Nato 'violated human rights' in Kosovo

Monday, 7 February, 2000

A human rights group has accused Nato of violating international human rights law during its air campaign over Kosovo last year.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has estimated that about 500 civilians were killed by Nato airstrikes.

The report discounts Serbian government claims that the between 1,200 and 5,000 civilians were killed. Nato has said that it will study the report and a spokesman has repeated that the alliance tried scrupulously to avoid civilian casualties.

The core of the report's criticism is that Nato could have done more to minimise the number of non-combatants killed by its raids.

This, Human Rights Watch argues, amounts to a violation of international human rights laws outlined in the Geneva Convention.

First independent investigation

The report is the first independent investigation into the civilian deaths caused by Nato.

Researchers went to 91 cities and towns and investigated 42 sites where civilians are believed to have been killed.

About a third of the 90 bombing incidents occurred in Kosovo and several relating to air attacks against road convoys.

The report says that Nato pilots should have done more to identify targets properly, although it also points to evidence that in at least one case, Yugoslav forces used displaced civilians as human shields.

The report makes particular criticism of Nato's use of cluster bombs near populated areas.

It asserts that after one particularly bad incident of cluster munitions going astray in Nis, the United States stopped using the bombs, but it says that British aircraft continued to do so.

Human Rights Watch also says that a small number of the targets chosen were not legitimate military locations - not least the Serb Radio and Television headquarters in Belgrade.

Nato has never given an estimate on the number of individual civilian deaths caused by its actions.

But Pentagon spokesmen have previously conceded that there may have been what they term "collateral damage" in some 20 to 30 incidents. This is three times less than the estimate of incidents given by Human Rights Watch.

A Nato spokesman, Lee McClenny, repeated on Monday that the organisation deeply regretted the civilian casualties.

"I have to repeat that we took scrupulous care to avoid all possible civilian casualties," Mr McClenny said.

The BBC's defence correspondent, Jonathan Marcus says a definitive calculation of the full human cost of the air campaign is probably impossible.

High altitude bombing

However, critics have long accused Nato of being reckless with the lives of Yugoslav civilians.

Although Nato's pilots put themselves out of the range of Serb anti-aircraft fire when they flew at high altitudes the accuracy of their targeting was diminished - increasing the chances of civilian casualties.

Many commentators have claimed that the tactic was partially inspired by the fear that the loss of pilots would have undermined the unity of Nato members to use military action to end Serb ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

But as a result there were a series of blunders when Nato hit hospitals, civilian trains and a convoy of fleeing refugees.

In the most embarrassing incident the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was largely destroyed even though the building's identity was clearly marked on street maps.

Original article