NATO bombing of the Radio Television of Serbia headquarters
|NATO bombing of the Radio Television of Serbia Headquarters|
The damaged headquarters of RTS
|Location||Belgrade, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia|
|Date||24 April 1999 |
02:06 am (CET)
|Target||Radio Television of Serbia|
The NATO bombing of the Radio Television of Serbia headquarters occurred on the evening of 23 April 1999, during Operation Allied Force.
Context and bombing
The bombing was part of NATO's aerial campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and severely damaged the Belgrade headquarters of Radio Television of Serbia (RTS). Other radio and electrical installations throughout the country were also attacked. Sixteen employees of RTS were killed when a single NATO missile hit the building. Many were trapped for days, only communicating over mobile phones. The station returned to the air less than 24 hours later from a secret location. The building of the Russian church nearby was also seriously damaged.
NATO Headquarters justified the bombing with two arguments; firstly, that it was necessary "to disrupt and degrade the command, control and communications network" of the Yugoslav Armed Forces, and secondly, that the RTS headquarters was a dual-use object which "was making an important contribution to the propaganda war which orchestrated the campaign against the population of Kosovo".
Tim Judah and others stated that RTS had been broadcasting Serb nationalist propaganda, which demonised ethnic minorities and legitimised Serb atrocities against them. According to General Wesley Clark, the commander who oversaw the bombing campaign, NATO had planted a question at a Pentagon news conference to alert the Yugoslav government of their intention to target the broadcaster.
France was opposed to the attack; there was considerable disagreement between the United States and the French government regarding the legitimacy and legality of the bombing. Amnesty International stated that the NATO bombing was a war crime, and Noam Chomsky views it as an act of terrorism.
In 2001, the European Court of Human Rights declared inadmissible a case brought on behalf of the station's employees by six Yugoslav citizens against NATO. Dragoljub Milanović, general manager of Radio Television of Serbia, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for failing to evacuate the building. According to an Amnesty article published in 2009, nobody was held accountable for the attack itself, and no justice for the victims has been made.
The building remains as it was left by the bombing. A new building has since been built next to the bomb-damaged one, and a monument has been erected to those killed in the attack.
While giving a speech at the Overseas Press Club sixtieth anniversary dinner, held on Thursday evening 22 April 1999 EST at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City, US envoy to Yugoslavia Richard Holbrooke reacted to the NATO's bombing of the RTS headquarters almost immediately after it took place: "Eason Jordan told me just before I came up here that while we've been dining tonight, the air strikes hit Serb TV and took out the Serb television, and at least for the time being they’re off the air. That is an enormously important event, if it is in fact as Eason reported it, and I believe everything CNN tells me. If, in fact, they're off the air even temporarily, as all of you know, one of the three key pillars, along with the security forces and the secret police, have been at least temporarily removed. And it is an enormously important and, I think, positive development."
Consequences and conclusions
A report prepared by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) entitled "Final Report to the Prosecutor by the Committee Established to Review the NATO Bombing Campaign Against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" concluded that the TV station's broadcasts to generate support for the war was not sufficient to make the RTS building a military target, but that the TV network had been part of the overall military communication system of the Serbian government, thus making the RTS building a legitimate military target. It said:
Insofar as the attack actually was aimed at disrupting the communications network, it was legally acceptable ... NATO’s targeting of the RTS building for propaganda purposes was an incidental (albeit complementary) aim of its primary goal of disabling the Serbian military command and control system and to destroy the nerve system and apparatus that keeps Milošević in power
In regards to civilian casualties, it further stated that though they were, "unfortunately high, they do not appear to be clearly disproportionate."
In the case Markovic v. Italy, the European Court of Human Rights found that the government of Italy had not violated human rights. In 2002, Dragoljub Milanović, the general manager of RTS, was sentenced to 10 years in prison because he had not ordered the workers in the building to evacuate, despite knowing that the building could be bombed.
Sian Jones, Balkans expert from Amnesty International stated the following about the attack:
Human Rights Watch also condemned the attack, stating that:
Even if one could justify legal attacks on civilian radio and television, there does not appear to be any justification for attacking urban studios, as opposed to transmitters.
2011 apology statement
On 23 May 2011, Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) issued an official apology for the way their programming was misused for spreading propaganda and discrediting political opponents in the 1990s, and for the fact that their broadcasts had "hurt the feelings, moral integrity and dignity of the citizens of Serbia, humanist-oriented intellectuals, members of the political opposition, critically minded journalists, certain minorities in Serbia, minority religious groups in Serbia, as well as certain neighbouring peoples and states.".
The American news agency, the Associated Press, wrote:
The station blatantly spread Milosevic's nationalist propaganda, portraying Serbs as the victims of ethnic attacks in the former Yugoslavia, thus whipping up nationalism that led to wars. At the same time, the television accused the Serbian opposition of being foreign mercenaries and traitors who were working against the country's interests.
The propaganda was so intense that it led to anti-government protests in March 1991 in the capital, during which two people were killed in what was the first popular uprising against Milosevic's rule. It also prompted Nato in 1999 to declare the state TV a legitimate target. The RTS building was bombed during the air war that the alliance launched to stop Milosevic's onslaught against Kosovo Albanian separatists. Sixteen RTS employees died in the bombing.
- "No justice for the victims of NATO bombings". Amnesty International. 23 April 2009. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- McCormack 2006, p. 381.
- Cordone, Claudio; Gidron, Avner (July 2000). "Was the Serbian TV station really a legitimate target?". Le Monde Diplomatique. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
- "Nato challenged over Belgrade bombing". BBC News. 24 October 2001. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
- ПОВРЕЖЕДНИЕ СВЯТО-ТРОИЦКОГО ХРАМА В БЕЛГРАДЕ ВЫЗЫВАЕТ СЕРЬЕЗНУЮ ОЗАБОЧЕННОСТЬ РУССКОЙ ПРАВОСЛАВНОЙ ЦЕРКВИ Interfax, 23 April 1999.
- de la Brosse, Renaud (2003). "Political Propaganda and the Plan to Create a "State for all Serbs": Consequences of Using the Media for Ultra-Nationalist Ends" (PDF). Reims. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 December 2005. Cite journal requires
- Judah. The Serbs. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-15826-7.
- "Gen. Wesley Clark Weighs Presidential Bid: "I Think About It Every Day"". DemocracyNow!. 2 March 2007.
- Human Rights Watch (2000). "CIVILIAN DEATHS IN THE NATO AIR CAMPAIGN / THE CRISIS IN KOSOVO". Archived from the original on 22 October 2014. Retrieved 21 January 2015.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
- Chomsky, Noam (19 January 2015). "Chomsky: Paris attacks show hypocrisy of West's outrage". CNN International. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
- "Court throws out case against NATO". BBC. 19 December 2001. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- (in Italian) Giampiero Buonomo, Non sempre la guerra «offre» giurisdizione extraterritoriale: l'occasione mancata del caso Bankovic.
- The New York Times, 22 June 2002, World Briefing | Europe: Yugoslavia: Ex-TV Boss Jailed Over NATO Bombing
- Paletta, Karolyn (13 March 2016). "Remembering the 1999 NATO Bombing of Radio Television Serbia". Reporting Balkans. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
- Amy Goodman (23 April 1999). "Pacifica Rejects Overseas Press Club Award". Pacifica Radio. New York: Democracy Now!.
- "Final Report to the Prosecutor by the Committee Established to Review the NATO Bombing Campaign Against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia". UNICTY.
- RTS Apology
- Tanjug (24 May 2011). "State broadcaster "sorry" for 1990s". B92. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
- "Serbia state TV apologises for Milosevic-era propaganda". The Guardian. 24 May 2011. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
- Krieger, Heike, ed. (2001). The Kosovo Conflict and International Law: An Analytical Documentation 1974-1999. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-80071-6.
- McCormack, Timothy (2006). McDonald, Avril; McCormack, Timothy (eds.). Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law - 2003. The Hague: T.M.C. Asser Press. ISBN 978-90-6704-203-1.