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war crimes

‘By comparison with what Clinton has done to Iraq alone, Milosevic for all his brutality is a rank amateur in viciousness.’
Not everyone believes that ‘democratic’ leaders who prosecute war and can be said to be responsible for at least some of the consequent death and suffering should escape punishment. Lowana Veal looks at what some of lawyers are doing.

Over the last few months the media has consistently covered the atrocities for which Slobodan Milosevic has been held responsible. Milosevic may indeed have carried out atrocities, but so has NATO – only in this case, these are not called ‘atrocities’. The bombing of refugee convoys, the Chinese embassy, passenger trains, etc. are ‘a regrettable mistake’ and those killed accidentally are part of ‘collateral damage’.
Killing is acceptable when done by nation states or NATO; it is called manslaughter, murder or mass murder only when carried out by civilians. Can you imagine what the sentence would be for an ordinary person who killed 73 people? I somehow don’t think that the judge would call it a ‘regrettable mistake’ and let the matter drop.
However, some law-trained activists are not letting NATO’s actions go unchallenged. They argue that the war was carried out illegally and NATO must not be allowed to get away with it. A Cambridge international lawyer, Glen Rangwala, put forward a case for indicting Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and George Robertson for war crimes to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, while a US organisation, the International Ethical Alliance, has done the same for Clinton and William Cohen. More recently, the US-based International Action Centre, headed by former US Attorney General Ramsay Clark, has carried out its own independent tribunal into the matter. Even though there is little likelihood that a NATO country or leader will ever be found guilty of committing a war crime in either the ICTY or the ICJ, given the powers-that-be and the fact that it is NATO countries which run these courts, I feel that it is still a useful exercise in public awareness that at least some acts of war can be seen as a crime.

The appeal by Glen Rangwala was made on behalf of the Movement for the Advancement of International Criminal Law. The Tribunal is ongoing and the allegations against NATO can continue to accumulate. Rangwala’s case against NATO includes a long detailed chronology of NATO bombing of civilian targets. He charges NATO with the following crimes: wilful killing; wilfully causing great suffering and serious injury to body and health; employment of poisonous weapons and other weapons to cause unnecessary suffering; wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages; unlawful attacks on civilian objects; devastation not necessitated by military objectives; attacks on undefended buildings and dwellings; and destruction and wilful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences.

Int’l Action Centre
The action initiated by the International Action Centre is also an ongoing process, and is known as the Independent Commission of Inquiry Hearing to Investigate US/NATO War Crimes Against the People of Yugoslavia. The feature on the first day was the presentation by Ramsay Clark, who listed 19 charges, all backed up by evidence from the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, the Geneva Convention 1977, the POONA Indictment for the Subversion of Science and Technology 1978, many articles of the UN Charter, the Nuremburg Charter 1945, and others. The evidence presented in the tribunal is impressive.

Link with Iraq
I feel that the awareness of NATO’s actions as war crimes has a parallel with the campaign against sanctions in Iraq, in which many people have become aware of the injustice of the sanctions and their effect on innocent civilians, many of them children. For instance, Palestinian writer Edward Said, now a US national, has stated, ‘By comparison with what Clinton has done to Iraq alone, Milosevic for all his brutality is a rank amateur in viciousness.’
However, I find there is one thing lacking in all the discussion about war crimes which is pertinent to pacifists, and that is that there has no significant criticism of the attacks by NATO on military personnel and military targets (or fake military targets, as the case might be). This may be because war crimes have been defined in the Nuremburg charter as ‘violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations include, but are not limited to, murder, ill-treatment of civilian populations, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.’ So by definition, war per se is not a crime.
Only once did I hear about the number of Serb soldiers killed, and the number was not inconsiderable – from under 1000, according to Yugoslav estimates, to up to 5000, if you believe NATO’s estimates. The heaviest loss to Serb soldiers occurred on June 7 when a large pile of cluster bombs was dropped on 800-1200 Serbs in the Pastrik mountains in the closing stages of the war, despite the fact that some people had demanded a ceasefire while negotiations were ongoing. As a result of this action, less than half were said to remain alive.

Up  Next Why did information about the number of military Serbs killed only come to light at the end of the war? Would the public have reacted differently if they knew earlier on how many Serb soldiers had been killed? It was no secret that the Americans had not lost anyone in the war. Critics speak always of civilian deaths in Yugoslavia – does this mean that soldiers deserve to be killed, or at least that it is acceptable for them to be killed? I hope not.

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