“This is an historic opportunity to demonstrate the even-handedness of international justice” – Michael Mandel, law professor, York University, Toronto, Canada, 1999
NATO leaders found guilty of war crimes in Yugoslavia
“NATO leaders acted in open violation of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12th August 1949, and the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8th June 1977 . . .” Dr Will Podmore, The Lancet (June 26th 1999)
In the District Court of Belgrade on September 22, 2000, the President of the court, Veroljub Raketic, handed down guilty verdicts against government leaders of NATO countries for “war crimes”. The defendants in the trial were: Tony Blair, Robin Cook, George Robertson, Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, William Cohen, Jacques Chirac, Hubert Vedrine, Alain Richard, Gerhard Schroeder, Joschka Fischer, Rudolf Scharping, Javier Solana and Wesley Clark – all of which were sentenced to 20 years in a Yugoslav prison. The Yugoslav government issued arrest warrants for all of them, charging that between March 24 and June 10, 1999, during the NATO attack on Yugoslavia, they carried out::
- Crimes against humanity and breaches of international law;
- Inciting to an aggressive war;
- violation of Yugoslavia’s territorial sovereignty
- The attempted murder of Slobodan Milosevic, President of Yugoslavia;
- War crimes against civilians
- The use of weapons banned under international law.
On April 18th 2001, it was reported that the former U.S. president Bill Clinton was sent a verdict sentencing him in absentia to 20 years in prison for “crimes against civilians” committed during NATO’s 1999 attack on Yugoslavia. According to news reports, Clinton, and his lawyers, also received a decision on the issuing of a warrant for his arrest.
With the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia, British Prime Minister Tony Blair dropped more bombs on the country than the previous Conservative government did in 18 years. Blair now leads a government which attacks or invades countries without UN approval – the sending of British troops to Sierra Leone in the latest example (“to secure the airport, safeguard British nationals life etc.”); the continuing criminal attacks by the UK and the U.S. on the defenceless people of Iraq (under the justification of their own self-declared “no-fly-zone’) is another; but it is the attacks against Yugoslavia which has led to the British government ministers being accused of war crimes by numerous human rights groups, and indictments submitted to that effect to the International War Crimes Tribunal by Professor Michael Mandel and others, as well as lawyers from many other countries (see below).
As with Iraq, the attacks on Yugoslavia led to widespread loss of civilian life (some claims put the loss at over 1000 life’s) and the almost complete economic destruction of the country – now ranked poorer in Europe than Albania. By all accounts, the NATO bombing was indiscriminate, killing farmers, suburbanites, city dwellers, factory workers, reporters, diplomats, people in cars, busses and trains, hospital patients, the elderly and children.
Legal cases against Yugoslavia
However, he former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other key officials have also been accused of war crimes and specifically charged with the murder of 387 civilians in the war-torn Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Read that indictment here: The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia: The prosecutor of the trial against Slobodan Milosevic, Milan Milutinovic, Nikola Sainovic, Dragoljub Ojdanic and Vlajko Stojilkovic. Two of the Bosnian Serb leaders have also been charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia – ex-President Radovan Karadzic and Genaral Ratko Mladic. Read their indictment here:
There are also two outstanding cases aat the International Criminal Tribunal alleging genocide by Yugoslavia in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina:
Application of the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide (Croatia vs Yugoslavia)Application of the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v Yugoslavia)
On April 24th 2001, the Information Service of the Yugoslav Army General Staff stated that a criminal investigation had begun against 245 soldiers, and that indictments had been issued against 183 for crimes committed in Kosovo from March 1st, 1998, to June 26th, 1999. They were charged with killing civilains and scores of other crimes. The statement, in response to a story in The Observer of April 22nd 2001 that had claimed a Yugoslav Military Court had discovered Serb War Crimes unit. The Yugoslav Army denied this, claiming it “without valid proof”. The newspaper had said that the Yugoslav Army had a unit for burning bodies and erasing traces of Albanians killed during the war in Kosovo, and about its soldiers burning 3,000 bodies in the Trepca mine.
Scores of current legal cases against NATO leaders
Yet, neither the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, or Defence Secretary George Robertson (now head of NATO) have been charged with war crimes despite the fact that their military forces oversaw the murder of well over 500 Yugoslav civilians. Yet, little, if any media coverage has been given to the numerous lawsuits now issued against the leaders of NATO for alleged war crimes carried out during the attack on Yugoslavia. There at least 20 cases currently in process or before the courts, including:
Complaint to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (Professor Michael Mandel, Osgoode Hall Law School, Toronto, Canada et al., May 6, 1999) Submission to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (Glen Rangwala, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Cambridge University, UK, on behalf of the Movement for the Advancement of International Criminal Law, May 5, 1999)
Campbell et al. v. William Jefferson Clinton (complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, April 30, 1999) See also Press release from the office of U.S. Congressman Tom Campbell
Text of the indictment prepared by Ramsey Clark: INDEPENDENT COMMISSION OF INQUIRY HEARING TO INVESTIGATE U.S./NATO WAR CRIMES AGAINST THE PEOPLE OF YUGOSLAVIA
Oral Pleadings with the International Court of Justice – Request for Provisional Measures May 10, 1999
Human rights groups confirm widespread civilian casualties from NATO attack
As noted by Amnesty International, the precise number of civilians who died as a result of NATO air attacks is not known. Yugoslav estimates of civilian deaths are certainly contradictory, but some official public estimates put the number of civilian deaths in “the thousands.” The most detailed official account of the damage caused by the NATO bombing is NATO Crimes in Yugoslavia (The White Book), which is published by the Yugoslav Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is the most detailed official account of the damage caused by the NATO bombing. It lists around 400 civilians killed in over 40 incidents involving civilian fatalities, although it seems clear from the text of The White Book that it does not represent a complete list of all civilians killed in the NATO bombing. Reuters reported on 23 March 2000 a new Yugoslav government estimate of 1,002 army and police known to have either died or gone missing. The government did not make clear whether this was only during the air strikes. According to Human Rights Watch, between 489 and 528 Yugoslav civilians were killed in 90 incidents.
NATO’s actions were illegal even under it’s own treaty – which does not permit it to undertake aggressive military action without a UN mandate. Thus, Amnesty International said that the way in which NATO conducted it’s illegal Blitzkrieg against Yugoslavia resulted in the forces ordered in by both the British Prime Minister and the U.S. President committing a number of serious war crimes including the unlawful killing of civilians.
In a 60-page report, Amnesty International said that on the basis of available evidence, including NATO’s own statements and accounts of specific incidents, they believed that :
“Whatever their intentions — NATO forces did commit serious violations of the laws of war leading in a number of cases to the unlawful killings of civilians”.
Amnesty point to several incidents classified by them as “war crimes”: the 23rd April 1999 attack on the headquarters of Serbian state Television and Radio (RTS), in which NATO aircraft killed 16 civilians.
Commenting on this case, Amnesty said:
Amnesty International recognizes that disrupting government propaganda may help to undermine the morale of the population and the armed forces, but believes that justifying an attack on a civilian facility on such grounds stretches the meaning of “effective contribution to military action” and “definite military advantage” beyond the acceptable bounds of interpretation. Under the requirements of Article 52(2) of Protocol I, the RTS headquarters cannot be considered a military objective. As such, the attack on the RTS headquarters violated the prohibition to attack civilian objects contained in Article 52 (I) and therefore constitutes a war crime.
In other attacks, including the 12th April bombing of Grdelica railroad bridge, which killed 12 civilians, and the missile attack on Varvarin bridge on 30th May, which killed 11 civilians, NATO aircraft failed to suspend their attack after it was evident that they had struck civilians. In other attacks, including those which resulted in the highest number of civilian casualties (the attacks on displaced Albanians near Djakovica on 14th April, and in Korisa on 13th May, whose combined death toll exceeded 120) NATO failed to take necessary precautions to minimize civilian casualties.
Parliamentary committee in Britain concedes attack was illegal under international law
In June 2000, The NATO’s foreign affairs select committee of the British parliament said that the NATO aggression against Yugoslavia was illegal under international law. The select committee also concluded that as NATO is a “defensive alliance” it had no power under its treaty to launch a war against Yugoslavia without the specific authority of the United Nations (UN). The overwhelming mass of evidence given to the committee ruled that the bombing of Yugoslavia was illegal under international law. Emyr Jones Parry, the Foreign Office political director, insisted the NATO aggression was legal, but admitted in evidence to the committee that “normally” the UK has one of three legal justifications for military action against a country:
- UN Security Council resolution specifically authorising it;
- Being invited in to do it;
- In self-defence.
None of these criteria actually pertained in this case to justify NATO aggression against Yugoslavia.
It is clear now that both the U.S. and the UK governments deliberately waged war against Yugoslavia with the authority of the UN because it knew at best both Russia and China (and possibly France) would use their veto on the UN Security Council to prevent any military action without specific UN approval. At worse, it also refused to recognise the authority in this matter because both governments knew they could their version of events in Kosovo would not stand up to independent scrutiny – i.e., the persistent claims and propaganda by both British and U.S. government ministers of widespread killings – one British government Defence minister – without any proof, claimed that some 10,000 Albanians had been killed – some in the U.S. speculated that it could be as high as 100,000.
Apparently, during the NATO air-strikes the then British government’s attorney general, John Morris, questioned the legality of the bombing. The foreign affairs select committee also queried whether the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was a genuine mistake. According to a report in The Guardian, The committee was given detailed evidence suggesting that the bombing of the embassy was not a great strategic blunder, but a deliberate move by the Americans aimed at knocking out what they later claimed was “a telecommunications post’. (7th June, 2000).
The members of the committee also conclude that the Contact Group, led by the Americans, placed “unreal demands” on the Yugoslavs during the negotiations at Rambouillet, near Paris, including the requirement that NATO troops be allowed “free movement” inside the whole of Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia indicts NATO leaders
On January 5th 2000, it was announced that the Yugoslav government would step us pressure to indict leaders of NATO countries, notably the Tony Blair, and the US President Bill Clinton, for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the NATO onslaught against Yugoslavia in 1999.
On April 29, 1999 Yugoslavia had submitted a demand for instigating proceedings before the International Court of Justice. On June 30th 1999, the International Court of Justice set a deadline for the start of legal action. In keeping with this, the Yugoslavia met the Court’s deadline on January 5th 2000, by filing a demand for proceedings against the NATO countries. Most of this has been hardly been reported in the mainstream Western press. However, on the official Yugoslav government website it was stated:
“Yugoslavia demands that the Court declare these countries responsible for the violation of major international obligations, which ban the implementation of force against countries, interference into their internal affairs or the violation of their sovereignty, as well as other international obligations. The indictment also included the demand for confirming the responsibility of these countries for their failure to prevent the genocide against the Serb people and other non-Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija, in which way they violated the obligations stemming from U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide Crimes . . . Yugoslavia is also demanding that the Court instruct all countries, which are being sued to pay compensation for all the damages inflicted”.
It is not only the Yugoslav government which is attempting to indict the NATO countries. On 8th January 2000, Human Rights Watch announced that NATO’s conduct during the war “breached international law”, and said it was drawing up detailed reports to be submitted to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague. The organisation accuses NATO of:
Deliberately bombing Yugoslavia’s civil infrastructure. The targets were “disproportionate and should be found violations of international humanitarian law”. Electricity grids, oil refineries and radio and television stations are among the examples;
Using cluster bombs, many of which lie unexploded in Yugoslavia. Human Rights Watch claim they are still killing or maiming up to two civilians a day;
Killing far more civilians than claimed by the alliance. Human Rights Watch claim “about” 600 Yugoslav civilians were killed – fewer than the 1500 or so claimed by the Yugoslav government.
The dossier of alleged war crimes by NATO given to the war crimes tribunal by Human Rights Watch follows that of a group of international lawyers led by Michael Mandel, a law professor at York University in Toronto, Canada, and one from the Yugoslav government. Below is a indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity given to the International War Crimes Tribunal on 6th May 1999 by a group of international lawyers, mainly based in Canada. It alleges that the leaders of the 19 NATO countries which attacked Yugoslavia in 1999 are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The background to this indictment is simple: The President of the Tribunal, Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, in a press release of April 8, 1999, had urged that:
All States and organisations in possession of information pertaining to the alleged commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal should make such information available without delay to the Prosecutor.
This was added to on April 30, 1999, when in Geneva, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, in a speech to the Commission, cited a letter from the Prosecutor in which the Prosecutor stated:
The actions of individuals belonging to Serb forces, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), or NATO may come under scrutiny, if it appears that serious violations of international humanitarian law have occurred.
The attack on Yugoslavia was carried out without the legal sanction of the United Nations. The indictment alleges that the NATO alliance and its political leadership, led by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, carried out war crimes and crimes against humanity and serious breaches of international law. These include: the bombing of hospitals, schools and the use of cluster bombs against civilian targets; a deliberate attempt to assassinate Milosevic, when his residence was destroyed by NATO missiles; the killing of Albanian refugees by NATO bombers, and deliberate attempts to destroy Yugoslavia’s water supply, and thus encourage the spread of disease and ill-health.
NATO attack targeted water supplies, health care, sewage and other public services
Dr Will Podmore, writing in The Lancet (June 26th 1999), confirmed this, stating that the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia had “damaged many clinical and hospital centres”, including the hospital of Dragisa Misovic in the Yugoslav capital Belgrade in which three people were killed and the operating theatres destroyed. Another crime committed by NATO, and sanctioned by it’s political leaders, was the bombing of all the bridges across the international waterway through eastern Europe, the River Danube. During these attacks – during which some bridges were bombed despite the fact that there were civilian protesters on them – water supplies were cut off, and according to Dr Podmore, the largest Yugoslav centre for the treatment of cardiovascular disease was left without water. Podmore further notes that “NATO leaders have claimed that these incidents were accidents” but have admitted that NATO’s leaders have admitted that they were the “inevitable result” of their bombing strategy. He then observes:
“Therefore NATO leaders acted in open violation of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12th August 1949, and the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8th June 1977 . . .”
The clear strategy of NATO has been to destroy the whole infrastructure of the Yugoslav state: its public services, including health and education, water, sewage, electricity and the agricultural production, the whole rail and road network, and the closing of the international waterway, the River Danube. This has been backed up by the attempt – which appears to have failed – to destroy the military capabilities of the Yugoslav armed forces, and the continuing attempt to smash the Yugoslav federation by encouraging separatism in the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, the Hungarian speaking region of northern Serbia, and of course, among the Albanian majority in the province the Kosovo-Metohija. The long-term aim of NATO’s strategy has not to bring human rights and justice to Kosovo-Metohija, but to detach this province from Yugoslavia and foster the breakup of the Federation, which has so far this century, has not only survived, but defied numerous attempts by countries such as Germany (in 1941 and 1991) the smash it once and for all.
NATO’s plan is to destroy Yugoslavia
Now that the overt war against Yugoslavia is over, it is clear that the Albanian question in Yugoslavia and the future of Kosovo-Metohija were not the main issues driving the NATO aggression against Yugoslavia. Comments made in July 1999 by the former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, indicate that the fact that Yugoslavia does not have a so-called “free market”, and is today, the only European country to have a largely Socialist-based economy, is the main reason behind the deep-rooted hostility of NATO towards Yugoslavia. Like with Montenegro today, the plight of Yugoslavia’s Albanian minority has been the pretext to destroy a country that refuses to accept the “free market” and thus its entrance into Europe’s “nations of nations”, as the EU has been referred to. It gave the NATO alliance the excuse to sidetrack the UN and launch a massive air bombing campaign.
In June 2000, the Russian and Chinese representatives on the United Nations Security Council sharply criticized The Hague tribunal, accusing it of “being politicized, one-sided and biased”. At a council session, the two ambassadors severely criticized the tribunal for failing to open an investigation against NATO for crimes committed in bombing civilians in Yugoslavia. Russia accused the court of having political ambitions and practising an anti-Serb policy, and stated that “Everything indicates that the Hague tribunal has in advance determined the guilty parties in the Yugoslav tragedy by closing its eyes to crimes committed by Croats and Muslims . . .”.
Now the war is over, and NATO troops are now in occupation of Kosovo-Metohija on behalf of the UN, the genocide continues: According to the UNHCR, almost 250,000 Yugoslav citizens of Montenegrin, Roma or Serb origin have fled the province. By September 2000, the Yugoslav government has documented over 1000 murders alone believed to have been carried out by the CIA-supported KLA, whom, many observers in the Balkans believe, will be installed in power in Kosovo-Metohija, once the province is detached from the Yugoslav Federation by NATO. The subversion of Yugoslavia continues with political assassinations of key officials in the government and economy, and support given by NATO to political parties in Montenegro which favour separation from Yugoslavia. Read all about these latest developments here in NATO preparing new military strikes in the Balkans by Gregory Elich
In the interests of justice and international law the International War Crimes Tribunal (IWCT) should bring these indictments against those named below, so they can be brought to justice in The Hague for their alleged involvement in genocide and the sanctioning of crimes against humanity during the NATO assault on Yugoslavia. Failure of the IWCT would allow NATO leaders to assume that they will never be challenged legally and that they could attack other countries – such as Cuba for example – using the same pretext that they attacked Yugoslavia, further undermining international law and the role of the United Nations in resolving conflicts by peaceful means between states.
By Seán Mac Mathúna