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Raju G. C. Thomas
NATO and International Law
[Raju Thomas is Professor of Political Science at Marquette University. He
is the author of  8 books, over 50 journal articles and book chapters, and
over 70 OP-ED newspaper articles. His recent books were Democracy, Security
and Development in India (1996), and The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime
(1998). He was educated at Bombay University, the London School of
Economics, and the University of California at Los Angeles from where he
obtained his Ph.D.  He has been a visiting Fellow at Harvard, the
Massachusetts Institute of  Technology and the International Institute for
Strategic Studies, London.]


Does NATO's attack  on Serbia violate International Law? Does Humanitarian
Law override the territorial integrity of states?

I.  NATO and International Law

The US and NATO is violating a number of international laws in attacking
Serbia over Kosovo which is part of a sovereign independent state.

(1) It is a violation of Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter that prohibits the
use of force against a sovereign state where it has not committed
aggression on other states. Serbia did not attack any neighboring states
outside its sovereign borders. The Security Council did not sanction the
use of force here.  Efforts to justify these actions through earlier
resolutions or  Chapter 7 of the Charter are acts of distortion and

(2) It is a violation of NATO's own charter which claims it is a defensive
organizations and is only committed to force if one of its members is
attacked. No member of NATO was attacked.

(3) The so-called Rambouillet "Agreement" (there was no "agreement" by
Serbia ) is a violation of Articles 51 and 52 of the 1980 Vienna Convention
on the Law of Treaties which forbids coercion and force to compel any state
to sign a treaty or agreement. Serbia is being asked to sign this
"Agreement" through NATO bombs and missiles, anything but persuasion.

(4) It is a violation of the Helsinki Accords Final Act of 1975 which
guarantees the territorial frontiers of the states of Europe. What this
so-called peace plan offers is (a) the severance of Kosovo through NATO
bombing with immediate effect; or (b) the severance of Kosovo through NATO
occupation three years later. The Serbs chose Option A.

(5) If the sequel to the bombing is recogntion of Kosovo as an independent
state, this will violate international law that prohibits recognition of
provinces that unilaterally declare independence against the wishes of the
federal authorities.

(6) If the bombing of Yugoslavia results in the destruction of Serbian
religious and historical sites, this will be in violation of the 1954 Hague
Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed

(7) The Geneva Conventions Act 1957 (amended 1995) of the United Kingdom
specifically states that "civilians shall not be the object of attack"
(Schedule 5, Article 52.1) and that "civilians shall enjoy protection
unless they take a direct part in hostilities" (Schedule 6, Article 13.3).
Targeting the Serbian TV station at night when it was inhabited by
civilians only constituted an intentional and premeditated attack on

(8) Beyond the above, there may be several other international regulations
about the environment that is being violated by the attacks on chemical
plants, fuel storage, and refineries. They include the Vienna Convention
for the Protection of the Ozone Layer (1985, UNEP), the Montreal Protocol
on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (1987, UNEP), and the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992).

II.  Humanitarian Law and the Territorial Integrity of States

United States and Great Britain have argued that the  attack on Serbia was
justified under the 1948 Genocide Convention and/or other
general humanitarian principles. Claims have also been made that  Article
2(4) of the UN Charter which upholds the territorial integrity of states
against external military attacks, is countered by Articles 1(2) and 55 of
the Charter, which speak of self-determination of peoples.

However,  these articles, including Articles 73 to 91 which deal with
"Non-Self Governing Territories" and the "Trusteeship System," pertain to
decolonization and not the right to secede from existing sovereign
independent states. Article 1 of International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights passed in 1976 referred to the rights of minorities to
self-determination but did not inlcude the right to secede. It implied the
right of peoples in all states "to free, fair and open participation in the
democratic process of governance freely chosen by each state." A 1990
meeting of the then Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in
Copenhagen went far in affirming democratic rights and human rights of
peoples but did not go as far as to endorse the right to secede. 

In any case, the internal Yugoslav republics of Slovenia, Croatia and
Bosnia declared their independence before any human rights violations or
violence had occurred and were recognized. Those unilateral declarations of
independence produced the subsequent violence. Before the NATO attack, the
deaths of 2000 on all sides and the internal displacement of 300,000 people
in Kosovo did not constitute genocide. In Kosovo, a province no different
from Krajina of Croatia from where all Serbs were driven out, NATO bombing
led to the human catastrophe not just for Albanians but for Serbs,
Hungarians and Sandjak Muslims.

Much has been made about "Serbian genocide" in Bosnia which has become the
pretext for the current NATO attack.  Like the Kosovo "genocide," this was
more propaganda than fact. The Stockholm International Peace Research
Institute determined that between 35,000 and 50,000 people died in Bosnia
on all sides.  In comparison, an average of 20,000 people are victims of
homicide in the US every year. The investigators for the Hague Tribunal
have interviewed only 223 women claiming to be raped, and have collected
575 affidavits from women claiming to be raped. Compare this with an
average of 100,000 women who file rape complaints with the police every
year, and an estimated 400,000 unreported rapes annually. NATO's
unqualified and unrestrained bombing campaign that includes the
infrasturcture is more likely to kill millions of Yugosalv citizens in the
long run, through lack of proper medical facilities, polluted water supply,
atmospheric poisoning, ozone depletion, and climatic change. NATO is
committing ecocide and therefore also genocide in the long run.

If  NATO had the right to intervene in Kosovo, does it now have  the right
to intervene in Palestine, Kashmir, Tibet and "Kurdistan where human rights
violations are also taking place? Can any state now bypass the UN Security
Council and attack another state by invoking humanitarian considerations?

(1)  NATO cannot unilaterally invoke the 1948 Genocide Convention , the
1948 Universial Declaration of Human Rights, and other humanitarian laws,
and proceed to attack independent states. Only the Security Council can do
so which was deliberately bypassed by NATO because it knew that Russia and
China would veto such an attack.

(2) There was no humanitarian intervention by the US and the West when the
Nigerian authorities crushed the Biafra separatist movement between 1967
and 1970 causing the deaths of one million Ibos, when Pakistani forces
killed one million and drove out 10 million Bengalis during the East
Pakistani secessionist struggle in 1971, when the Pol Pot regime killed one
million Cambodians, to name just a few cases. 

In the latter two cases, the US condemned India and Vietnam for their
military interventions and threatened military action against them.
However, both India and Vietnam intervened after the human catastrophes had
taken place. NATO's rush to bomb caused the human catastrophe  in Kosovo,
as did Western interventions earlier in Croatia and Bosnia by promoting and
rushing to recognize Croatia and Bosnia as independent states against the
wishes of the Serbian populations.

(3) Ethnic cleansing is not genocide. If it were, the Allied powers were
guilty of genocide for the expulsion of some 12 million Germans from
Poland, Czechoslavkia and elsewhere at the end of the Second World War, and
surely European Jews committed genocide when it drove out nearly a million
Palestinians to carve out the state of Israel in 1948.

(4) There is now an ethnically pure Greater Croatia. There are almost
900,000 Serbian refugees ethnically cleansed from Croatia and the
federation, 300,000 in Republika Srpska and 600,000 in Serbia. This is more
than any other ethnic group. Croatia conducted the largest single ethnic
cleansing of the war with American military support. 

III. Conclusion

Russia, China and India, representing half the human race, got it right
about the Kosovo crisis. NATO, the only alliance left after the Cold War,
committed aggression on Serbia. This is all about saving NATO's face at a
very heavy price for the Serbs. If NATO is above international law, then so
is every other state and organization. It has set a terrible precedent.  A
Times of  India editorial of April 29th, 1999, concluded rightly that "just
as the US cannot afford to lose, the rest of the world cannot afford to let
it win. If NATO's aggression against Yugoslavia is allowed to prevail, the
alliance will eventually turn its destructive attention to other 'out of
area' operations."

Raju G. C. Thomas

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