Washington Post - War Crimes court is looking at Nato

By Charles Trueheart

Wednesday, December 29, 1999

PARIS, Dec. 28 –– U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte is assessing evidence that NATO commanders committed violations of international law in conducting airstrikes against Yugoslavia last spring.

Del Ponte, who took over the prosecution staff at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague in September, said in a recent interview that she would be reviewing an internal tribunal report on potential NATO war crimes during the year-end break.

The staff report was ordered by former chief prosecutor Louise Arbour in August following media accusations that NATO commanders were criminally liable in their selection of targets during the 87-day allied bombing campaign.

Civilian casualties in several air attacks, notably on a passenger train and on office buildings and the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, drew charges during the war that NATO was committing atrocities that fell under the purview of the tribunal as surely as those allegedly committed by Serb-led Yugoslav forces.

The charges came not just from the government of President Slobodan Milosevic, who was indicted on war crimes charges by the tribunal in May, but from journalists and academics in the West. Arbour met with a delegation of legal scholars from Norway, Greece, Canada and other countries in August to hear their views on the tribunal's role.

Del Ponte's spokesman, Paul Risley, said tonight that the internal report was being carefully considered by Del Ponte during her holiday break in her native Switzerland. He said its contents and recommendations would never be divulged unless Del Ponte chooses to bring indictments against NATO leaders or military commanders. NATO and Pentagon spokesmen refused to comment.

The U.N. tribunal, established in 1993 for former Yugoslav republics, and in 1994 for Rwanda, brings cases only against individuals, not governments.

Risley said that Del Ponte had told reporters consistently in recent weeks that she would review the report and make a decision about indictments. But, he said, "she has many more important priorities in front of her--notably stepping up the pace of arrests of previously indicted individuals, expanding existing indictments to include genocide charges and developing new indictments stemming from the Kosovo conflict."


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