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Monday, 7 February, 2000, 12:29 GMT
Nato 'violated human rights' in Kosovo

plane High-altitude bombing increased the risk of misses

Kosovo: Special Report
A human rights group has accused Nato of violating international human rights law during its air campaign over Kosovo last year.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has estimated that about 500 civilians were killed by Nato airstrikes.

Charges against Nato
Nato failed to properly warn civilians
The alliance failed to identify civilians among road convoys
Targets of questionable military value were chosen
Imprecise bombing techniques used near populated area
But NO evidence of war crimes
The report discounts Serbian government claims that the between 1,200 and 5,000 civilians were killed. Nato has said that it will study the report and a spokesman has repeated that the alliance tried scrupulously to avoid civilian casualties.

The core of the report's criticism is that Nato could have done more to minimise the number of non-combatants killed by its raids.

This, Human Rights Watch argues, amounts to a violation of international human rights laws outlined in the Geneva Convention.

First independent investigation

The report is the first independent investigation into the civilian deaths caused by Nato.

The investigation concluded that Nato committed violations of international human rights law
Human Right Watch

Researchers went to 91 cities and towns and investigated 42 sites where civilians are believed to have been killed.

About a third of the 90 bombing incidents occurred in Kosovo and several relating to air attacks against road convoys.

The report says that Nato pilots should have done more to identify targets properly, although it also points to evidence that in at least one case, Yugoslav forces used displaced civilians as human shields.

We took scrupulous care to avoid all possible civilian casualties
Nato spokesperson
The report makes particular criticism of Nato's use of cluster bombs near populated areas.

It asserts that after one particularly bad incident of cluster munitions going astray in Nis, the United States stopped using the bombs, but it says that British aircraft continued to do so.

Human Rights Watch also says that a small number of the targets chosen were not legitimate military locations - not least the Serb Radio and Television headquarters in Belgrade.

The oil refinery in Novi Sad ablaze after a Nato strike
Nato has never given an estimate on the number of individual civilian deaths caused by its actions.

But Pentagon spokesmen have previously conceded that there may have been what they term "collateral damage" in some 20 to 30 incidents. This is three times less than the estimate of incidents given by Human Rights Watch.

A Nato spokesman, Lee McClenny, repeated on Monday that the organisation deeply regretted the civilian casualties.

"I have to repeat that we took scrupulous care to avoid all possible civilian casualties," Mr McClenny said.

The BBC's defence correspondent, Jonathan Marcus says a definitive calculation of the full human cost of the air campaign is probably impossible.

High altitude bombing

However, critics have long accused Nato of being reckless with the lives of Yugoslav civilians.

Although Nato's pilots put themselves out of the range of Serb anti-aircraft fire when they flew at high altitudes the accuracy of their targeting was diminished - increasing the chances of civilian casualties.

embassy The bombing of the Chinese Embassy caused an international outcry
Many commentators have claimed that the tactic was partially inspired by the fear that the loss of pilots would have undermined the unity of Nato members to use military action to end Serb ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

But as a result there were a series of blunders when Nato hit hospitals, civilian trains and a convoy of fleeing refugees.

In the most embarrassing incident the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was largely destroyed even though the building's identity was clearly marked on street maps.

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See also:
07 Feb 00 |  Europe
Nato plans military exercises in Kosovo
01 Jun 99 |  Europe
Why 'precision bombing' goes off course
01 Jun 99 |  Europe
Nato's bombing blunders
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Civilian deaths 'necessary price'
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Nato 'bombs apartment block'
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Picture gallery: Nato destruction
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Nato 'hit old people's home'
28 Apr 99 |  Europe
Nato admits civilian strike

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