In 1992, Nataša Kandić established the Humanitarian Law Centre (HLC) in order to document war crimes committed during the armed conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and record human rights violations in Serbia and Montenegro. At least 130,000 people died or were forcibly disappeared in the wars waged between January 1991 and June 1999, and in Kosovo from June 1999 to the end of 2000; thousands were interned in camps and millions obliged to leave their home and country.
In May 1997, the HLC opened an office in Priština/Prishtinë, Kosovo. Up till the beginning of the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, it was staffed by Albanian and Serb human rights researchers. Prior to the outbreak of armed conflict between Serb security forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in February 1998, the HLC documented widespread police interrogation and repression of Albanians, examining cases of torture, illegal imprisonment, and political trials. From February 1998, the Centre began to investigate war crime cases of murder and forced disappearance in Kosovo.
The Kosovo office of the HLC was moved to Montenegro during the NATO intervention of 1999. There it continued to document war crimes, primarily taking statements from Albanians whom the Serb forces had driven out of Kosovo. Following the Kumanovo Agreement that marked the end of the war in June 1999, the HLC returned to Priština/Prishtinë, where it continued to investigate war crimes against Albanian civilians committed by Serb forces during the NATO bombing. It also began to investigate the murder and forced disappearance of Serbs, Roma and Albanians who were perceived by the Kosovo public to be collaborators. In Serbia meanwhile, a team of lawyers was formed to visit Albanian detainees (2200 of them) held in Serbian prisons and to represent Albanians in politically motivated trials.
Keenly aware of the need to compose a Kosovo Book of Remembrance, in early 2006 the HLC began to check the data collected on war crimes, forming teams of researchers and analysts in Kosovo and Serbia who would examine the circumstances of death and forced disappearance in the period from 1 January 1998 to 31 December 2000.
The HLC was still pursuing its mission in Kosovo after the withdrawal of the Serb army and police and the arrival of international forces, at a time when the idea of a Serbian organisation continuing to work there was almost inconceivable. The researchers, Albanians, Serbs and Bosniaks, went on working as a team, documenting war crimes despite the many obstacles and hostilities existing between the ethnic communities and political elites in Serbia and Kosovo. From today’s perspective, it all seems easy, but in 1999 and 2000, team work of this kind was a high-risk occupation.
In August 2009, the HLC initiated proceedings to make the Kosovo office independent. These were finalised in April 2011 with the registration of the Kosovo HLC as an independent non-government organisation. The Belgrade and Pristina offices have continued to work together to produce the Kosovo Book of Remembrance, and as members of the coalition responsible for founding RECOM (Regional Commission Tasked with Establishing the Facts about All Victims of War Crimes and Other Serious Human Rights Violations Committed on the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia in the period from 1991-2001 ).