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NATO War Crimes?

Dateline: 6/7/00

About.com Poll
Did NATO commit war crimes?

I don't know.

Current Results

Amnesty International says NATO forces violated the laws of war during Operation Allied Force against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia last year and is calling for an investigation. In a new report, "Collateral Damage'' or  Unlawful Killings? Violations of the Laws of War by NATO during Operation Allied Force, the organization charges that NATO did not always meet its legal obligations in selecting targets and in choosing means and methods of attack. "Civilian deaths could have been significantly reduced if NATO forces had fully adhered to the laws of war during Operation Allied Force," the organization reports. The laws of war prohibiting attacks on civilians are included in particular in the 1977 Protocol I Additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary General, says the allegations are "baseless and ill-founded."  The Secretary General says NATO adhered to international law, including the law of war, throughout the conflict and made every effort to minimize civilian casualties. The organization does admit, however, that in a few cases mistakes were made, or weapons malfunctioned, leading to civilian deaths or injuries. [Read the full statement.]

War Crimes Investigation?

According to the report, the April 23, 1999 bombing of the Serbian state radio and television headquarters was a deliberate attack on a civilian object and as such constitutes a war crime. In other attacks on roads and bridges, Amnesty reports that NATO forces failed to suspend their attack after it was evident that they had struck civilians. In other cases, sufficient precautions were not taken to minimize civilian casualties.

The report also concludes that the requirement that NATO aircraft fly above 15,000 feet to provide maximum protection for aircraft and pilots made full adherence to international humanitarian law virtually impossible.

An investigation into possible war crimes by NATO is unlikely, however. In a statement to the UN Security Council last week, Madame Carla del Ponte, the Chief Prosecutor of the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia said, "I am very satisfied there was no deliberate targeting of civilians or of unlawful military targets by NATO during the bombing campaign. ... There is no basis for opening an investigation into any of those allegations or into other incidents related to the NATO bombing."

Human Rights Watch Report

Ticking Time Bombs: Human Rights Watch says the use of cluster bombs raises questions of humanitarian law, and that the use in particular of the CBU-89 Gator scatterable mine would directly violate the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.

In a report earlier this year, Human Rights Watch released the findings of  its own investigation into civilian deaths as a result of NATO action. The organization found ninety separate incidents involving civilian deaths during the bombing campaign. Nine of the incidents were attacks on non-military targets that it believes were illegitimate. These targets include the headquarters of Serb Radio and Television in Belgrade, the New Belgrade heating plant, and seven bridges that were neither on major transportation routes nor had other military functions.

The report also noted that sensitivity to civilian casualties led to significant changes in weapons use. Reports of civilian casualties from the use of cluster bombs led to an unannounced U.S. executive order in the middle of May 1999 to cease their further use in the conflict. 

Unlike the just-released Amnesty International report, Human Rights Watch's report concluded that there was no evidence of war crimes.

More on The Balkans

The Balkans more from About.com
Sites that report on human rights conditions in the Balkans including Kosovo.

Balkan News Links more from About.com
More news links from About.com's World News Guide Keith Porter.

Best of the Net more from About.com
The Institute for War and Peace Reporting wins About.com's December 1999 "Best of the Net" award.

Law and Order in Kosovo more from About.com
Revenge attacks against minorities and others continue to occur in Kosovo despite efforts by the international community to bring peace to the region.

The New Kosovo more from About.com
Human Rights Watch releases a report documenting violence against ethnic Serbs and Roma in Kosovo.

War Crimes in Kosovo more from About.com
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has indicted Slobodan Milosevic and four other high ranking Yugoslav officials for crimes against humanity and violations of the laws of war.

War Crimes Suspects? more from About.com
The U.S. has identified 9 senior Yugoslavian officers as possible war crimes suspects.

War Crimes in Racak more from About.com
Human Rights Watch is calling the January 15, 1999 attack on the village of Racak in Kosovo a war crime.

More War Crimes? more from About.com
Bosnian Serbs may have used chemical weapons at Srebrenica.

War Crimes Tribunal Targets Kosovo more from About.com
War Crimes Tribunal wants to investigate allegations in Kosovo. Yugoslav officials are resisting.

Related Book

Crimes of War—What the Public Should Know
Edited by Roy Gutman and David Rieff
An A-to-Z guide that defines major war crimes and other crimes against humanity.  The guide was originally conceived as a tool for journalists. Includes photos. Softcover.

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