The illegal bombing of Yugoslavia


By Walter Rockler, former Nuremberg prosecutor

Text of video address to the London conference "Kosovo - Day of Truth - New and Dangers for Europe" organised by the Campaign for Justice for the Peoples of Yugoslavia and Christians Against NATO Aggression, 24 February 2001.

My remarks will be directed at (1) the legality of NATOs bombing of Yugoslavia as a method of compelling the Yugoslav Government to accept the NATO occupation of Kosovo; (2) the hypocritical pretexts used to justify bombing and occupation; and (3) some "accomplishments" of the bombing and occupation.

After the success of the Western Powers, or NATO, in dividing Bosnia into three ethnic enclaves, each unremittingly hostile to the other two, the Powers decided that they had a further duty to regulate Serbian affairs. In Kosovo, the historic heartland province of Serbs, a Serb minority was persecuting an Albanian majority of post-World War immigrants. Serbs completely dominated the administration, policies, and policing of the province. The Albanian KLA, once identified as a terrorist organization by the United States, was in response engaged in ambushing Serb police and administrators, and the Serbs were certainly shooting back in what amounted nevertheless to a low level civil insurrection.

NATO leaders some two years ago convened a meeting at Rambouillet with Yugoslav officials at which NATO delivered a non-negotiable ultimatum to the effect that Kosovo must be turned over to NATO rule, with a view to ultimate Albanian independence of the province. The ultimatum was backed by a threat to pound Yugoslavia into submission. The Yugoslav Government rejected the NATO proposal, with the result that NATO was allegedly forced, for humanitarian reasons, to carry out its bombing threat. This resulted in ceaseless day and night bombing with an estimated 14,000 sorties over almost three months. Using smart bombs, dumb bombs, cluster bombs, and bombs incorporating depleted uranium, the bombings in the service of humanitarianism killed more than a thousand men, women, and children; it struck factories, waterworks, electricworks, TV and radio facilities, bridges, trains, and ordinary houses, to say nothing of the Chinese Embassy. During the period of bombing, hundreds of thousands of Albanians left Kosovo, most probably forced out by Serb troops.

The question becomes, given the alleged purity of NATO motives having the objective of assuring truth, freedom and the democratic way, was this bombing subject to censure under international law? The short answer is that the bombing was an act in flagrant contempt of international law, and criminal under that law.

As a primary source of international law, the judgment of the Nuremberg Tribunal in the 1945-1946 case of the major Nazi war criminals is plain and clear. American and British leaders often rhetorically invoke and praise that judgment, but obviously have not read it. The International Court declared:
"To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime differing only >from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
At Nuremberg, the United States and Britain pressed the prosecution of Nazi leaders for planning and initiating aggressive war as the ultimate crime. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, the head of the American prosecution staff, asserted "that launching a war of aggression is a crime and that no political or economic situation can justify it."

The United Nations Charter views aggression similarly. Article 2(4) and (7) prohibit threats of force or the use of force by one state against another and interventions in the domestic jurisdiction of any country. The General Assembly of the UN in Resolution 2131, a "Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention," reinforced the view that a forceful military intervention in any country is aggression and a crime without justification.

Putting a "NATO" label on aggressive policy and conduct does not give that conduct any sanctity. This is simply a perversion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, formed originally as a defensive alliance under the UN Charter. The North Atlantic Treaty at its outset pledged its signatories to refrain from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations, and it explicitly recognized the primary responsibility of the Security Council (of the United Nations) for the maintenance of international peace and security. Obviously, in bypassing UN approval and avoiding the risk of a Russian or Chinese veto for the bombing, NATO ignored and violated this basic obligation.

From another standpoint of international law, the conduct of the bombing by NATO constituted a war crime. Contrary to the beliefs of our war planners, unrestricted air bombing of civilian locations is barred under international law. Bombing the "infrastructure" of a country waterworks, electricity plants, bridges and factories is not an attack limited to legitimate military objectives. Our bombing has also caused an excessive loss of life and injury to civilians, which violates still another standard.

When the NATO bombing began there had been no widespread atrocities and massacres in Kosovo and the large-scale exodus of the Albanians was not underway. This was not in any case the concern of the NATO Rambouillet dictate, which reflected some curious considerations. Thus NATO required that Yugoslavia revamp its economy along free market lines. NATO also demanded the right to move NATO troops in and around all of Yugoslavia, such troops not to be subject to Yugoslavian law and jurisdiction. In effect, Yugoslavia would become a Shanghai-like foreign colony of the early 20th century variety.

Pretending that an effect of the bombing was its cause, NATO apologists have pointed to the mass exodus of Albanians from Kosovo as an international crime, which in my view it well may be. However, the hypocrisy involved in this pretext for murder from the skies would be shameful were such hypocrisy not so commonplace. When the Croats, supported by NATO backing and encouragement, drove the Serbs from the Krajina area a few years ago, with 200,000 to 300,000 Serbs forcibly expelled from their homes, this conduct evoked no criticism from NATO humanitarians. Currently with Kosovo under benevolent NATO occupation, some 100,000 or more Kosovo Serbs have been forced into other parts of Yugoslavia under threat of murder by the KLA. Who condemns or prevents this exodus? It has been estimated that during the whole period of NATO machinations, 700,000 Serbian refugees have been driven into Yugoslavia. This has produced a deafening silence in both the New York Times and the London Times, and from the U.S. State Department and British Foreign Office. Tens of thousands of ROMA or Gypsies have also been forced out of Kosovo. But after all, I suppose there is a limit to humanitarianism.

Currently the KLA has initiated attacks and killings in areas of Yugoslavia beyond the borders of the Kosovo province. NATO, which has a duty as Kosovo occupier to maintain law and order, to preserve the existing rights of the citizenry, and at a minimum to keep the peace, appears to be helpless. If so, what is NATO doing in Kosovo?

When I was a young prosecutor of Nazis at Nuremberg, I read the court addresses of Justice Robert Jackson who at one time stated, "If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us."

Today, I cannot be persuaded that random destruction and killing in Yugoslavia by the strong against the weak was anything less than killing in the service of arrogance, and I repudiate the shabby pretexts for this criminal conduct.


Our basic position.
The bombing of Yugoslavia was a war of aggression, illegal under international law. Bombs with a total explosive power greater than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima were dropped almost entirely on civilian targets. This action was sold to the British people by a campaign of misinformation.
Physical and social conditions in Yugoslavia have been made immeasurably worse by western interference. We are campaigning for a better understanding of what happened and the situation today, for justice and reparations.
Silence would suggest that we condone the sidelining of the United Nations, the breaking of international law, and the terror, destruction, pollution and ethnic conflict that was brought about or worsened in our name.

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