BUDAPEST — The families of Radio Television Serbia employees killed when NATO missiles destroyed the Belgrade studios in April 1999 are suing 17 of the 19 North Atlantic Alliance nations.
Only Canada and the U.S. will be spared litigation when British lawyers hired by four Serb families and one surviving victim of the attack go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg next month. The lawyers will reportedly argue that NATO’s attack on RTS, considered by the Alliance to be a strategic asset of then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his war machine, breached the European Convention on Human Rights.
The attack took place during NATO’s 78-day air war against Yugoslavia between late March and early June 1999, launched to force Yugoslav troops out of the province of Kosovo where government security forces had been accused of human rights abuses.
Ironically, RTS survivors are suing Europe while former RTS studio chief Dragoljub Milanovic languishes in a Belgrade jail as prosecutors prepare a case accusing the media mogul of manslaughter in the same NATO attack that killed the 16 TV workers.
According to the prosecutors, Milanovic refused to evacuate RTS studios even though NATO had warned authorities that it planned to attack.
Critics speculate Milanovic, the propaganda chief of the Milosevic regime, gambled that loss of life at RTS would become a public relations coup by embarrassing NATO and solidifying support at home for the war effort.
If a Yugoslav court finds Milanovic culpable, it could weaken the families’ case in the European court by establishing a legal precedent that he and not NATO was responsible for the deaths.
But the families and survivors of the attack have everything to win by going to Strasbourg. If the court finds in their favor, they stand to win damages from the Euro NATO governments, and create a precedent that may complicate any future NATO military campaigns.