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The government of Yugoslavia committed massive human rights violation against the Kosovo Albanians, an activity which could neither be defended by the principle of non-intervention nor the state’s sovereignty. The United Nations Security Council did not allow armed intervention neither did NATO act out of self defense. The action was basically driven by the need to protect human rights within that region. The justification of the unilateral recourse to armed force by declaring the situation in Kosovo as a threat to peace and the Russian resolution condemning NATO actions did not however provide for any sufficient legal grounds. Nevertheless, considering the gross human rights violations in Kosovo, there was need for international community’s intervention.
NATO’s intervention in Kosovo was arguably the most important development with regard to international relations during the final years of the twentieth century. Its consequences were huge on the states that were immediately affected. A decade after the fall of communism in the eastern part of Europe, animosity between NATO and Serbia led to the questioning of the nature of “the new world order” which was supposed to be characterized by a greater cooperation rather than conflict. Tensions, conflict and war founded on ethnicity and nationalism followed the historic end of the painful division of Europe. The conflict in Kosovo marked the first time ever for NATO to deploy its armed forces in war, placing the controversial doctrine of humanitarian intervention strongly on the international agenda.
The western politicians, appalled by ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, may have felt compelled to a moral crusade and a justifiable war against Slobodan Milosevic. However, the bombing campaigns contributed to other crises such as refugee problem which had already been activated by ethic cleansing and deportations. The consequences of NATO interventions were dubbed as humanitarian disaster by western critics. It is estimated that more than eight hundred thousand ethnic Albanians left Kosovo, hundreds of thousands being displaced internally while seven thousand Kosovo Albanians losing their lives during the hostilities. Some of the deaths can be attributed to blundered bombings of refugee convoys and the direct hit on the Chinese embassy by NATO (Carpenter, 2000). As much as NATO’s intervention was necessary, failures in precision bombings led to civilian casualties. This however was not worse than the human rights violations that the government carried out against the Kosovo Albanians.
The above introduction clearly shows that the human rights violations in Kosovo called for external and aggressive intervention. This study therefore focuses on the extent of human rights violation and the consequent justification for NATO military actions. It seeks to offer a detailed understanding of what transpired in Kosovo and the government’s response to the situation. The paper will specifically look at the government’s handling of the situation and the international response in the form of NATO military intervention.
The Kosovo conflict was motivated by violations of human rights even though this was not the only cause. The causes were political in nature. However, human rights violations have been an undesirable tool in the conflict. In order to push for their own power struggles before the international community, the political elites employed both real and imagined human rights violations (Mertus, 1999). The human rights abuse discourse was appropriated by Slobodan Melosevic. According to him and his followers, the Kosovo Albanians committed human rights violations against the Serbs. This led to irredentist movements to illegally separate from Yugoslavia thus justifying Kosovo’s militarization and mass arrests of Kosovo Albanians (Ibid 253). According to Ibrahim Rugova and his supporters, the human rights violations against the Kosovo Albanians meant that Kosovo could not remain part of Serbia. One apparent fact is that both the leaders could manipulate the human rights conditions to suit their own agendas despite the real suffering of the people of Kosovo.
Accounts of human rights violations made the general population to be fearful of each other, contributing to the notion that the very identity of one was threatened by the other. The situation in this country made it difficult for human rights groups to operate in Kosovo. The officials in Serbia flatly rejected the attempts of United Nations Human Rights commission special Rapporteur to establish an office in Yugoslavia in 1993. Yugoslavia also sent away the long term Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe which monitored missions. The United Nations personnel and Amnesty International were also denied visas after they suggested a desire to visit Kosovo (Krieger, 2001). As such, the human rights violations had gone to an extent that the government tried anything it could to not to expose its magnitude. In the same year, a Human Rights Watch researcher was detained and interrogated by police in Kosovo. Visitors were intimidated and obstructed by Serb officials so as to prevent them from seeing what was going on in Kosovo (Kosovo Verification Mission, 1999). Kosovo was a police state deprived of the autonomy it enjoyed during the time of Tito. It was then under the immediate control of Serb authorities who ruled harshly. The Kosovo Albanians refused to sign oaths of loyalty to Yugoslavia and Serbia, having contested the legitimacy of the nineteen ninety constitutional amendments that made Kosovo subordinate to Serbia. Instead, they defiantly organized an independent Republic of Kosovo. Albanians organized their own parallel institutions such as schools, health centers, welfare system and government under the leadership of Ibrahim Rugova. Rugova was the leader of the Democratic League of Kosova, the largest Albanian party. One interesting fact is that the Serbian authorities tolerated this parallel and pro-Kosovo activities of Albanians while at the same time maintaining a tight lid on Albanian quest for independence through a program of forced displacement, harassment, interrogation, arrest and torture (Lang, 2003).
The Serbian police increased their detention and arrest of Albanian intellectuals and former military officers. These arrests were meant to serve two major goals for the Serbian authorities. First, the police spread fear of a planned revolution by charging the former military officers with conspiring to overthrow Yugoslavia. Second, in situations where the uprising occurred, the arrests were meant to effectively immobilize Albanians with particular knowledge and skills that may be employed in plotting an armed rebellion. Individuals who were tortured or beaten did not have any recourse in Kosovo since the rule of law was practically not existing. The judiciary was robbed of its independence and hence, the defendants were basically convicted on “confessions” that were signed after days or even weeks of torture. Albanians were ultimately deprived of basic due process rights, from the right to counsel, the right to remain silent to the right of being free from torture (Mertus, 1999).
The Albanian civilians were frequently harassed by Yugoslav army forces and paramilitary troops. In one instance, it was reported that two Yugoslav soldiers opened fire on two Albanian youths killing one and seriously wounding the other (Bacevich, & Cohen, 2001). It is reported that the soldiers fired without any warning and even continuing after the two men had fallen down. Paramilitary forces also spread hateful messages against Albanians to Serbian villages. During the summer of 1993, heavily armed policemen invaded houses, conducted unwarranted searches and mercilessly beat and detained Albanians of every age in at least four villages of what was a predominantly Serbian villages in norther Kosovo (O’Neill, 2002). The searches were aimed at threatening the villagers so they may leave their homes. This was the beginning of forced Albanian displacement. There were even calls for the Albanians to present proof of ownership of their lands (Ibid 12). However, the authorities rejected whatever deed that was produced by the villagers, ordering them to vacate their properties with immediate effect.
Beyond these instances of police and military brutality, the economic condition of non-Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo deteriorated. The majority of Albanian families depended on contributions that they received from relatives working abroad (Lawson et al., 1996). The majority of Albanian children went to school in private homes with constant police harassment. The police detained and interrogated the children and their teachers for attending “illegal” schools. The Albanian doctors having lost their jobs in mass, practiced medicine under extreme conditions.
Instances of human rights abuse
Serbia felt free to step up human rights violation in Kosovo especially when the world’s attention was focused on Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the Province of Serbia, the police brutality and abuse in detention was a usual phenomenon. Within this province, Albanians comprised of ninety percent of the population. The nature and scope of abuse expanded markedly with police raids on homes and market places becoming a daily occurrence. The Serbian authorities increased their campaign to evict Albanians out of Serbian populated areas. A state of terror was created by the sight of heavily armed Serbian police and regular army forces patrolling Kosovo streets. There were increasing reports of regular army troops being involved in shootings and harassment. The jails mainly comprised of Albanians charged with terrorism and conspiracy to overthrow Yugoslavia (Mihelić, 1994). It was very unlikely for these people to receive fair trial due to the fact that the government was being run by intimidation and brute force with a complete disintegration of the rule of law.
There were massive human rights abuses in Serbia making it necessary for the international community to intervene. The majority of people in Kosovo did not want an all-out-war since it would have been suicidal for the Albanians. Specific cases of human rights violations include a situation where the police mounted attacks on a compound in Drenica where an entire family, save for an eleven year old girl, were killed. Of the bodies that were later buried, totaling fifty eight, ten were children of sixteen years of age and below while eighteen were women. One is then left to wonder why these women and children fell victim to these outrageous killings. Several attacks took place in this area as it was exclusively inhabited by Albanians. The region is known for its resistance to external powers. The police attacks in this region were carried out without warning, with the forces firing indiscriminately at women, children and non-combatants (Lawson et al, 1996).
In many instances, helicopters and military vehicles fired village rooftops before the police force entered on foot, firing private homes. Pregnant women were not spared either. Execution was the order of the day and all these activities seemed normal to the Yugoslavian government. The Serbian police, in defense of their actions, claimed that they were pursuing terrorists who laid attacks on the police with the police spokesman strongly denying the accusations of torture carried in the media. He was quoted as saying that the accusations were lies and inventions and that “the police has never resorted to such methods and never will” (Abrahams et al. 1998). Eighty three people were killed in Dreca which included women and children. These killings were the turning point in the crisis. The ethnic Albanian population were greatly radicalized by these brutal and indiscriminate attacks.
The first massive police attacks on Albanians were on Likosane and Cirez which were small villages that lie about two kilometers apart. Witnesses, victims and visitors to the region after the attack indicate that the special police forces employed excessive force on the villages. At least one attack helicopter, automatic machine guns, armored personnel carriers and mortars were used in the attacks with twenty five Albanians dying in the process (Carpenter, 2000). Even though it was not established the amount of resistance put by the local villagers and UCK, findings indicate that the majority of the Albanians who lost their lives did not put up any resistance at the time of their death. Evidence suggest that at least fourteen people were executed by the police (ibid, 145). The cause and motive of the attacks are however not clear. The police suggest that a police patrol was attacked by armed Albanians killing four policemen and seriously injuring two (Mihelić, 1994). Regardless of what caused the attacks, what is clear is that the police had a prior plan considering the manner in which they reacted to the situation (ibid, 254). There is also little doubt that the police employed arbitrary and excessive force against the civilians even after resistance had ended.
Intervention of NATO
The perception concerning NATO’s intervention in Kosovo varied greatly across nations with leaders in the United States and Britain terming their action as just and morally upright. However, a great majority of Russians considered this action to be inappropriately aggressive (Lang, 2003). Russia specifically accused the United States of attempting to become the world’s police force to the extent that they were redying themselves for the Third World War. The campaign was also complicated by numerous interpretations within the Western alliances. There was disagreement concerning the scale, timing and nature of the campaign. NATO’s new members in the central and eastern Europe were faced with issues of identity and security. States such as Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland found themselves in a difficult situation since they were at war with a state that they held with in common ideologies. They had to prove their loyalty to NATO as new members.
The West was conscious of the human rights violations by the Serbs against the ethnic Albanians, they were however not willing to employ military force or commit troops. Their immediate reaction was to categorize the situation as human rights violation and thus advocated for sanctions against Serbia. However, on 23rd March 1999 NATO Secretary General delegated responsibility to the Supreme Commander of the Alliance to initiate air strikes against Yugoslavia. This was as a result of Yugoslavia’s refusal to accept the peace accords that were negotiated in France. Russia voiced its opposition to military action, arguing that political processes had not been considered in details. However, NATO cited humanitarian concerns as its legal ground for military action . It also cited political objectives for the employment of force. Such included barring the spread of conflict and subjecting Milosevic to sign the accords. This decision to use force ended months of diplomatic effort by the international community to arrive at a detailed political solution to the conflict in Kosovo.
With the withdrawal from Kosovo by international monitors, Belgrade launched an offensive in an effort to destroy the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army. It was estimated that the fighting displaced about three hundred thousand people and led to over two thousand people losing their lives. With the failure of the two warring factions to reach an agreement, the responsibility of ending the conflict and human rights abuses in Kosovo was in the hands of NATO. As such, the activities of NATO were completely justified as they were necessary in stopping the violence and preventing the situation from worsening.
The acceptance of engagement of external actors in the provision of humanitarian assistance and the protection of human rights within states has emerged as an international norm. the first demonstration of this came with the intervention of NATO in the Kosovo crisis. This norm founded more in the naturalist comprehension of law and a sense of moral obligation than in explicit inclusion of external actors within the positive legal framework (Lang, 2003). The legitimacy of some of the external actor activities are likely to be questioned and unambiguously defined as these activities come into conflict with the exercise of sovereignty.
The human rights abuses that were committed by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia against the civilian population in Kosovo went against international law. They amounted to crimes against humanity and efforts to characterize it as internal affairs by Yugoslavian government so as to cover it behind the concept of sovereignty have no legal basis. The events were thus of deep concern to the international community. However, the major question is whether a collection of states or military alliance possess the right to employ force in response to this situation. The foundations of contemporary international law is the prohibition of the employment of force as contained in article 2(4) of United Nations Charter. The charter however make provisions for limited exceptions.