© 2002 Friends of Bosnia  

Medicine Under Siege
International law provides that medical personnel, their facilities and vehicles, and their patients are immune from attack. Serb forces blatantly violated the law in 1998 and 1999 by expelling Albanian Kosovar doctors and patients from hospitals and clinics and harassing them at checkpoints. On April 1, 1999, Serb police occupied Prizren and armed the Serb hospital staff members, forcing Albanian surgeon Dr. Gem Shukriu to leave. At noon, he and his family drove toward the Albanian border. It took 24 hours to drive four miles.

“I am a surgeon and know stress but I had the worst stress in those 24 hours. One Serb soldier came with an automatic gun and pointed it at my neck. It was my good fortune from God that the line moved and I drove the car forward. His hand got caught in the door so he pulled it back. I got over the border. I felt like we were born again.”

“No matter what Serbs did, though, we did surgery on them. We were dedicated to medical ethics.”

Albanian doctors were also interrogated and detained by Serb police. Dr Luan Jaha, a surgeon at Pristina Hospital, was targeted in 1998 as a “terrorist” because he had treated members of the KLA. He was imprisoned in Prizren and tortured. Other doctors met similar fates. Some disappeared. Others remain in prison. As a surgeon today, he gets paid a third less than UN translators.

There has been a long history of oppression of ethnic Albanian physicians in the Serb-run health care system, including mass firing from employment in 1990. In 2000, politicization of health care was still in practice. Dr. Ilir Tolaj was deputy director of Pristina Hospital and head of the infectious diseases unit. But he was dismissed from his posts due to his political affiliation. “If you become a member of the KLA you can have your job back,” he was told. He said “no”.




Above: Prosthetic Clinic, Pristina Hospital, operated by Handicap International.There were 500 injuries from landmines in 1999.
1) Dr. Gem Shukriu, surgeon, Prizren Hospital
2) Dr. Luan Jaha, surgeon, Pristina Hospital
3) Dr. Ilir Tolaj, infectious disease specialist, Pristina Hospital