Amnesty International on NATO's War against Yugoslavia

Jay Moore research at
Wed Jun 7 04:51:52 MDT 2000

Nato 'deliberately attacked civilians in Serbia'

By Robert Fisk
The Independent (UK)

7 June 2000

Only five days after Nato was "exonerated" by the International War Crimes
Tribunal for its killing of civilians in Yugoslavia last year, Amnesty
International today publishes a blistering attack on the Alliance, accusing
it of committing serious violations of the rules of war, unlawful killings
and - in the case of the bombing of Serbia's television headquarters - a war

The 65-page Amnesty report details a number of mass killings of civilians in
Nato raids and states that "civilian deaths could have been significantly
reduced if Nato forces had fully adhered to the rules of war".

Legalistic in nature but damning in content - the document reminds readers
that Amnesty repeatedly condemned Serb atrocities against Kosovo Albanians -
the report highlights inconsistencies and obfuscation by Nato's official
spokesmen. Although Nato told Amnesty that pilots operated under "strict
Rules of Engagement", it refused to disclose details of the "rules" or the
principles underlying them. The report says: "They did not answer specific
questions Amnesty International raised about specific incidents ..."

Amnesty records that Nato aircraft flew 10,484 strike missions over Serbia
and that Serbian statistics of civilian deaths in Nato raids range from
400-600 up to 1,500. It specifically condemns Nato for an attack on a bridge
at Varvarin on 30 May last year, which killed at least 11 civilians. "Nato
forces failed to suspend their attack after it was evident that they had
struck civilians," Amnesty says.

When it attacked convoys of Albanian refugees near Djakovica on 14 April and
in Korisa on 13 May, "Nato failed to take necessary precautions to minimise
civilian casualties".

The report says Nato repeatedly gave priority to pilots' safety at the cost
of civilian lives. In several investigations of civilian deaths, Amnesty
quotes from reports in The Independent, including an investigation into the
bombing of a hospital at Surdulica on 31 May. The Independent disclosed in
November that Serb soldiers were sheltering on the ground floor of the
hospital when it was bombed but that all the casualties were civilian
refugees living on the upper floors.

Amnesty says: "If Nato intentionally bombed the hospital complex because it
believed it was housing soldiers, it may well have violated the laws of war.
According to Article 50(3) of Protocol 1, [of the Geneva Conventions] 'the
presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come
within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its
civilian character'.

"The hospital complex was clearly a civilian object with a large civilian
population, the presence of soldiers would not have deprived the civilians
or the hospital compound of their protected status." Some of Amnesty's
harshest criticism is directed at the 23 April bombing of Serb television
headquarters. "General Wesley Clark has stated, 'We knew when we struck that
there would be alternate means of getting the Serb Television. There's no
single switch to turn off everything but we thought it was a good move to
strike it, and the political leadership agreed with us.'

"In other words, Nato deliberately attacked a civilian object, killing 16
civilians, for the purpose of disrupting Serb television broadcasts in the
middle of the night for approximately three hours. It is hard to see how
this can be consistent with the rule of proportionality."

On 17 May last year, Nato's secretary general, Javier Solana, wrote to
Amnesty in response to its "grave concern" over the TV bombing, stating that
RTS (Serb Radio and Television) facilities "are being used as radio relay
stations and transmitters to support the activities of the ... military and
special police forces, and therefore they represent legitimate military

But at a meeting with Nato officials in Brussels early this year Amnesty was
informed that Mr Solana's reference "was to other attacks on RTS
infrastructure and not this particular attack on RTS headquarters."

The US Defense Department, Amnesty recalls, justified the television station
bombing because it was "a facility used for propaganda purposes" and Amnesty
itself says that Tony Blair "appeared to be hinting [in a subsequent BBC
documentary] that one of the reasons that the station was targeted was
because its video footage of the human toll of Nato mistakes ... was being
re-broadcast by Western media outlets and was thereby undermining support
for the war within the alliance".

Of the Nato destruction of the train at Gurdulica bridge on 12 April,
Amnesty says: "Nato's explanation of the bombing - particularly General
Clark's account of the pilot's rationale for continuing the attack after he
had hit the train - suggests that the [American] pilot had understood that
the mission was to destroy the bridge regardless of the cost in terms of
civilian casualties ..."

Nato had not, Amnesty adds, "taken sufficient precautionary measures to
ensure there was no civilian traffic in the vicinity of the bridge before
launching the first attack". Amnesty quotes the Nato spokesman James Shea as
admitting that the video of the train shown to the press at the time was
speeded up (to three times its original speed) because Nato analysts
routinely reviewed tapes at speed.

Mr Shea, Amnesty says, "said that the [Nato] press office was at fault for
clearing the tape for public screening without slowing it down to the
original speed".

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