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Opinions Archive 1999

Kosovo: Peace Movements Oppose Both Ethnic Cleansing and Bombing

Geneva, April 8, 1999

International Peace Bureau - IPB

The International Peace Bureau - representing 186 citizens' peace organisations worldwide - is appalled and sickened by the recent events in Kosovo/a. We utterly condemn the Serbian policies of discrimination, ethnic "cleansing", massacre and terror against the Kosovars. At the same time we believe NATO's airstrikes have so far done nothing but accelerate the repression, unite the Serbian nation around Milosevic, and alienate the Russians and others in the region. Belgrade's ceasefire offer, no matter how cynical, did present an opportunity to de-escalate the crisis.  NATO's abrupt refusal slams shut the door to a early resolution.


We are saddened that the West refused the challenge of creating a partnership with Russia at Rambouillet and turned its back on patient, non-violent strategies. This is in stark contrast to the negotiations on N. Ireland, for example, where Tony Blair repeatedly argues that "You can't bomb your way to the conference table."

If for the past 8 years the West had supported effectively the nonviolent response of the Kosovo Albanians led by Ibrahim Rogova; if Milosevic had been indicted at the Hague Tribunal as a war criminal; if Kosovo had been included in the Dayton peace agreement; if serious attempts had been made to counter the Serb media propaganda machine; if more skilled mediators with different negotiation styles had been used; if full support and financing had been offered to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); then there might not have been an armed struggle, and we might not be facing today's horrendous mess.


Few outside NATO HQ dispute that there is no UN endorsement for its unlicensed attacks against a sovereign state. NATO has usurped the authority both of the UN and of the OSCE, violated Article 2.4 of the UN Charter, as well as NATO's own Charter, and contravened both the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and the Helsinki Final Act. The intervention of a supposedly defensive regional organisation sets a new and dangerous precedent for other military groupings to take lawless action anywhere in the world. This is a major challenge for the UN, its Secretariat and agencies, and its supporters. Civil society must defend the one global organisation capable of addressing global problems.

It may be true that there is a new, evolving legal/moral norm implying a duty of humanitarian intervention to protect vulnerable civilians. It is clear that many around the world feel that there was 'no choice' but to resort to military force in order to avoid another Srebrenica-style massacre. However, given its highly controversial nature, we believe this option should have been tested in UN forums rather than unilaterally. The use of German forces in the attacks is particularly insensitive, given the suffering the Serbs endured at the hands of both Nazis and Ustashe.


US commentators point out that the bombing and its aftermath could have grave consequences in terms of reinforcement of the US military buildup and 'proof' of the two simultaneous regional wars doctrine. Furthermore, it will re-militarize the American people, many of whom see unilateral force as the only way to deal with internal and international disputes or humanitarian crises. US policy towards the Balkans has been contradictory at best - supporting democracy and negotiation and then abandoning such methods. In particular, the military action has effectively 'pulled the rug' from under the democratic representatives of the Kosovo Albanians and instead given support to the unconstitutional Kosovo Liberation Army, with the effect that NATO is now acting as its air force.


IPB has campaigned against the expansion of NATO on the grounds that it is both unnecessary and destabilising, given the fierce opposition in Russia. We have long urged that support and financing be transferred to the pan-European OSCE. It was a tragic mistake not to have invested in - and mobilised - a far larger OSCE monitoring team in Kosovo; and we doubt the wisdom of withdrawing those that were present just at the crucial moment. As in Rwanda, the withdrawal of the international community' representatives may come to be seen as the fatal signal for all-out assault on civilians.

Can it be a coincidence that this latest NATO action almost coincides with the 50th anniversary review of NATO's Strategic Concept? For months NATO spokespersons have been advocating a new approach, including taking action across state borders for "humanitarian" reasons.  The way this action has been taken raises serious questions of accountability and legality. It must not be seen as a precedent for future NATO policies. The long term structure for resolving such problems in the future is surely the 'Charter for a cooperative security structure in Europe' to be adopted by the OSCE Summit in November 1999 in Istanbul.


We utterly condemn the hypocrisy of the most powerful NATO states, which have opted for military strikes over Kosovo and yet have failed to muster an equivalent UN-led response to situations of even greater suffering and oppression, eg Kurdistan, Sri Lanka, or Ethiopia-Eritrea, where so far over 45,000 have died and no end to the killing is in sight.


The military mobilization has brought the US arms industry a sudden boost in orders, and is likely to strengthen their hand in arguing for additional Pentagon subsidies. The Clinton administration has already increased military spending this year and the conflict of course provides an ideal environment for testing the latest hi-tech equipment. Such developments are extremely negative from the perspective of reducing arms production, sales and exports, since they reinforce the militarisation of Western economies which should have been reversed at the end of the Cold War.


IPB is especially concerned at reports that NATO has been using depleted uranium in its attacks on Serbian targets, both with its A10 attack aircraft and Tomahawk Cruise missiles. DU is pyrophoric, bursting into an intensified flameup that releases micron-sized aerosol particles that can be ingested by military personnel or civilians. NATO is risking prolonged contamination of the environment, putting at risk innocent civilians, especially children, now in the Balkans as well as Iraq.  DU has been condemned by the UN Commission on Human Rights, at its Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.  The Commission requested that the Secretary-General prepare a written report on DU and certain other weapons of mass destruction (Resolution 1997/36). We believe this weaponry is being tested with complete lack of concern for its effects.


The massive flows of refugees fleeing Kosovo threaten the stability of the whole region. It is extraordinary that NATO planners - who condemned Milosevic as capable of almost any evil - failed to predict or prepare for the exodus of hundreds of thousands into Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro. None of these countries can in the short term cope with such numbers, and before long could suffer severe social and political consequences. Macedonia especially is likely to experience an upsurge in nationalist sentiment which could bring war to another region. We urge Western governments to accelerate their relief programmes and to provide similar levels of funding to those which are being lavished on the war effort. It is shameful that the US, UK and France, most willing to bomb, seem least willing to accept large numbers of refugees on their soil. We believe a worldwide UN appeal should also be launched for financial contributions, materials and volunteers, both short and long-term.


IPB demands that the focus of attempts to resolve the crisis must shift back to the UN. Given the impasse in the Security Council, the Secretary-General should ask the Security Council to request an immediate emergency session of the General Assembly (UN Charter Articles 12 and 14). We urge that such a session should pass a resolution calling for:

1) an immediate ceasefire by ALL parties to the conflict, and the de-militarisation of Kosovo;

2) the mediation of a new Kosovo peace settlement package, with full backing given to the U.N. Secretary-General, and with the full participation of other governments in the region;

3) the dispatch, as soon as conditions allow, of a multinational (non-NATO) protection force of U.N. peacekeepers and civilian volunteers to Kosovo to enable the return of the ethnic Albanians to their villages, the rebuilding of their homes, and their future safety;

4) allocation of major financial and human resources to both Kosovo and Serbia to assist with the reconstruction;

5) a special report from the Security Council on its actions to resolve this conflict (Article 15).

This would:

a) offer a face-saving way for all sides in the conflict to de-escalate the war;

b) restore the U.N. to its proper role in resolving conflict;

c) provide an opportunity for Milosevic to return to the negotiating table;

d) give Russia and other disgruntled nations a role in peacekeeping and in the peace settlement.


IPB believes this crisis is a profound and complex challenge for all those who wish both to see human rights respected and peaceful ways found to resolve bitter conflicts. The immediate challenge is how to ensure that the Kosovar refugees can return in safety to their homes. The use of NATO ground troops at this stage would likely lead to terrible bloodshed. Possibly the intervention of Kofi Annan or Nobel laureates such as Nelson Mandela or Shimon Peres could provide a new opportunity. But more pressure will be needed to persuade all the governments involved to change tack before further killing and mass evictions take place.

The first casualty of this war, as in so many others, has been objective reporting, and the circulation of information not controlled by either the propaganda machine of Milosevic or the news-packaging of NATO is essential for clear assessment of the situation. Meanwhile, peace, human rights and other humanitarian movements need to engage in an intensive process of creative thinking to explore all the dimensions and options for a peaceful and lasting transformation of the crisis. These will include global measures such as the rapid establishment of the International Criminal Court and the prosecution of those guilty of war crimes; a Global Code of Conduct on arms transfers and other measures to restrict the availability of weapons, both large and small; strengthening the resources and prestige of the OSCE and other regional structures; substantial investment in peace education and conflict resolution training; and much more besides. It is a long road ahead.

From: (Mr) Colin Archer, Secretary-General International Peace Bureau,  41 rue de Zurich, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland.Tel: +41-22-731-6429, Fax: 738-9419,


IPB is the oldest and the most comprehensive of the international peace federations - covering issues ranging from nuclear weapons and landmines to conflict resolution and peace education. Our current main programme is the Hague Appeal for Peace, which features all these themes. Join us at the global citizens' conference, May 11-15, where the Kosovo crisis will be a main focus. Write for details of membership, projects and publications - or consult Website(s).

Source: The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research

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