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The Berlin Tribunal

by Diana Johnstone (6-21-00) [emperors-clothes]

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.

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.

* 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_.


Further reading...


1) See Money Talks - US Funds ICTY Public Relations at

(2) Back to the dark ages by Jared Israel at

(3) See NATO's War & World Security by Prof. Raju G. C. Thomas at

(4) See HUMANITARIAN WAR: Making the Crime Fit the Punishment by Diana Johnstone at

(5) See An Impartial Tribunal? Really? by Christopher Black at http://emperors-clothes.comanalysis/Impartial.htm

(6)See NATO Willfully Triggered Environmental Catastrophe In Yugoslavia at

To find out more about "JUDGMENT!" go to http://emperors-clothes.comFilm/astunnin.htm

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