Serbia + 1 more

Statement by the Secretary General of NATO, Lord Robertson on the Human Rights Watch Report

Press Release (2000)007 - 7 Feb. 2000
I have seen the report by the Human Rights Watch on civilian casualties in NATO's air campaign and welcome it as a further contribution to the public's understanding of the full consequences of Milosevic's policies of ethnic cleansing and regional destabilization.

It is a study that deserves serious analysis, not least because it exposes the deceit and dishonesty of Serb propaganda, in which over 5,000 civilian deaths are claimed.

The report asserts that, despite the extraordinary efforts of the Allies, NATO's air campaign resulted in unintended civilian casualties. I regret that NATO's action caused even a single civilian death, but these unintended incidents in no way compare to the systematic, unspeakable violence inflicted on civilians by Milosevic's troops and paramilitary.

We must never forget the scale and the barbarity of Serbian ethnic cleansing which NATO set out to stop. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is blunt in its report on human rights in Kosovo issued a few weeks ago:

"On the part of Yugoslavian and Serbian forces, their intent was to apply mass killing as an instrument of terror" Arbitrary killing of civilians was both a tactic in the campaign to expel Kosovo Albanians and an objective in itself."

"There is chilling evidence of the murderous targeting of children, with the aim of terrorizing and punishing adults and communities."

"The scale on which human rights violations recur is staggering. It has been estimated that over 90 percent of the Kosovo Albanian population - over 1.45 million people - were displaced by the conflict by June 9, 1999."

NATO did not embark on Operation Allied Force lightly. It was undertaken only after long, patient and ultimately unsuccessful efforts by the international community to stop the killing and ethnic cleansing by diplomatic means. NATO's military action was taken as a last resort and was successful in stopping the killing, forcing the withdrawal of Serbian forces, and permitting the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Both this Human Rights Watch report and that of the OSCE conclude that Serbian forces illegally used civilians as human shields for military targets, so adding to the number of civilian casualties.

During the operation, NATO exercised scrupulous and meticulous care to avoid harm to the civilian population and held firm to their commitment to respect the rules and principles of international humanitarian law. This campaign was undertaken to prevent massive violations of international humanitarian law and was one of the most precisely executed military campaigns in history.