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Serbia is launching a lawsuit against NATO over the 1999 bombing

Serbian experts hope to prove that depleted uranium used in the 1999 NATO bombing poisoned people and to file a series of lawsuits, but legal analysts say they have almost no chance of success.
Maja Zivanovic BIRN Belgrade

A team made up of Serbian and foreign lawyers and doctors plans to prepare lawsuits against NATO countries for using depleted uranium during the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, but legal experts doubt whether the cases will succeed, Serbian public broadcaster RTS reported on Sunday.

The lawyers and doctors will try to connect an increase in severe illnesses to the use of depleted uranium in the bombing, so they can file charges against 19 members of NATO. They believe they can do this within two years.

“Current statistics show an enormous… epidemic of malignant diseases and anomalies in offspring,” Radomir Kovacevic, a member of the team and a toxicologist at the Institute of Occupational Medicine and Radiological Protection, told RTS.

NATO launched air strikes in Serbia on March 24, 1999, without the backing of the UN Security Council, after Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic refused to sign up to a peace deal to end his forces’ crackdown on Kosovo Albanian rebels seeking independence.

By the time Milosevic eventually conceded 78 days later, the civilian death toll from the bombing campaign was put at around 500 by Human Rights Watch.

The use of weapons with cancer-causing depleted uranium is also believed to have killed dozens of Italian soldiers during missions to Kosovo, according to European NGOs.

Milan Antonijevic from the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights told RTS that he gives little chance of success to the proposed lawsuits.

“On the one hand we are talking about the impossibility of determining direct guilt, and on the other hand, we believe that the situation will be very similar to the one in Germany,” Antonijevic explained.

In a NATO air strike on the headquarters of RTS in Belgrade on April 23, 1999, 16 people were killed, but RTS reported that courts in Germany and Italy and have declared that they cannot hear cases relating to these deaths and other victims of NATO bombing.

The Hague Tribunal also launched an investigation, but later decided to drop the case.

“Experience says that we should fight using political means instead of legal means… so that after all these years, [members of NATO] help our country and ameliorate some of the consequences [with] demining, financial help and investing,” Antonijevic added.

Lawyer Toma Fila, who defended Milosevic at the Hague Tribunal, told RTS that the state should form a commission to document all the consequences of the NATO bombing.

The commission should evaluate “all that they [NATO] did to us; describe it, document with photographs and history of the diseases [caused by the bombing], and then wait for the appropriate moment to use it”, Fila said.