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Crisis 1999
Opinions Archive 1999
Letter to Serbian NGOs

Letter to Serbian non-governmental organizations regarding the Appeal of 6 April by Belgrade NGOs from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights Oslo, Vienna 18 May 1999

Dear friends and colleagues,

As human rights organizations devoted to the protection of civil society, and after having cooperated with some of you for many years, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights take your Appeal of 6 April with utmost seriousness. The Executive Committee of the IHF, which met in New York on 8.-9. May, discussed your Appeal at length. It should be mentioned that the protection of human rights defenders and civic activists in Serbia are one of our main messages to decision makers and media in Europe, and that we have initiated support campaigns and letters for Serbian independents and intellectuals.

However, we are deeply disturbed that the Appeal of 6 April -- and subsequent open letters and appeals from intellectuals in Belgrade -- reflects a view of the Kosovo crisis to which we cannot subscribe, and we feel a need to clarify our position on these issues. The Kosovo Albanians who have arrived in Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro have been extensively interviewed by members of various Helsinki committees, as well as by news media. Their stories confirm beyond any reasonable doubt that they were driven from their homes by Serbian police and paramilitary forces; that seemingly thousands have been systematically killed, maimed, raped and robbed. This is ethnic cleansing on a horrific scale. Neither the NATO bombing campaign nor military actions by the Kosovo Liberation Army are responsible for the "unprecedented exodus" which you describe. Based on the extensive information we have collected about the catastrophe in Kosovo, we consider it intellectualy and morally unsound to equate these campaigns.

We respect your lonely and courageous struggle for democratization in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a struggle we have supported for years. But unfortunately -- and we would very much like to be mistaken in this -- it seems to us that hardly any of your fellow citizens have supported a just settlement to the Kosovo issue, and that the crisis has been caught in a downward spiral of radicalization for many years. Thus when you say that "NATO military intervention has undermined all results we have achieved,"one must ask if these results were of such a scope and significance to bring hope that the plight of Kosovo could be relieved by peaceful means.

As the Rambouillet negotiations came to a close, it seemed clear to us that there was no such hope of a political settlement. The regime scorned international -- and domestic -- pressure aimed at a peaceful solution, and went ahead with the preparations for the campaign which is currently unfolding in Kosovo. Faced with preparations for grave crimes, how should one respond? That was the dilemma faced by the international community in March, and in our view you also should recognize -- even though you do not support it -- that, in principle, the NATO intervention was not an arbitrary act of aggression.

We are in sympathy with your extremely difficult situation, but we cannot agree with the conclusions you have drawn as to who bears primary responsibility for improving it. It is our view that your appeal should properly be addressed to the FRY and Serbian authorities which bear the responsibility for systematic and grave crimes of war and crimes against humanity in Kosovo, and for the dangers you, as members of the civil sector in Serbia, are currently facing.

We express our solidarity with you. Also, we acknowledge the sacrifices you must make, and the dilemmas and paradoxes you are faced with as victims of a government whose policies you cannot support, and bearing the costs attached to efforts to make that government act in accordance with civilized standards. It is our hope and aim that the enormous responsibility the NATO states have taken on by initiating the military intervention, will entail a far more whole- hearted support of the civil sector in the Serbian society, which more than ever, is crucial to Serbia's restoration into Europe. Unless the western states recognize the need for this kind of policy, it will be difficult to describe the current NATO actions as a humanitarian intervention.

We will soon face new challenges. This letter is meant to open a dialogue on what we can do together to preserve the independent forces in the Serbian society in order that they may resurface after the war. We would very much welcome your recommendations as to how we, from the outside, should address the new situation and how we can continue to support you in your current plight.

Bjorn Engesland Secretary General The Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Aaron Rhodes Executive Director on behalf of the Executive Committee of the IHF
Ludmilla Alexeyeva
Ulrich Fischer
Stein-Ivar Aarsaether
Sonja Biserko
Holly Cartner
Bjorn Emgesland
Krassimir Kanev
Andrzej Rzeplinski

Source: Minelres

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