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Has NATO committed war crimes?

The International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia has rightfully indicted Slobodan Milosevic for crimes against humanity committed against Kosovar Albanians. If there is any justice in this world, they will send the "Butcher of the Balkans" to prison for the atrocities that he has ordered.

If Slobodan is guilty for what his forces have done, can we allow NATO to bomb Serbia with reckless abandon? Shouldn't we hold NATO to the same standard of conduct as the Yugoslavs? According to Thursday's Irish Times, an overwhelming majority of Greeks want Bill Clinton and Tony Blair indicted for war crimes.

NATO insists that it has no liability for anything that it does and anyone that it kills because "it's Slobodan's fault." Let's look at what the rules of war say about NATO's arrogant position.

After World War II, the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, Aug. 8, 1945, adopted the following definitions:

  • War crimes: namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment ... of civilian population, ... wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.
  • Crimes against Humanity: namely, murder ... and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war. ...

The United Nations is still using these definitions today. See Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, G.A. res. 2391 (XXIII), annex, 23 U.N. GAOR Supp. (no. 18) at 40, U.N. Doc. A/7218 (1968).

On Monday, the Washington Post said that "NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia's power grid left millions of people without electricity or water service today, bringing the war over Kosovo more directly into the lives of civilians across the country."

Question: Does a deliberate attack against civilian targets for the sole intention of causing widespread suffering, injury and possible death to innocent civilians constitute a war crime or crime against humanity?

The Washington Post said that "Three consecutive nights of air attacks caused extensive blackouts in Belgrade, Novi Sad and Nis, the three largest cities in Serbia. ... Officials at the Pentagon and at NATO headquarters in Belgium said allied jets deliberately attacked the power grid, aiming to shut it down more completely and for longer periods of time. ... U.S. officials estimated the attacks had shut off power to about 80 percent of Serbia."

Question: Can NATO prove that there was a "military necessity" to deprive 80 percent of the civilian population of electricity?

The Washington Post said that there is a growing sense in Serbia that "the power outages (are) evidence that the genuine aim of NATO is not to expel Yugoslav troops and Serbian special police units from Kosovo, but to punish civilians and wreck the country."

Question: If we can prove that this is the purpose of the latest bombing campaign, does this constitute a war crime or crime against humanity?

The Washington Post said that "the attacks also slashed water reserves by damaging pumps and cutting electricity to the few pumps that were still operative. Belgrade's water utility said that reserves of drinking water had been reduced to 8 percent ... and that 60 percent of the city was without water service."

Question: Is a deliberate attempt to deprive millions of civilians access to clean and potable water a war crime or a crime against humanity?

The Washington Post reported that "... senior allied military officials acknowledged that they also want to damage the quality of everyday life so that suffering citizens will start questioning the intransigence of their political leadership."

Question: Is a deliberate attempt to cause widespread suffering of innocent civilians a war crime or a crime against humanity?

On April 19, the London Times reported that NATO air strikes against petrochemical, fertilizer and refinery targets created "an ecological disaster" of toxic gases and water pollution. Gases released by these attacks had poisoned at least 50 residents. Fish kills extended from Yugoslavia to Romania, Bulgaria and the Black Sea.

Question: Does the deliberate creation of toxic hazards to civilians constitute a war crime or a crime against humanity?

NATO has bombed hospitals, prisons, embassies, homes, apartment buildings, civilian factories, busses, trains, churches, and bridges. Killing, maiming, poisoning and harming civilians in Serbia will not protect Kosovar Albanians.

Question: Have NATO's bombs created wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity?

I believe that we can make a strong case that some of the actions that NATO has taken are war crimes and crimes against humanity. If we are to restore the rule of law to the Balkans, we cannot let NATO violate the human rights of millions of innocent Serbian civilians without holding them to the same standards as the Butcher of the Balkans.

John Doggett is a management consultant, lawyer, and business school professor who lives in Austin, Texas. Talkers Magazine has selected John as one of the 100 Most Influential Radio Talk Show Hosts in America. Headway Magazine has selected John as one of the 20 Most Influential Black Conservatives in America.

© 1999 Western Journalism Center