Court ignores slain TV employees

In the early hours of April 23, 1999, the headquarters of Radio-Television Serbia (RTS) at Takovska Street in Belgrade was hit by a missile launched from a NATO aircraft. Two of the floors of the building collapsed, destroying the master control room and killing 16 people, injuring another dozen. The following year, in October 2000, families of four of the deceased Serb media employees and one survivor lodged a complaint against the NATO alliance with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. They noted in their complaint that the bombardment of the RTS headquarters by NATO violated articles 2 (right to life), 10 (freedom of expression) and 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The complaint named the 17 European NATO member nations, including Greece, all of whom are members of the Council of Europe and signatories to the Convention on Human Rights; the United States and Canada are not signatories to the convention and therefore were not named in the complaint. Yesterday, two and a half years after the bombing, the court refused to accept the complaint, declaring it inadmissible on the grounds of jurisdiction. The convention, the court declared in its ruling, extends its legal jurisdiction to the contracting states and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia clearly did not fall within this legal space. The court was not therefore persuaded that there was any jurisdictional link between the persons who were victims of the act complained of and the respondent states, the ECHR declared. Accordingly, it was not satisfied that the applicants and their deceased relatives were capable of coming within the jurisdiction of the respondent states on account of the extra-territorial act in question. The bombing of the RTS headquarters had come one month into NATO’s 78-day air campaign against Yugoslavia and the Milosevic regime, arousing a heated debate among member countries of the NATO alliance and sending shockwaves through human rights and media communities. NATO claimed that the RTS headquarters was a legitimate target because according to the alliance it was part of Milosevic’s propaganda network, and thus the employees were aware that they could themselves be a target. The reaction by the human rights and media communities, though, was strong, condemning the deliberate bombing of innocent civilians. Under international humanitarian law an attack on a civilian target can only be justified if that target is being used for a military purpose, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in its annual report for 1999. RTS was not used for such a purpose during the Kosovo conflict, and therefore we do not believe that NATO’s attack on RTS was justified under the Geneva Conventions. CPJ condemned the attack in a letter dated April 23, 2000 to then-NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana. In Greece, the Athens Journalists’ Union (ESYEA) has often denounced the bombing of the TV building in Belgrade as barbaric. Amnesty International in June last year emphasized that NATO’s bombing of the RTS building was criminal. Such an attack was a war crime, the human rights group declared. On May 5 last year, UNESCO held a two-day roundtable meeting in Geneva on how to combat war and hatred propaganda without undermining press freedom and independence of local media. The meeting aimed at exploring ways by which the international community could increase the safety of journalists who are caught up in conflict and post-conflict situations. Wherever their independence or security is threatened […] local journalists must be supported and protected in their efforts to maintain a flow of fair and independent information, read a joint statement of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the head of UNESCO.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.