CounterPunch on NATO War Crimes

Jay Moore research at
Wed Jun 7 05:16:01 MDT 2000

Yugoslavia A Year Later: Turning a Blind Eye to NATO War Crimes
May 22, 2000

Shortly after NATO missiles and bombs began killing civilians in Kosovo and
Serbia, Michael Mandel, a law professor at York University in Canada, filed
a complaint with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former
Yugoslavia alleging that NATO and key leaders in the US and Great Britain
had committed war crimes. Over the next year, Mandel, and his colleagues,
have supplemented the original complaint with numerous other filings,
documenting human rights violations by the humanitarian warriors

Through the course of the war, NATO's 25,000 missile strikes and bombing
raids would kill between 500 and 1,800 civilians and permanently injure
thousands of others. Thousands of more deaths were indirectly caused by
predicable retaliatory and defensive actions taken by both the Serbs and the
KLA. The raids on Yugoslavia also provoked a refuge crisis, with more than a
million people fleeing Kosovo to escape the bombing. The bombings nearly
destroyed the economy of Yugoslavia, causing between $60 and $100 billion in
damage to a country that was already one of the poorest in Europe. After the
bombing ceased, Kosovo, under the control of NATO troops, was allowed to be
hit by waves of ethnic violence, assassination and purges, much of it
conducted by the KLA.

But so far the United Nations' tribunal has yet to even open an
investigation into the complaints, despite a new report by Human Rights
Watch-an early and avid proponent of intervention-condemning the civilian
On March 15, Mandel sent another complaint to Justice Carla del Ponte, the
new chief prosecutor for the tribunal, who replaced Justice Louise Arbour in
October. Mandel's sharply worded letter protests the tribunal's refusal to
investigate NATO's actions, saying that del Ponte has turned "the
investigation into more of a farce than a judicial proceeding." Mandel's
letter makes a solid case that far from being an independent investigator,
the tribunal has conducted itself "as if it were an organ of NATO and not
the United Nations."

Mandel had hoped that Del Ponte, who comes from Switzerland which is
nominally outside the NATO alliance, would take a more aggressive stance
than Arbour, the Canadian. And there seemed to be reason for optimism. At a
December press conference Del Ponte declared that she would be quite willing
to hold NATO accountable if evidence of crimes was unearthed. "If I am not
willing to do that, then I am not in the right place," Del Ponte said. "I
must give up my mission." This did not sit well with NATO and the US State
Department, which strongly protested. On December 30, Del Ponte quickly
backpedaled, issuing a retraction saying that "NATO is not under
investigation" and there was "no formal inquiry" going on.

Since then Del Ponte has been moving closer and closer to NATO. On January
19, Del Ponte had a private meeting with NATO secretary general George
Robertson, the subject of numerous war crimes complaints. After the meeting,
Del Ponte made a point of saying that she had not broached the topic of NATO
war crimes with Robertson or any other NATO leader. Two weeks later Del
Ponte was in London where she had a session with British foreign minister
Robin Cook, also identified as a responsible party in several war crimes
complaints filed with the tribunal. Following that meeting Del Ponte was
asked if any progress had been made in the investigation of NATO. "Our work
is not yet done, but what we can say is that up until now we have no
indications that we should open an inquiry," Del Ponte said. But there is no
evidence that the UN tribunal has even started looking into NATO's actions.
In fact, on March 9, a spokesman for Del Ponte praised NATO troops, saying
that they "respect the rule of law" and that any "prosecution is very

Mandel calls Del Ponte's refusal to open an inquiry a "disgrace" and says
that the tribanal has evidence that "NATO planners not only knowingly killed
civilians, but deliberately set out to do so." He points specifically to the
bombing of the Grdelica and Varvarin Bridges (on April 12 and May 20) and
the strikes on the Nis marketplace on May 7. Mandel notes that all the
strikes on Yugoslavia were carried out without any risk to NATO pilots or
leaders, a scenario that violates the Geneva code. "This was a war fought
against civilians of all ethnicities with bombing from altitudes so high
that the civilians bore all the risks of the inevitable collateral damage,"
Mandel says.

Mandel makes a powerful case that the UN tribunal had been working for NATO
from the beginning. "This war must be understood as an attempt by the United
States, through NATO, to overthrow the authority of the United Nations and
to replace it with NATO's military might, to be used wherever strategically
advantageous and whatever the human consequences," Mandel says.

Mandel is convinced that the US backed the creation of the UN tribunal only
in order to advance its on strategic interests in the Balkans. He has
marshaled a compelling set of facts to back up this assertion, starting in
January 1999, when Judge Arbour made a high-profile visit to the Kosovo
border, where she endorsed the US/KLA accounts of Serb atrocities at Racak.
This made-for-tv event became a rallying point for the war, despite later
accounts that the events in Racak had been great exaggerated.

Shortly after the NATO bombing raids had started, Arbour announced the
indictment of "Arkan", which had been kept secret since 1997, helping to
amplify the drumbeat of US-backed propaganda about Serbian atrocities. After
the press began to focus on civilian deaths, Arbour again came to NATO's
rescue, holding a joint appearance with Robin Cook, where she accepted a
NATO-prepared dossier on Serbia "war crimes." Soon thereafter, Arbour met
with Madeleine Albright, who used the opportunity to inform the world that
the US was the principal financial backer of the UN tribunal.

Two weeks later, Arbour announce the indictment of Milosevic for the events
at Racak based on undisclosed evidence gather in the middle of a war zone.
After the bombing came to an end, Instead, Arbour handed over the
investigation of Serbian war crimes to NATO troops in Kosovo, even though
they had motives to falsify evidence in order to justify their own actions.
The speed with which the Tribunal indicted Slobo and his associates stands
in stark contrast to lethargic pace of the investigation into NATO's crimes.

"These actions cannot be regarded as the acts of an impartial prosecutor,"
says Mandel. "Not when NATO was in the midst of a controversial war in
flagrant violation of international law." CP

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