare it for the air strikes against Yugoslavia: “As we prepare to act, we need to remember the lessons we have learned in the Balkans. … We should remember what happened in the village of Racak back in January – innocent men, women and children taken from their homes to a gully, forced to kneel in the dirt, sprayed with gunfire – not because of anything they had done, but because of who they were.”

Yet, Le Figaro reported that Yugoslav police had found “1 12.7mm heavy artillery gun, 2 hand-held artillery pieces, 2 sniper rifles, and about 30 Chinese-made Kalashnikov rifles” in Racak after the battle.

In addition, another forensic team composed of Yugoslav and Belarus pathologists, whose findings were ignored by most major media, the U.N., NATO and the E.U., found that 37 of the 40 bodies discovered (not 45 as stated in the Hague indictment) had recently fired weapons, and that they had shown signs of exposure to cold, outdoor conditions – which contradicted the ICTY claim that more than half the dead had been civilians hiding in a building, whom the Yugoslav forces discovered, dragged to the ravine and then “executed.”

Finally, the OSCE chairman-in-office, Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, in his own March 17, 1999, statement, wrote: “Dr. Ranta has also concluded that there is no indication of post-mortem tampering with bodies or fabrication of evidence. Furthermore, testing for gunshot residues on the victims has been negative. Minister Vollebaek notes Dr. Ranta’s conclusion that there was no indication of the victims being other than unarmed civilians. On this basis the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE reiterates his statement of 16 January [which is 5 days before Dr. Ranta’s team arrived to the scene], in which he condemned the Racak atrocity against innocent civilians.”

In light of Ranta’s controversial record, the fact that the U.N. has named her “to develop accurate information regarding recent events in the Jenin refugee camp” will no doubt be regarded as a bad omen by many Israelis.

As Israeli adviser Daniel Bethlehem said in Ha’aretz, Israel is “for all practical purposes … faced with a war crimes investigation.”

In fact, based on the precedents set by the Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in setting up the Racak indictment, it may develop that Jenin becomes the “test case” inaugurating the work of the recently instituted permanent International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. The presence of Dr. Helena Ranta makes this a likely scenario.

Aleksandar Pavic in Belgrade covers Yugoslavia for

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