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THE BERLIN TRIBUNAL: MORE SERIOUS THAN THE HAGUE


Diana Johnstone

Last

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.

No

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".

In

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

missiles.

The

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.

The

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

intervention.

Retired

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.

Such

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.

The

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.

Such

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.

The

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.

The

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.

The

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.

On

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.

About

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.

The

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.

This

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.

In

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

instrument."

 The

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.

  

 

 

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