Amnesty International - News Release - EUR 70/25/00
7 June 2000


NATO violations of the laws of war during Operation
Allied Force must be investigated

Amnesty International Public document
AI Index EUR 70/025/2000
News Service Nr. 102

NATO violations of the laws of war during Operation Allied Force must be investigated NATO forces violated the laws of war leading to cases of unlawful killing of civilians, Amnesty International said today, one year after the end of Operation Allied Force against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY).

In a report released today, "Collateral Damage" or Unlawful Killings? Violations of the Laws of War by NATO during Operation Allied Force, Amnesty International examines a number of attacks indicating that NATO did not always meet its legal obligations in selecting targets and in choosing means and methods of attack.

"The 23 April 1999 bombing of the headquarters of Serbian state radio and television, which left 16 civilians dead, was a deliberate attack on a civilian object and as such constitutes a war crime," Amnesty International said.

"Civilian deaths could have been significantly reduced if NATO forces had fully adhered to the laws of war during Operation Allied Force," the organization added.

The laws of war include prohibitions on any direct attacks against civilians or civilian objects, and on attacks which do not attempt to distinguish between military and civilian targets or which, although aimed at a legitimate military target, have a disproportionate impact on civilians or civilian objects.

In various attacks, including the Grdelica railroad bridge on 12 April, the road bridge in Luñane on 1 May, and Varvarin bridge on 30 May, NATO forces failed to suspend their attack after it was evident that they had struck civilians. In other cases, including the attacks on displaced civilians in Djakovica on 14 April and Korica on 13 May, sufficient precautions were not taken to minimize civilian casualties.

No proper investigation appears to have been conducted by NATO or its member states into these incidents. No measures were taken against anyone responsible except in the case of the attack against the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

"NATO member states must bring to justice any of their nationals suspected of being responsible for serious violations under international humanitarian law," Amnesty International said.

" Other states and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia should also investigate allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law during Operation Allied Force."

"The victims of any such violation must receive redress," Amnesty International added.

Among the report's other findings and recommendations:

- NATO should adopt a mechanism to ensure a common interpretation of the rules of war that reflects the highest standards of international humanitarian law;

- NATO's command structure and decision-making processes on target selection and assignment appear to contribute to confusion over legal responsibility; they must be clarified;

- Aspects of the Rules of Engagement -- specifically the requirement that NATO aircraft fly above 15,000 feet to provide maximum protection for aircraft and pilots -- made full adherence to international humanitarian law virtually impossible. NATO must ensure that its Rules of Engagement fully comply with the highest standards of international humanitarian law, are common to all member states, and are made public to the maximum extent possible.

"Waging a coalition war is a complex endeavour and the judgments required of military planners and soldiers engaged in combat are particularly difficult. However, the most powerful military alliance in the world cannot afford but to set the highest standards of protection of civilians according to international humanitarian law," Amnesty International said.


From 24 March to 10 June 1999 NATO aircraft flew over 38,000 combat sorties against the FRY. The civilian death tolls given in detailed FRY government accounts range from 400 to 600. NATO has not released official estimates of civilians or FRY combatants killed. No NATO forces were killed in hostile action during the air campaign.

The laws of war prohibiting attacks on civilians are included in particular in the 1977 Protocol I Additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. France, Turkey and the United States are not parties to this Protocol and should ratify it without reservations.

Amnesty International has extensively documented and campaigned for an end to human rights abuses in Kosovo for over 10 years. During this time ethnic Albanians were victims of unlawful killings, torture and ill-treatment, and unfair trials by the FRY and Serbian authorities, although Serbs and others also suffered at the hands of ethnic Albanian armed opposition groups.

The organization documented human rights violations by Serb forces and others during NATO's bombing campaign, and continues to monitor and campaign against human rights abuses against all ethnic groups under the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo.

Amnesty International takes no position on the political issues surrounding the status of Kosovo. The organization does not judge whether recourse to force by anyone is justified or not and therefore takes no position on the legal or moral basis for NATO's military intervention against the FRY. Amnesty International focuses strictly on the conduct of such intervention in light of the rules of international humanitarian law.

Source: Amnesty International, International Secretariat, 1 Easton Street, WC1X 8DJ, London, United Kingdom