THE BERLIN TRIBUNAL: MORE SERIOUS THAN THE HAGUE
June 3, two tribunals reached opposite conclusions concerning accusations of war
crimes brought against NATO for its 1999 bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. In
The Hague, Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor at the "International Criminal
Tribunal for former Yugoslavia" (ICTY), created by the UN Security Council
at the initiative of the United States, announced that she saw no grounds even
to open an inquiry. NATO made "some mistakes", she acknowledged. But
Ms Del Ponte was "very satisfied" that there had been no deliberate
targeting of civilians during NATO's bombing campaign.
wonder. Indicting NATO would have meant biting the hand that feeds this
Tribunal, whose former presiding judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald once described
Madeleine Albright as its "mother". It was hardly conceivable that the
ICTY would allow itself to get too interested in crimes committed by the NATO
powers who provide it with funding, equipment and investigators... not to
mention its basic political agenda, which is to justify the diplomatic isolation
of Serbian leaders by labeling them as "indicted war criminals".
Berlin, on the same day, another Tribunal concluded a far more serious
examination of the charges against NATO. This unofficial "European
Tribunal" was genuinely independent of all the governments involved in the
1999 war. In contrast to The Hague, the conclusions were based on several public
hearings (already published in two illustrated volumes ), precise references to
international law, detailed presentation and analysis of the relevant facts and
finally the direct testimony of six victims who came from Yugoslavia to recount
their experience as civilian targets under the 78-day rain of NATO bombs and
Berlin Tribunal was presided by a distinguished Hamburg University professor of
international law, Dr. Norman Paech, who insisted that the verdict would be
based on strictly legal criteria. And indeed the deliberations of this European
Tribunal in Berlin, supported by over sixty peace, civic and human rights
groups, stuck very strictly to the subject of the NATO war against Yugoslavia,
to the exclusion of other political issues (in contrast to the similar Tribunal
organized by the International Action Center in New York on June 10, which chose
to link issues). Berlin's proximity to Eastern Europe was reflected in the
composition of the panel of jurists, who had come from Austria, Italy, Hungary,
Poland, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Russia and Macedonia.
long and detailed indictment, presented by lawyer Ulrich Dost, was divided into
two main sections: first, responsibility for deliberately preparing the war
against Yugoslavia to the exclusion of peaceful negotiated solutions to the
Kosovo problem, and second, violations of international law in the conduct of
the war. The former East German ambassador to Belgrade, Ralph Hartmann, a
genuine expert on the region, presented a recapitulation of key events and
statements that clearly demonstrated the major responsibility of the Federal
Republic of Germany in preparing the war, both by actively encouraging armed
ethnic Albanian separatists and by pushing other NATO allies toward military
Bundeswehr General Heinz Loquai, who served as German military observer at the
Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) headquarters in
Vienna, contributed a damning report on how the German Defense Ministry itself
invented "Operation Horseshoe", the supposed Serbian plan to expel the
Albanian population from Kosovo, which was "revealed" by Defense
Minister Scharping in April 1999 to justify the bombing as it began to lose
public support. Hartmann and Loquai are among the authors of a growing number of
German books which are devastating in their refutation of NATO claims. Indeed,
if certain German media and the German government bear major international
responsibility for initiating the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991,
by the same token German critics of the process are perhaps the best informed
and most thorough in their denunciations. Nobody understands the German right
better than the German left.
a "people's tribunal", like the Russell Tribunal formed to condemn the
U.S. war in Vietnam, obviously has no power to carry out a sentence. Its verdict
is purely moral, and serves to point up two things: the existence of flagrant
violations of the law, and the absence of any existing institutional recourse.
It does not settle but rather raises a number of questions.
verdict, as expected, found the top officials of NATO and its member states
guilty of having committed an aggression in violation of all the relevant
treaties and international agreements, from the United Nations Charter to the
NATO Treaty itself, as well as numerous conventions. Far from being legitimately
"humanitarian", NATO's intervention ignored and blocked Belgrade's
various compromise offers and dramatically worsened an already difficult
situation, causing a sharp increase in the number of victims.
a verdict is similar to the finding of a "truth commission", and shows
at least that a prima facie case exists against NATO. A careful examination of
the Berlin results, as well as those of other "people's tribunals", is
enough to expose the uselessness of Ms Del Ponte's ICTY when it comes to
establishing the facts, let alone justice.
Berlin Tribunal pinpointed an important treaty violation scarcely mentioned in
other NATO countries: by sending its warplanes to bomb Yugoslavia, the Federal
Republic of German was in flagrant violation of the so-called "4 plus
2" treaty of 1990 by which Moscow consented to the unification of the two
German states. By that Treaty, the German government undertook a solemn
commitment that "never again would war emanate from German territory"
and that Germany's military engagements would remain strictly within the norms
of the United Nations Charter.
Berlin Tribunal condemned not only Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, defense
minister Rudolf Scharping and foreign minister Joschka Fischer, but also all the
members of the Bundestag who had voted in favor of a military engagement that
clearly violated the Federal Republic's international engagements.
Tribunal expressed concern at the role played by the war against Yugoslavia in
the formulation of NATO's new "strategic concept", whose significance
"extends far beyond the Balkans and across Eurasia as a model for a future
world military order". To prevent such military globalization, the Tribunal
said it was imperative to pursue examination of the preconditions, objectives
and consequences of the war against Yugoslavia and to draw attention to its
eventual geostrategic implications.
the matter of civilian targets, the Berlin Tribunal cited statements from
various NATO officials and military officers proving that the choice of civilian
targets was indeed part of the "third stage" of a strategy aimed at
putting pressure on the civilian population to rise up against its own
government, a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. Moreover, the use of
such weapons as depleted uranium and cluster bombs clearly endangered the
civilian population, both during and after the actual bombing, and constituted a
particularly grave violation of international humanitarian law.
600 people attended the two-day proceedings in the handsome Protestant Church of
the Holy Cross in the Kreuzberg section of Berlin, whose pastor Jürgen Quandt
in his welcoming speech rejected the concept of "just" war.
Berlin Tribunal condemned the deliberate destruction of the Belgrade studios of
Radio Television Serbia (RTS) not only as an attack against a civilian
installation, but also as an assault on freedom of information. The purpose was
to deprive not only the Yugoslavs but also audiences around the world of the
pictures and information concerning the bombing broadcast by RTS. Whether or not
that information was "objective" was irrelevant, the verdict stated,
since the same could be said of information broadcast by NATO media.
condemnation of the bombing of RTS was echoed a few days later by Amnesty
International which, accusing NATO of war crimes, specifically cited the
deliberate bombing of the Belgrade television studies, which killed 16 employees
-- a flagrant crime which failed to interest Ms Del Ponte.
conclusion, the Tribunal presided by Dr. Paech emphasized the need to pursue the
search for truth. The underlying problems in the Balkans remain serious and
unresolved. "It is imperative for the public to be informed not only of the
physical and material damage, but also of the psychological wounds inflicted ...
This war must not be the model for a new world order. We must finally make it
clear to politicians and the military that neither human rights nor civilization
are to be saved by war, that war must no longer be used as a political
two volumes are published by Schkeuditzer Buchverlag, Badeweg 1, 04435
Schkeuditz, Federal Republic of Germany. Wolfgang Richter, Elmar Schmaehling,
Eckart Spoo (editors), (1) _Die Wahrheit über den NATO-Krieg gegen Jugoslawien_.
(2) _Die deutsche Verantwortung für den NATO-Krieg gegen Jugoslawien.