Use of DU weapons in Yugoslavia – State of the lawsuit against NATO

by Professor Srđan Aleksić, Serbia*

ef. NATO’s attack against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo war, which was against international law, began on 24 March 1999 and ended on 10 June 1999. According to NATO, its pilots flew 38,000 sorties during the 78-day operation, 10,000 of which were air strikes. An estimated 3,500 to 4,000 people were killed and about 10,000 injured in the attacks, two-thirds of whom were civilians. NATO attacks also dropped 10 to 15 tonnes of depleted uranium on Serbian territory. As a result, about 5,500 cases of cancer per million inhabitants were registered. Today, Serbia has the highest number of cancer deaths in Europe: According to statistics, 33,000 people in Serbia were diagnosed with cancer. Among them, one child a day. Even today, after 23 years, the population suffers from the consequences of the use of depleted uranium ammunition (see Current Concerns No 3 of 16 February 2021).
  Because he could not bear it any longer, the lawyer Professor Srđan Aleksić from Niš, Serbia, with strong support of his friend Professor Velimir Nedeljković, began to act decisively: He began to collect the cases of victims of the depleted uranium bombings. Countless victims and family members of victims had contacted him – over 3,300. His goal: a claim for compensation against NATO. After two international conferences in 2018 and 2019 and countless expert reports, he, together with a team of international lawyers, had enough evidence to file a first lawsuit with the Supreme Court in Belgrade on 20 January 2021. NATO responded with a diplomatic note on 18 March 2022. It states, among other things: “[...] It is recalled that NATO, including the NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade, enjoys in the Republic of Serbia full immunity from jurisdiction and from enforcement. [...] Nato has not waived any of those immunities in relation to these proceedings or any other proceedings. [...] In view of the above, NATO will not participate in the proceedings and expects that the status, the privileges and immunities enjoyed by the Organization will be fully upheld by the Serbian authorities, including courts and tribunals. NATO expects that the Government of the Republic of Serbia will take all necessary measures for the status enjoyed by the Organization to be recognised and given effect by the High Court of Belgrade. [...]”
  The essence of the above-mentioned Note Verbale of the NATO mission is the emphasis on immunity, in particular the limitation of the jurisdiction of the Republic of Serbia with regard to the conduct of legal proceedings against NATO officers and soldiers, all of which relate to the agreement on “Transit Arrangements for Peace Support Operations of NATO Forces through Serbia and Montenegro” signed on 18 July 2005, as well as the 2006 agreements establishing the Military Liaison Office in Belgrade.

I would like to thank you for being here today, the same you who believed in us from the very beginning, and supported us when no one else did, I want you to know that you are a large part of this journey. As many of you know, we sued NATO in Serbia and received a response in which they invoked immunity, i.e., the limitation of the jurisdiction of the Republic of Serbia in the case of prosecuting NATO soldiers and officers, which was provided in the agreements with NATO, from 2005 and 2006, which established the Military Office in Belgrade. These agreements are inapplicable to this situation for several reasons:
  First. When we talk about agreements between two international entities, which are undoubtedly NATO and the Republic of Serbia, we have to start with the Vienna Convention on Contract Law, which confirms the principle of international law – the principle of non-retroactivity.  The Vienna Convention states that, unless otherwise intended by the contracting parties, the provisions of the agreement do not oblige any of the parties with regard to events and facts that preceded the moment the agreement entered into force.
  Second. The immunity invoked by NATO in the Republic of Serbia cannot be enjoyed even according to the United Nations Convention on Privileges and Immunities, primarily because the immunity was given to experts exclusively in the interest of the United Nations Organization, and the crime against peace and the crime against humanity, carried out in 1999 with the bombing of Yugoslavia They certainly do not represent the interests of the OUN. 
  Third. Not a single NATO official has been passively legitimised in this dispute, but the lawsuit has been directed against NATO, as an international organisation, and in that context, invoking immunity has no effect or legal basis. The trial is scheduled for October 161, where we will present all our arguments why immunity could not be granted to the NATO organisation in Serbia. We also performed the expert opinion of Professor Rita Celi from the University of Turin determined the presence of heavy metals and depleted uranium in two of our clients, a military person who was in Kosovo and Metohija and a woman who lived across the street at the time of the bombing of the General Staff in Belgrade, Professor Celi proved the presence of 21 types of heavy metals and depleted uranium is 500 times higher than normal, which has not been recorded until now.
  Thank you for the great support you give me and I hope we will continue to cooperate in the future.  •

1 The trial could not take place on 16 October because the claimant, Colonel Dragan Stojčić from Belgrade, passed away. His wife, Dragana Stojčić, will continue the lawsuit against NATO. As soon as the evidentiary proceedings have been completed, the court proceedings will continue. It is expected that the court will schedule the first trial date by the end of the year.

* Presentation at the annual conference of the working group “Mut zur Ethik” (“Europe – what future do we want?”) from 2–4 September 2022

Professor Srđan Aleksić, born in 1968, is a lawyer in the Serbian city of Niš. He studied law at the University of Niš from 1989 to 1993, was admitted to the bar in 1995; post-graduation in criminal law in 2008; master’s degree in law in 2013; doctorate in law in 2016. He has decided to take on a compensation case of the depleted uranium victims as a result of the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.

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