Yugoslavia Takes NATO to Court
By MIKE CORDER Associated Press Writer
29 April 1999
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Yugoslavia opened a new front in the Kosovo campaign Thursday, filing World Court cases against 10 NATO allies in a legal bid to end the airstrikes it contends violate international law.
Yugoslavia asked the 15-judge court, the United Nations’ highest judicial body, to rule that the 36-day-old bombing campaign breaches international law and to order an immediate halt to NATO’s campaign while the case is being considered — a process which can take years.
But an international law expert described Belgrade’s unprecedented action as a publicity stunt with little chance of success. Terry Gill, who teaches international law at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, predicted the case “will not get past first base.”
The United States, France and Germany all have said they do not recognize the court’s jurisdiction unless it is identified as the forum for solving disputes arising from a specific treaty.
“The reason Yugoslavia is doing this is obviously to apply diplomatic pressure and sow dissension in NATO,” Gill said. “There is some doubt among NATO states about the legality of what they are doing, so something like this could cause embarrassment.”
An emergency hearing was likely to be scheduled next week to discuss Belgrade’s request for the court to order a halt to the airstrikes.
Three Yugoslav officials filed papers with court officials early Thursday. All were wearing the lapel pins depicting a target — what has become the symbol of Serb defiance to NATO airstrikes.
Neither the court nor Yugoslav officials would say which allies were named in the action, but an U.S. Embassy official speaking on condition of anonymity said the United States was one of the 10.
The World Court, which has no enforcement powers and relies on states to comply voluntarily with its rulings, declined to comment on the case, the first time a state has filed simultaneous cases against 10 other countries at the court. NATO’s airstrikes are aimed at stopping Belgrade’s crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
Gill said even if the court were to order a halt to airstrikes, Yugoslavia would have to seek a U.N. Security Council resolution ordering compliance if the NATO allies refused to stop their bombing.
But that move is “not an option,” Gill said, because the United States, Britain and France are all permanent council members.
“This is just a public relations stunt,” he said. “It has nothing to do with international law.”