The Serbs take legal action against NATO

by Velimir Nedeljkovic*

Let us first remember: after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the expansion of NATO as a unipolar power to prove the necessity of its existence reached Kosovo on its way to Russia. The bombing of Yugoslavia, officially baptised the “Merciful Angel”, was not merciful at all. The NATO military operation against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo war began on 24 March 1999 and ended on 10 June 1999. According to NATO, its pilots flew 38,000 missions in a 78-day operation, including 10,000 air strikes. According to military experts, about 3,000 cruise missiles were fired and 80,000 tons of various bombs were dropped, including cluster ammunition and depleted uranium missiles. Petrochemical plants and refineries were bombed, contaminating the country’s rivers and soil with toxic chemicals.

NATO has dropped 10 to 15 tonnes of depleted uranium …

Serbia estimates that between 3,500 and 4,000 people were killed and about 10,000 injured in the attacks, two-thirds of whom were civilians. The exact number of dead and wounded has never been determined. The damage to Serbia is estimated at 100 billion dollars. NATO planes dropped 10 to 15 tonnes of depleted uranium on Serbian territory. As a result, almost 5,500 cases of cancer per million inhabitants were registered.

… and Serbia has the most cancer deaths in Europe today

Serbia ranks first in Europe today in terms of the number cancer deaths. The long-term toxic effects manifest themselves in a veritable cancer epidemic of an ever-growing extent. The reality in Serbia regarding malignant diseases is terrible. According to statistics (2018), every year 33,000 people in Serbia have fallen ill, among them 360 children. That is one child a day. Every day a new child falls ill with cancer. Southern Serbia and Kosovo are particularly affected and the population continues to suffer from the consequences of the use of depleted uranium ammunition. This is the main reason for this initiative. 

On 20 January, a first Serbian lawsuit against NATO was filed

On behalf of the victims of the 1999 depleted uranium bombings, a team of international lawyers under the command of the law firm Aleksic from Nis, Serbia, sues NATO. After enough evidence had been gathered, a first lawsuit was filed in Belgrade on 20 January 2021, with more to follow by the end of the month. Then, more lawsuits will follow before the courts in Vranje, Nis, Kragujevac and Novi Sad. It was high time for this.
  The lawsuit is filed after 22 years, but since war crimes never become time-barred, it is never too late to prosecute those responsible for an environmental disaster, with the consequences of an epidemic of malignant diseases and deformities and a violation of all international conventions and laws that protect human beings.
  So far, this has only been discussed at international conferences, two of which took place in Nis. This is the first time that NATO is prosecuted in Serbia for civilian victims, individuals, soldiers and police officers and members of the military reserve who died and fell ill in Kosovo and Metohija or southern Serbia in 1999. The lawsuit, which had previously been filed by the Serbian state, was withdrawn with the change of government.

Justified claims for compensation

The lawsuit is first to prove that the cases of illness and death of our people in Kosovo and Metohija are the cases causally related to depleted uranium, and also that they are identical to the case of the Italian soldiers who succeeded with their lawsuit. For each lawsuit of Serbian victims, compensation of at least 100,000 euros is expected. The compensation for the Italian soldiers was multiple times higher.

Example Italy

The Italian lawyer Angelo Fiore Tartaglia, who was approved as a lawyer in Nis at the end of last year, was able to prove before Italian courts the causal connection between depleted uranium and the ill soldiers who were in Kosovo as part of the peace mission, and on this basis he obtained compensation. Therefore, the experience of the lawyer Tartaglia, who successfully advocated the interests of the Italian soldiers and now has 181 court decisions that have already come into force in Europe, is valuable. More than 3,000 pages of documents, including judgements, expert opinions, documents from a special commission of the government of Italy, were submitted to the Supreme Court in Belgrade. Enough evidence has been gathered to ensure that the decision of the Serbian courts will be in favour of the victims.
  After having received the claim on 20 January this year, the Supreme Court in Belgrade is expected to send an official notification through diplomatic channels to NATO headquarters in Brussels within six months. NATO must respond within 30 days. The NATO press office is aware of this Serbian activity but has made no comment, except for the Secretary General’s statement, who said: “Science is on our side.”

The actual state of scientific research

But the science is clear: depleted uranium nanoparticles released by the explosion of depleted uranium ammunition are harmful to the environment and human health. Our planet is struggling for life. From the air we breathe, to the water we drink, to the land we grow our food on, our environment has many impacts on our health. It is time to recognise that the right to a healthy natural environment is essential for our survival. Only by living in harmony with nature can we prevent future disasters. As long as our society continues on its present path, we are doomed to sink deeper and deeper into destruction. We need a human right to live on a healthy planet.

“The court is there to fight alongside the people”

This is a matter of urgency! We expect the legal process to be a great support to us in this difficult time. We believe that with the help of the Italian experience and the evidence presented in the cases in which the Italian lawyer was involved, as well as other evidence presented before the courts in Serbia, we will prove the causal link between malignant diseases and depleted uranium. Many of us are losing faith in the institutions and democracy and decide to give up because they think that nothing will be done. This scares me a lot, because I don’t want to live in a world where no one cares about the suffering of others, where no one cares that we are victims of injustice.
  The court is there to fight alongside people like me and you who, from tomorrow, may be victims of certain injustices, sometimes tragic ones. The world needs a great bond of solidarity with every victim. There is still no broader support for the lawsuit in Serbia, and the first sceptics have emerged, with the question of which legal system will force NATO to pay compensation. You may already know this, above all it is important, let me repeat: The court should be free and independent of the influence of the powerful. •

(Translation Current Concerns)

* Prof. Dr Velimir Nedeljkovic (born 6 May 1942) from Nis, Serbia, worked for 35 years as a professor at the Faculty of Occupational Safety at the University of Nis. He specialised in the field of occupational safety at the Institut national de recherche et de sécurité, INRS, during a one-year professional training in Paris in 1969. He is the author of several scientific papers and professional projects, including “Ventilation of mines with underground transport in case of fire conditions” and “Industrial ventilation”. He is co-author of the “Encyclopedia of Industrial Safety”. He was co-initiator of the first international symposium, which took place in Nis in 2018, on “Consequences of depleted uranium bombing in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during NATO aggression in 1999”.

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