Violation of International Law

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  • by Anup Shah
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"Nato is the friend of the Tribunal," said NATO spokesman Jamie Shea. "NATO countries are those that have provided the finances to set up the Tribunal; we are among the majority financiers."

Inter Press News Service, May 1999

"We will act multilaterally when we can and unilaterally when we must"

Madeline Albright, 1998

On this page:

  1. NATO Violates International Law
  2. Milosevic also Violates International Law
  3. Military Targets only?
  4. Ramifications and Reactions

NATO Violates International Law

"Amnesty International believes that in the course of Operation Allied Force, civilian deaths could have been significantly reduced if NATO forces had fully adhered to the laws of war.

NATO did not always meet its legal obligations in selecting targets and in choosing means and methods of attack. In one instance, the attack on the headquarters of Serbian state radio and television (RTS), NATO launched a direct attack on a civilian object, killing 16 civilians. Such attack breached article 52 (I) of Protocol I and therefore constitutes a war crime."

-- "Collateral Damage OR Unlawful Killings?
Violations of the Laws of War by NATO during Operation Allied Force
Amnesty International.

At the beginning of June 2000, the War Crimes Tribunal Prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, announced that she would not prosecute NATO for war crimes (due to subtle pressure from various NATO and political leaders, as explained in this link). A week following that, Amnesty International released a report accusing it of committing serious violations of the rules of was and even a war crime. (And a "Berlin Tribunal" came to an opposite conclusion to Carla Del Ponte's.)

Even though there will always unfortunately be civilian casualties in any wars, there are still international rules of war that help define situations when civilian deaths count as violations of those laws or not. For over ten years, Amnesty has been reporting on human rights violations against ethnic Albanians. (See also this radio debate between representatives from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others on this report. Some of the links below, which have been growing since the bombing started have also pointed out similar things that Amnesty International has pointed out.)

Another issue that was also of concern before and during the bombing commenced was the place of NATO with respect to the UN Security Council. NATO bombing of Serbia, should have legally been performed with the authorization of the UN Security Council.

The fact that US/NATO broke international law and therefore once again undermined the UN seems to have been missed out in all the various press reports from mainstream media. Although International Law was invoked hypocritically when three American soldiers are captured by Serb troops.

And if international law was something that could be ignored, even the US Congress had not approved war and therefore this bombing was illegal according to US law as well as international law.

Regardless of by-passing the UN, it didn't stop NATO blaming the UN for any ineffectiveness in rebuilding processes -- even though it is normally ignored by those countries that lay the blame that they are often the ones who are responsible for reducing monetary funds or political support to the UN in the first place.

Check out this link as well, for a detailed look at the legal and humanitarian issues.

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Milosevic also Violates International Law

This doesn't make Milosevic innocent by any means. The United Nations had called forth many many resolutions to stop his crackdowns and atrocities. However, NATO was not acting out an enforcement of these resolutions. Instead, it totally by-passed. If there were humanitarian motives behind the US-led NATO attack, the United Nations would have been the obvious overseer of the whole operation.

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Military Targets only?

And what about the rules of war? International Humanitarian Law, (Geneva Conventions etc) all point out that there should not be wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, yet we saw both NATO and Milosevic's troops violate this. Additional to the well-documented reports of atrocities by Serb troops, there were numerous NATO bombs killing and targeting civilian infrastructure, and civilians themselves. For example, NATO bombed bridges, factories, water facilities, hospitals, accidentally killed many refugees, destroyed passenger trains with Serb civilians, bombed apartment blocks, had the embarrassment of a stray NATO missile even hitting Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, about 40 miles from Kosovo's border, and so on.

NATO also bombed the Chinese Embassy causing diplomatic problems. In fact, just a couple of months after the NATO bombing ended, it was revealed that the bombing of the Chinese embassy was deliberate. This was because the Chinese were using the embassy to rebroadcast Serb signals. This definitely raises numerous questions about Chinese involvement. It also questions once again the truthfulness and credibility of NATO. What else has been presented untruthfully? During the actual incident, people in all ranks within NATO from US President Clinton, to various military commanders and officials all blamed the incident on out-dated maps and insisted that it was a mistake. (The previous link provides many details.) The mainstream media were all over the bombing incident in May 1999. However, when it was revealed to be deliberate (a worthy news story), there was very little coverage by US media, even though most other mainstream media covered it. Check out the media part of this site's Kosovo section for more about the various media distortions that accompanied this crisis.

While some of these are disastrous, or even embarrassing accidents some of the infrastructure that had been targeted like water and energy infrastructure, as well as numerous factories, had been deliberate with the accompanying claim that these were used to facilitate the military, while they are also largely and mainly used for civil purposes. What if say India bombed UK's National Grid that delievers electricity to everyone on the grounds that the UK has been unlawful in Northern Ireland and must be bombed as a result and that the National Grid is a legitimate target because the military may be using it as well?

International Law says that bombing or starving a civilian population is a violation and yet while most people will not argue the fact Milosevic is responsible for some horrendous crimes and violations of International Law, nations like the USA have also violated these very same principles they helped define, on many occasions.

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Ramifications and Reactions

Thousands upon thousands of people had taken to the streets in numerous countries all around the world, to protest NATO's unilateral actions. With USA leading NATO, even more anti-US sentiment had been created and many nations probably feel that they will need to increase their military expenditure on national security due to fears of rogue actions from large bully nations that can by-pass UN and international laws without consequence. (This will also then result in the US having to increase their military spending, because, for some reason other nations seem to be arming themselves!)

The Supreme Court of Greece has also issued a statement deploring the internationally criminal acts from NATO.

A Times of India editorial, May 6 1999, (for which their link seems to have now expired) suggests that international law has been a big loser in this war. Events in Kosovo, suggest that NATO can ignore, or not worry about what the UN or anyone who disagrees with USA says in this matter. The ramifications of this, as also seen in the Iraq crisis (where USA and UK did not obtain UN Security Council authorization to use force in 1998/1999), are important and once again the Madeline Albright quote at the top comes to mind (which describes blatantly how international co-operation and the majority of views can be ignored).

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War Crimes

All sides in this conflict have committed gross violations of humanitarian and international law.

Milosevic was finally indicted for crimes against humanity. However, some less reported facts about the type and scale of bombing and agression againt Serb civillians suggest that NATO/USA/UK should also be indicted for war crimes.

While Milosevic should rightly be tried for such gross crimes, this link also reminds us, that the victors, who may have also committed huge crimes against humanity themselves, often get away, unaccountably.

There has already been a submission to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague, requesting the indictment of UK's Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and Defence Secretary George Robertson for serious violations of international humanitarian law.

But given quotes like the following, it is easy to see how difficult it would be to even attempt to try all aggressors and violators of law:

"Nato is the friend of the Tribunal," said NATO spokesman Jamie Shea. "NATO countries are those that have provided the finances to set up the Tribunal; we are among the majority financiers." -- from this link.

War crimes can also apply to USA/NATO, yet the media will often faithfully only concentrate on the 'other' side.

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  • by Anup Shah
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