2 - 20 June 2000

U.N. prosecutor finds no evidence of NATO war crimes in Yugoslavia

Carla Del Ponte

Carla del Ponte

June 2, 2000
Web posted at: 9:25 p.m. EDT (2125 GMT)

UNITED NATIONS -- The chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor announced Friday that there is no basis for an investigation into allegations that NATO committed war crimes during last year's bombing of Yugoslavia.

In a speech to the U.N. Security Council, Carla del Ponte said she had no evidence of any deliberate bombing of civilians during the NATO campaign.

"Although some mistakes were made by NATO, I am satisfied there was no deliberate targeting of civilians or any unlawful military targets during the NATO campaign," she told council members.

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson applauded the decision, saying it came as no surprise since the alliance acted in accordance with international law.

The decision "should help ensure that the world's attention is focused exactly where it belongs -- on bringing the real war criminals of the Balkans to face justice in The Hague," Robertson said in a statement.

Del Ponte criticized the Serbian government for not allowing her investigators into Kosovo to check into its claims of war crimes against Kosovar Serbs, and for denying her a visit to visit Belgrade.

When allegations were made that the U.N. tribunal was anti-Serb and that there was an imbalance in the indictments issued, "the fact that I am unable to gain access to the victims and evidence makes such allegations rather hollow," she said.

Serbs argued train, convoy attacks were criminal

Since last year's 78-day air campaign, lawyers working on behalf of Yugoslavia and a separate Russian parliamentary commission have given prosecutors complaints and evidence they say supports their charge that NATO forces committed war crimes.

The allegations included the strike against a bridge as a passenger train was crossing it, the bombing of a refugee convoy near Djakovica, and the targeting of the Serbian television building in Belgrade.

Del Ponte told council ambassadors that the tribunal had conducted a thorough examination of all the facts and evidence presented, as well as a detailed legal analysis and concluded "there is no basis for opening an investigation into any of these allegations or into other incidents related to the NATO bombing."

The decision is likely to further damage relations between the tribunal and Yugoslavia, which has accused U.N. prosecutors of bias and essentially cut off all cooperation with them.

Del Ponte 'stupified' at Russian response

Deputy Russian Ambassador Gennadi Gatilov backed the Yugoslav position, saying del Ponte's decision to terminate any investigation was premature. Gatilov mounted a stinging attack on the tribunal, accusing it of being "politicized" and biased against the Serbs -- a charge del Ponte said she was "stupified" to even hear.

"I completely reject that accusation," del Ponte said, adding that she had consistently sought meetings with the Russians to explain the work of the court and had been ignored.

David Scheffer, the U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes, applauded del Ponte's decision, adding the investigators were "bending over backwards to be as fair and equitable as possible with respect to such allegations."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
© 2000 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.

The Washington Post

U.N. Tribunal Rejects Calls for Probe of NATO

By Charles Trueheart
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 3, 2000; Page A09

PARIS, June 2 –– President Clinton and other NATO leaders will not be investigated by the United Nations on charges that they committed genocide and other war crimes during the 1999 bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.

Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, told the Security Council today that her office had concluded an 11-month assessment of charges that NATO forces committed crimes against Serbian civilians and had decided not to open a formal investigation.

"Although some mistakes were made by NATO, I am very satisfied that there was no deliberate targeting of civilians or unlawful military targets by NATO during the bombing campaign," she said.

Earlier, Del Ponte was quoted by the Italian daily La Repubblica as saying, "The closure of the NATO file clears the ground, so now we can concentrate all our forces on the main task: the arrest and trial of the key officials responsible for the crimes committed in the Balkans."

The decision did not come as a surprise. NATO and its member governments cooperated in the inquiry and appeared confident that the decision would go their way.

Although the tribunal's review of the war crimes allegations against NATO was low-key, it stoked fury in Congress and among military leaders in Washington, who were angry that U.S. leaders were being scrutinized for war crimes comparable to those widely ascribed to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other Serbian leaders indicted by the tribunal.

U.S. opposition to a permanent U.N. criminal court--enshrined in a 1998 treaty signed by 120 other nations--rests on just such fears that a foreign court could prosecute and judge U.S. citizens.

The report of the tribunal working group will not be released for about 10 days, according to tribunal sources. But they said the 50-page document covers point by point some 20 allegations brought in three briefs--one by a group of Yugoslav critics, another of international legal scholars and a third from the Russian parliament.

The charges include such well-publicized incidents as the destruction of a crowded railway passenger car by an allied missile and NATO's bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. About 500 civilians were killed by NATO air attacks during the war, researchers from Human Rights Watch concluded earlier this year.

An independent investigation by the New York-based human rights group found that NATO had violated international humanitarian law by using cluster bombs in populated areas and targeting bridges and factories with no clear military purpose. "This is nothing for the Pentagon to be proud of," said Kenneth Roth, the group's executive director.

But Paul Risley, the prosecutor's spokesman in The Hague, the Dutch city where the tribunal is headquartered, said of the embassy bombing and the railway attack: "All of these events were publicly disclosed and admitted to by NATO at the time. The prosecutor judged these to be genuine mistakes on the part of NATO."

The review committee also weighed an allegation that NATO ordnance contained environmentally hazardous depleted uranium and another that its cluster bombs were designed to target civilians, sources at the tribunal said. The group concluded the charges did not merit an investigation.

In the Italian newspaper article, Del Ponte said judging the legitimacy of the NATO campaign "is not our task and is not part of our brief, just as we cannot decide on general responsibilities of countries or international organizations. It is our task to pinpoint possible individual responsibilities."

Russia's deputy envoy to the U.N., Gennady Gatilov, complained to the Security Council that Del Ponte's action was premature and that the tribunal has been biased against Serbs. In a heated rejoinder, Del Ponte said she was "stupefied" by the Russian's remarks. "I completely reject that accusation," she said.

The gravest charges against President Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and their allied counterparts were that killings of civilians amounted to anti-Serb genocide under international law--the deliberate destruction of groups on ethnic or religious grounds.

Those charges, Risley said, "were dismissed rather easily" by the review committee.

Special correspondent Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

Friday, 2 June, 2000, 19:57 GMT 20:57 UK
Nato escapes war crimes probe


Belgrade was hit by repeated strikes
The chief prosecutor of the United Nations war crimes tribunal, Carla del Ponte, says there is no basis for opening an investigation into the Nato bombing of Serbia during last year's Kosovo conflict.

She told the UN Security Council that, although she felt Nato had made mistakes during its 11-week campaign, she was satisfied there had been no deliberate targeting of civilians.

Nato was accused of committing war crimes by Yugoslavia and Russia. Incidents included the strike against a bridge as a passenger train was crossing it, the bombing of a refugee convoy, the targeting of the Serbian television building in Belgrade and the bombing of the Chinese embassy.

Nato carried out its air-strikes to stop President Slobodan Milosevic's forces killing and expelling members of the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo, who were demanding independence.

Damaging relations

Miss del Ponte told a meeting of the council that she had considered a number of complaints from lawyers acting on behalf of Yugoslavia and a Russian parliamentary commission.

Nato said it went to "extraordinary lengths" to ensure its troops complied with the laws of war.

Correspondents say Miss del Ponte's decision could further damage relations between the tribunal and Yugoslavia.

The government in Belgrade has accused UN prosecutors of bias and has refused to allow investigators to visit the country.

But Miss del Ponte said Belgrade was doing itself a disservice by hampering the work of the investigators.

"When allegations are made against the tribunal that it is anti-Serb and that there is an imbalance in the indictments issued, the fact that I am unable to gain access to the victims and evidence make such allegations rather hollow," she said.

Earlier Miss del Ponte told an Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, that the tribunal would now concentrate on pursuing senior Serbs responsible for war crimes following the break-up of the former Yugoslav Federation.


Italian newspaper claims NATO cleared of genocide

According to Italy's La Repubblica, NATO has been cleared by the International Criminal Tribunal of the accusation of genocide after the bombing campaign over Kosovo caused some 500 victims among the civilians. In a two page article, the daily stresses that "during the raids, only mistakes occurred. No criminal behavior has been detected among the cases presented (to the Tribunal)." However the newspaper notes that " the Tribunal has complained about the little clear and reticent answers given by NATO," and furthermore it underlines that the "determination is based on the holes in the international legal framework." In a related article, the same newspaper carries an interview with War Crimes Tribunal General Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte who, according to the daily, is due to address today the UN Security Council in order to announce she is preparing to lodge a request that the charges against NATO be shelved. She has reportedly told the daily that the committee's conclusions are "a request of non-suit" adding that "the shelving of the NATO dossier … allows us to now devote all our efforts to our main task, which is the arrest and trial of the major criminals responsible for the crimes committed in the Balkans." Asked about "the NATO task team that is supposed to play precisely the role of arresting war criminals," she has reportedly answered: "I discussed this with General Clark…Now I will discuss it with his successor General Ralston."


Russia raps war crimes tribunal on probe decision

Russia said on Saturday a decision by the UN war crimes tribunal not to investigate NATO over its 1999 bombing campaign against Yugoslavia showed the court was politically biased. "It is far from being the first time that the tribunal has closed its eyes to cases where the norms of international humanitarian law have been violated by other participants in the conflict," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.(Reuters 031646 GMT June 00)

Yugoslav minister says tribunal NATO accomplice

Yugoslavia called on the United Nations on Sunday to disband its war crimes tribunal, saying the body had become an accomplice of NATO by refusing to probe the alliance over its air campaign against Yugoslavia last year. Information Minister Goran Matic urged the UN Security Council ambassadors to wind up what he called an "illegal, illegitimate and biased body" and sack its prosecutor Carla del Ponte.(Reuters 042108 GMT June 00)


The UN's top war crimes prosecutor's conclusions that there are no grounds to pursue allegations that NATO committed war crimes during its air campaign against Yugoslavia, have generated comments. The Washington Post, June 03, notes that the decision of Carla Del Ponte has revived charges from Russia and China that the tribunal is a political tool of the West. In fact Gennady Gatilov - Russia's deputy envoy to the UN - has complained to the Security Council that Del Ponte's action was "premature" and that the tribunal has been biased against Serbs. In a heated rejoinder, Del Ponte has reportedly rejected that accusation. An editorial in The Wall Street Journal underlines that the West was drawn into the conflict only after more than a year's worth of intensive diplomatic efforts were, one by one, rebuffed by Milosevic. Indeed the specific war crimes alleged against NATO were the result of western squeamishness, not ill-intent, the daily stresses. Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung and Italy's Corriere della Sera also note the issue


NATO violated international law in the Kosovo crisis by bombing targets where it knew civilians would be killed, Amnesty International said on Wednesday. The London-based human rights group said it was not judging the moral or legal basis for the Western alliance's 11-week air campaign, but called for attacks on key bridges and the Serbian state broadcaster to be investigated. Amnesty said Serb accounts put the civilian death toll at 400-600 but that the number could have been "significantly reduced if NATO forces had fully adhered to the laws of war." It urged NATO to set up a mechanism to ensure a common approach to the rules of war among its 19 members and to clarify its command structure and decision-making on target selection. Amnesty International also called on France, Turkey and the United States to ratify a 1977 protocol to the 1949 Geneva Conventions that prohibits attacks on civilians.(Reuters 062302 GMT June 00)


NATO rejects Amnesty International charges

NATO has rejected as "baseless and ill-founded" allegations by Amnesty International that it violated the rules of war in the Kosovo conflict last year, AFP writes. The report quotes NATO Secretary General George Robertson as stating that "NATO scrupulously adhered to international law, including the law of war, throughout the conflict and made every effort to minimize civilian casualties." Lord Robertson's statement acknowledges that "in a few cases mistakes were made...leading to civilian deaths or injuries," but "such incidents must be weighed against the atrocities that NATO's action stopped."

UK MPs: Kosovo campaign moral but perhaps illegal

An influential group of members of the British Parliament is quoted by Reuters as saying that NATO's bombing campaign may have breached international law but was morally justified. Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee reportedly said that there was nothing explicit in NATO's powers to allow it to conduct a war on humanitarian grounds without the full backing of the UN, the dispatch writes. "We conclude that NATO's military action, if of dubious legality in the current state of international law, was justified on moral grounds," the cross-party committee reportedly stated.


Media report on Amnesty International's document accusing NATO of acting unlawfully during the Kosovo crisis. The Independent writes that the 65-page Amnesty report details a number of mass killings of civilians in NATO raids, states that "civilian deaths could have been significantly reduced if NATO forces had fully adhered to the rules of war," and NATO repeatedly gave priority to pilots' safety at the cost of civilian lives. It specifically condemns NATO for some specific episodes such as an attack on a bridge at Varvarin on 30 May last year - which killed at least 11 civilians - the daily notes. "NATO forces failed to suspend their attack after it was evident that they had struck civilians," Amnesty reportedly says. On the NATO destruction of the train at Gurdulica bridge on 12 April, Amnesty reportedly accuses NATO of not having "taken sufficient precautionary measures to ensure there was no civilian traffic in the vicinity of the bridge before launching the first attack." Both The Washington Post and Reuters note the issue, too. CNN today, reporting from Brussels, said that it would have been difficult for NATO to violate the rules as it is a 19-nation Alliance acting on consensus. A live interview with Claudio Cardone of Amnesty International, also on CNN, highlighted that "there was disagreement within NATO countries and some countries seem to have dissociated themselves from carrying on certain attacks believing them to be unlawful." He also called on NATO "to have a common set of rules that reflects the best standard of international law and that applies to all countries." Furthermore, Cardone said that "we really want to concentrate, narrowly, on the conduct of hostilities…we have no doubt of the good faith of most people within NATO, but the fact remains that there are incidents where we think that the laws of war have been breached, and particularly with the attack on the television station, we think that that was an intentional attack on a civilian objective and as such was a war crime."


"I consulted with lawyers before bombing" headlines Italy's La Repubblica in an interview with General Clark, who was "happy but not surprised" at last week's 'acquittal' of NATO decided by the Hague Court. He told the newspaper that "in order to avoid violating international laws, every military action was submitted for the evaluation of our lawyers." Gen. Clark mentioned that these lawyers were located in Aviano (Italy), Washington, London and Paris.



Amnesty International's assertion that NATO breached international law in Kosovo remains at the center of media interest. According to Amnesty International, writes Le Monde, NATO violated international law in Kosovo. The French daily adds, however, that in a communiqué on Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Robertson stressed the accusations were unfounded and insisted NATO had done all possible efforts to reduce civilian casualties. Under the headline, "NATO on trial," Paris' Le Figaro observes that following Amnesty's accusations, NATO immediately referred to an ICTY report clearing NATO for its actions in former Yugoslavia. NATO Secretary General Robertson rebutted the accusations by citing the ICTY's "Iron Lady, (Carla Del Ponte)," the article notes. It suggests Robertson's declarations were also strengthened by the announcement by an ICTY spokesman that Mrs. Del Ponte was aware of the Amnesty International Report when she made her ruling on NATO last Friday. ICTY prosecutor Carla Del Ponte took into account an Amnesty International report condemning NATO's alleged breaches of international law in Kosovo before deciding not to take action against the Alliance, AFP remarks. The dispatch quotes an ICTY spokesman suggesting Del Ponte's decision to release a 95-page report explaining her decision not to investigate NATO, was a demonstration that "we are not a political tool of NATO." The International Herald Tribune notes the Amnesty report is similar in its findings to an even more detailed report issued in February by Human Rights Watch. Under the title, "NATO's shame" The Guardian suggests a ruling by the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee that NATO's intervention in Kosovo was illegal under international law, but justified on moral ground is a "pretty breathtaking conclusion." We are being asked to accept that it is morally fine to break international law, as long as we do so with good intentions, the newspaper asserts. It stresses, however, that "the fact that Milosevic is a very bad man does not diminish NATO's responsibility."


NATO's Clark says Serb media had to be stopped

Former NATO commander Wesley Clark on Thursday denied allegations by Amnesty International that the alliance broke the law during its campaign against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic last year. Amnesty said it was wrong to choose targets where there were civilians, including bridges and the headquarters of the Serbian state radio and television, here 16 people were killed on April 23. "I noticed on the news today there's criticism of the attack on the Serb media," Clark said in an address at the Brookings Institution think tank. "Well of course, that was a controversial target, but the Serb media engine was feeding the war," he said. Later he told reporters, "You're always making trade-offs in these decisions, but in this case it was a huge step to be able to take out this major instrument of provocation." (Reuters 081926 GMT Jun 00)



In a contribution to the International Herald Tribune, Frederick Bonnart, editorial director of the independent military journal NATO's Nations, insists NATO should take seriously accusations by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that it violated the laws of war in Kosovo. Both organizations make strong recommendations for action by NATO. They want an internal investigation into rules of engagement, the use of certain types of weapons, and aspects of military doctrine. They call on member states to proceed against individuals held to be responsible for serious violations of humanitarian law, Bonnart notes, adding: "NATO should take heed of these recommendations…. An investigation into … accusations and a determination of the degree of responsibility of different individuals should certainly take place if the Alliance wishes to remain on the moral high ground that is the present reason for its existence.

The Washington Post


By Fred Hiatt
Monday, June 19, 2000; Page A17

Human rights advocates lobbied passionately for U.S. military intervention to save the people of Kosovo. Now many of those same advocates are lobbying for an international criminal court that may ensure that the United States never stages a humanitarian intervention again.

These advocates, along with many U.S. allies in Europe and elsewhere, believe they have occupied the moral high ground, and they are having a grand time needling America for its supposed arrogance and obtuseness. But what feels good now will be costly down the road, and the price will be paid not by self-satisfied human rights lobbyists, nor by the United States, but by the next victims of genocide who will be left without protection.

The sad part about all this is that a permanent war crimes tribunal is not a bad idea. It could have been created with enough deference to national sovereignty to satisfy the United States and still perform most of the useful functions that human rights groups have in mind.

But the process is not moving toward such a sensible outcome. What is emerging instead is a permanent tribunal and permanent prosecutor's office that will operate with almost no external checks and balances--and that will claim jurisdiction over Americans even if the United States does not sign or ratify the treaty creating it. Already a dozen nations, including France, have ratified the treaty establishing this tribunal. When the list grows to 60, the court will begin to operate.

And how will the United States respond? Congress provided a clue last week with the introduction of the "American Servicemembers' Protection Act," which would bar U.S. participation in any United Nations peacekeeping mission unless U.S. servicemen were granted immunity from prosecution by the new court. The bill's supporters include the chairmen of the House and Senate foreign affairs, intelligence and judiciary committees, among others. Sen. Jesse Helms is behind it, but he is not isolated in his position.

The bill in some respects goes too far. It bars any U.S. cooperation with the court, an unwise tying of the next president's hands. But its concerns for U.S. soldiers are far from delusional, despite Human Rights Watch's scorn for the bill's "scare tactics."

Kosovo provides a useful example. The United States and its allies intervened without U.N. authorization--a violation of Serbian sovereignty and probably of international law. Human rights advocates at the time weren't too hung up about that, and for good reason. Sometimes the only way to stop bad men from doing bad things is with force; lawyers won't get the job done.

Once NATO did intervene, though, human rights groups were quick to accuse the United States of violating the laws of war, mostly through its unintentional bombing of civilians. Amnesty International still maintains that the United States committed a war crime when it attacked a Serbian television station (though the architects of hate radio in Rwanda are themselves accused of war crimes, and the United States is criticized for not having prevented those stations from broadcasting).

Not to worry, say the court's proponents. An existing, ad hoc international court on war crimes in Yugoslavia, after deliberating for 11 months, decided not to haul Gen. Wesley Clark or any other American up on war-crime charges. Besides, the proponents add, the new court can't take jurisdiction over alleged war crimes if the offending country investigates the charges on its own.

Sen. Helms can be forgiven for finding neither of these arguments entirely reassuring. That the Yugoslavia court took the charges as seriously as it did is worrisome enough, and--created as it was by the U.N. Security Council--it is far more sensitive to political ramifications than will be the new, unchecked prosecutorial bureaucracy. And while the new prosecutors will have to give deference to a host-country investigation, they and their equally untethered judges will have the power to decide whether such an inquiry is satisfactory or a sham.

There is a need for a standing court. In Sierra Leone right now, the criminal Foday Sankoh has been apprehended, the government of Sierra Leone would like outside help in trying him--and there is no one ready to help. A permanent war crimes tribunal would meet such a need.

That's an easy case, because the country itself wants to cede jurisdiction. The permanent court also could have been set up to take over when the U.N. Security Council requested it--as the council did for Yugoslavia. Such a system would ensure that national sovereignty would be overridden in this undemocratic way only in the most egregious cases.

Such a system also would give a veto over any prosecution to the five permanent members of the Security Council--the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain. Neither the human rights lobbyists nor other governments would countenance such great-power unfairness. Why should Russia in Chechnya get off, they ask, or China in Tibet?

Of course, the countries making these righteous arguments in many cases are the same ones that can't bring themselves even to vote for a resolution condemning Russian and Chinese behavior when the issue rolls around each year in the United Nations. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder just welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin like a long lost brother; if the court that Germany wants were operating, presumably Schroeder would have had to arrest Putin for Russia's savage crimes in Chechnya.

But never mind. It feels good right now to be so principled. And let someone else worry about the next Kosovars who might need American help.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company