Prime minister to be examined in court

Belgrad victims sue Dutch war crimes

The Hague, 22 April, 2002 - The Dutch Prime Minister, Wim Kok, will be examined in court over the Nato air strike against the TV studio in Belgrade. In the name of the relatives of the sixteen victims of the attack, lawyer Nico Steijnen presented a petition to do so. The petition also calls minister Van Aartsen (foreign affairs) and De Grave (defense), members of parliament and generals of the air force to justice.

In the early morning of April 23, the RTS studio was targeted by two cruise missiles. Nato issued no explicit warning prior to the strike. Amnesty International deplored this in its report Collateral damage or unlawful killing? Violations of the laws of war by Nato during operation Allied Force as a clear war crime.

A maverick missile hit the make-up room at 2.15 AM killing sixteen employees. Two bodies have never been found. Several stores collapsed, and only the outer walls remained. The strike took place amid Nato operation Allied Force that was to last 78 days. Western public opinion voiced its outcry against the claiming of civilian lives and destruction of civilian facilities in Yugoslavia. Reporters indefatigably photographed the extensive damage inflicted to factories, oil refineries, (rail) roads, schools, churches and hospitals. In most of the cases, there were no military facilities in the neighbourhood.

On 23 April, 1999 Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok justified the strike by saying the editorial policy of the state-run television station did not meet the standards of western journalism and was therefore a propaganda tool. In court the relatives of the victims will confront Kok with video footages of a news programme. The newscasters mentioned 'the criminal aggression of Nato' and 'terrorism by the so-called KLA'. But it was most certainly untrue that they disseminated hatred towards nationalities including ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. The relatives of the RTS victims claim damages and compensation from Dutch politicians and military officials. British solicitor Tony Fisher conducted a case on their behalf before the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg. The Court ruled it had no jurisdiction over Nato's actions outside its own territory. This decision paved the way for proceedings in the member states.