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Yugoslav Case Against NATO Rejected - 2001-12-19

The European Court of Human Rights has rejected a complaint against 17 members of NATO over the alliance's 1999 bombing of a Yugoslav television station. The court called the case inadmissible because Yugoslavia does not belong to the Council of Europe.

The complaint was brought by six Yugoslav citizens against NATO's European members. The plaintiffs said the bombing of Radio-Television Serbia in Belgrade violated the European Convention on Human Rights, especially its guarantees of the right to life and freedom of expression.

Five of the plaintiffs were relatives of some of the 16 people killed in the bombing. The sixth plaintiff was wounded in the attack.

NATO directed a cruise missile at the television station in April 1999, while journalists and technicians were at work in the building. NATO says it targeted the television station because it was broadcasting propaganda for the regime of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, whom it accused of repressing ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

But the European Court of Human Rights, based in the French city of Strasbourg, threw out the case, saying that the convention does not apply to Yugoslavia because the country has not signed the document. Signatories of the convention are grouped under the Council of Europe, and Yugoslavia has not joined that organization.

The court says the European Convention on Human Rights was not designed to be applied throughout the world, even with respect to the conduct of signatory states. All 17 European NATO members have signed the convention. The alliance's two non-European members, the United States and Canada, are not signatories and were therefore not among the defendants.

A NATO spokesman welcomed the court's decision. He said that, had the court accepted the case, NATO would have vigorously contested the charges. NATO's lawyers say the alliance acted according to international humanitarian law during the conflict because it was trying to end ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.