On July 3rd and 4th, 1999, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers convened a commission to hear testimony regarding NATO’s action against Yugoslavia, and its implications for international law. The commission included university professors, attorneys and present and former government officials from throughout the world. On July 3rd, testimony was heard and reports presented regarding the situation. July 4th was spent deliberating and drafting recommendations for future action. Peter Erlinder, a law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota, represented the National Lawyers Guild.

The Commission realizes that there has been, on the part of Serbian authorities and forces and paramilitary organizations, a policy of discrimination and denigration of rights during the last ten years resulting from the cancellation of the declaration of autonomy of the province of Kosovo. At the same time, there have been equally grave human rights violations and extreme violence on the part of the Kosovars, notably by the KLA.

In discussing NATO’s responsibility, the Commission declares that NATO’s actions have not only violated all of the rules of law as will be discussed below. Further, far from putting an end to the violence, NATO’s actions have created even more violence completely disproportionate to its declared objective.

NATO’s actions were totally illegal, and cannot be justified by any humanitarian argument. It is first and foremost characterized by the violation of the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter: the banishment of war, freedom from force or the threat of force, the priority of a negotiated solution of disputes and of non-intervention in nation’s internal affairs.

Similarly, the invocation of the supposed “right of humanitarian intervention” cannot serve to excuse NATO’s actions. The authority for such an intervention is exclusively within the province of the United Nations, and cannot be reconciled as within NATO’s authority. So-called “humanitarian intervention” can never justify bombing, much less the destruction of the economic infrastructure of a country. If one admits this, one must have the objective of alleviating, not creating more suffering.

NATO’s action has therefore gravely violated the United Nations Charter. But these actions have equally ignored the following:

–The NATO statute itself in that: 1) this statute does not assign to the organization a mission of defense; 2) it expressly submits NATO to the principles of the UN Charter, and requires it to preliminarily consult the UN Security Council; 3) it forbids all actions outside of the space of NATO’s province.

–The final Helsinki Accord which places upon the European signators to that agreement the obligation to negotiate all conflicts by political means.

–The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which safeguard human rights and the right of security for all people.

The Commission therefore considers that NATO’s actions against Yugoslavia constitute an unleashed war against a sovereign nation, a member of the United Nations, without the consultation of all the national Parliaments, and is even defined as an aggression in an opinion given by the resolution of December 14, 1974 by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The Commission is equally aware of the grave violations of humanitarian laws which apply in time of war, most notably the Acts of St. Petersburg, the Hague and the Geneva Convention, concerning the protection of populations and towns. The violations are based on the objectives of the bombing and by the nature of the arms used. The use of fragmentation bombs containing uranium arguably was formally condemned by Resolution 1996-16 of the Subcommittee on Human Rights for the United Nations.

In terms of the alleged humanitarian motivation for this aggression, the Committee notes as follows:

–Why was there no intervention in other situations involving grave and flagrant violations of human and international rights: of the Kurds in Turkey; of Iraq by those who participated in the operation against Yugoslavia; of the Palestinian people, people in Angola, the Sahara, East Timor, Cypress, etc.

The matter of the secret amendment of the Rambouillet Agreement is also significant, for it demanded not only the cognizance of an occupying military force in all of Yugoslavia by NATO, but the opening of the market economy and the dismantling of the present autonomous economy.


The loss of human life and health, and great personal loss, resulting from the deadly and extensive attacks;

The destruction of the economic infrastructure of Yugoslavia;

The upset of the ecosystem of southeastern Europe;

The destabilization of the entire region;

The militarization of the region with all of the dangers for future military action;

The aggravation of intercommunity hatred.

To deal with these consequences, the NATO member states—not capable of finding the funds for humanitarian aid before military action—must assume their responsibility to indemnify all of their victims who have been damaged.

Generally, the Commission believes that NATO’s action, coming after that of the United States and Great Britain against Iraq since December 1998, demonstrates an alarming will on the part of the United States and other countries to substitute for the historical and fundamental principles of the UN Charter, a regime of international regulation founded on these countries’ raw power.

Not only must the aggression against Yugoslavia be denounced, but concern must be expressed about the fear of similar operations in the future.

Finally, the Commission has heard from other professionals, particularly the declaration of Mr. Regis Debray and “Reporters Without Borders” on the manipulation of the media and the importance of guaranteeing the right to complete and objective information in similar situations.

IN CONCLUSION, the Commission decides:

–To release to the public the present text of its hearing, being certain to send it to the Secretary General of the United Nations, the Chiefs of State and the governments of the NATO member countries, and to Mr. Ramsey Clark who is convening a war crimes tribunal on these issues in New York City of July 31st;

–To stay constituted in order to provide further legal analysis and evaluation of this situation;

–To solicit from the members of the Commission further writings which discuss these issues of international law, an to maintain funds for the permanent consideration of the Committee.


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