TWO documentaries made by Irish filmmaker Gerry Gregg exposing the atrocities of the Kosovo conflict helped to convict five Serbians at a war crimes tribunal in The Hague last week.
The documentaries, which Gregg made with Channel 4 war correspondent John Sweeney, exposed a massacre of Albanians in a Kosovan village in 1999. The programmes were submitted as evidence to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
The testimony about a mass execution of 100 men and boys by Serbian militia forces in 1999 helped the trial judges conclude that a "widespread campaign of violence" waged against ethnic Albanians was "conducted in an organised manner, using significant state resources."
"I suppose it makes you think that sometimes you can do something worthwhile in this business that seems so ephemeral," said Gregg, an award-winning filmmaker whose past work includes a documentary series on Des O'Malley, the founder of the Progressive Democrats. "You say, can you make a difference? Sometimes you can. Here is something tangible, this work contributed to these men being brought to justice."
The first of the documentaries, made for Channel 4's Dispatches series, followed Sweeney's search for survivors from a village called Little Krushe and told the story of the massacre of 100 men, shot and burnt in a hay barn. Witness to Murder was followed by Prime Suspects, when Gregg and Sweeney travelled to Kosovo to identify the site of the atrocity after Nato troops went in. The Serbian militia forces had vanished from the village and the barn was destroyed, the site marked by two craters in the ground where they had bombed it. One Albanian survivor describes how he narrowly escaped the blazing barn by crawling out from under the bodies of his fellow villagers. Witness to Murder went on to win an Emmy television award in the US.
Gregg attributed the strength of both documentaries to "great, dogged journalism" by John Sweeney, who combed hospitals in Albania searching for witnesses to what were then only rumours of a massacre at Little Krushe.
"It's old fashioned gum-shoe journalism that led to this," he said. "By the time I got there (to Albania), John had visited every hospital looking for evidence of what happened," he said.
Gregg recalled two chilling anecdotes he said have haunted him. One was when he filmed the women returning to Little Krushe after Nato troops entered Kosovo. Forced to flee without their men, they returned to find the village destroyed and the barn reduced to two craters in field. "That was the moment those women knew what had happened to their sons and husbands," he said.
The other concerns an interview with a survivor of the massacre, in which he recalled the moment of execution. Lined up with other Albanian men, faces to the wall, he heard one militia shout to another: "You're late." He heard a machine gun cock, as the executioner said: "Don't worry. This will only take two minutes."
"Those images will never leave me," said Gregg. He said he had never thought the footage could help bring the men who planned and orchestrated such atrocities to justice. The filmmakers found evidence in the deserted homes of Albanians that included photographs, army passbooks and pictures of the men the Albanians identified as killers.
Sweeney wrote last week that "in a small way" this evidence "helped connect the killers on the ground with the generals at the top. Taken together with other evidence, such as the note in the war diary of deputy Interior Minister Obrad Stevanovic, who noted the late President Slobodan Milosevic saying in a war council meeting: 'no corpse, no crime,' the case against all but (former Serbian President Milan) Milutinovic was found to have been proven by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia."
Five of Mr Milosevic's top henchmen were sentenced on Thursday to a total of 96 years in jail for the murder, deportation and torture of ethnic Albanians. They included Nicola Sainovic, the Yugoslav deputy prime minister, Dragoljub Ojdanic, the army chief of staff, army generals Nebojsa Pavkovic and Vladimir Lazarevic, and Sreten Lukic, a general of the Serbian police. Former Serbian President Milam Milutinovic was acquitted.