Human Rights in Ukraine. Website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
Politics and human rights

The open letter of human rights protection organizations to friends and colleagues in the West


It seems to us that all the people for whom the term ‘human rights’ is not a meaningless sound, must try to understand each other, even if we have a different attitude to many problems. It must be confessed that unfortunately we have come to the opposite opinions with many (or rather, most) of you. We mean the assessment of the application of military force by the NATO countries in Yugoslavia.

In a number of questions, such as the assessment of Miloshevich’s regime and shameful role of Russian authorities in the escalation of the conflict, in acknowledging the priority of human rights over the territorial integrity, we quite agree with you. But we are of opposite opinions in some very important questions, and we must analyze what separates us.

What was the goal of the NATO military action? The answer is: in order to protect hundreds of thousands of peaceful citizens in Kosovo. That was an understandable reaction to the violence exerted by the Yugoslavian police, army and paramilitary units over the Albanian population. We believe that the majority of European politicians, who took the decision on the bombardments, had good intentions. But, there is a proverb, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The bombardments did not protect the population. We have information that only during the first week of the bombardments Kosovo was left by as many Albanians as the total number for the previous half a year. Next weeks the flow of refugees (maybe, it is more correct to call them the deportees) did not diminish. Their houses were burned down. They lost many relatives. You would say that it is the criminal Miloshevich’s regime that is guilty. You will be partly right. But can you relieve the responsibility from those who started the military activities and did not think about how to defend the peaceful population from the abuses. This is like a situation with hostages kept by terrorists: may one begin the operation of extermination of the terrorists, not having done everything possible to save the hostages?

Perhaps, the initiators expected that Miloshevich would give up after a few days of bombardments. Why were they so sure? In fact Miloshevich did not give up, and the majority of the Albanian population is already deported. This means that the politicians, who took the decision on bombardments, either made a terrible mistake or had in mind other priorities that the protection of the peaceful population.

What must be done now? The retreat of the NATO would bring the victory of the criminal dictator and would have grave consequences for the whole world. But what about the victory of the NATO? What is the cost of this victory? We understand that, to our great pity, there exist no military conflicts without victims among the peaceful population. But awful news come from Yugoslavia more and more often. Houses of peaceful population, a passenger train and a bus, a column of refugees got under rockets and bombs. Victims among the civil population cannot be related to accidents. The NATO began to deliberately destroy civil objects. We see that the intensification of bombardments leads to the increase of victims among the civil population. The beginning of land operations may increase such losses by many times.

Did those, who initiated the military operation, try to estimate the ‘admissible number of losses among civil population’? We think that not. The politicians expected ‘a small victorious war’, and the military just carried out the orders. How alike it looks with the beginning of the Chechen war.

Certainly, the responsibility for all victims, in the present and in the future, can be put on Miloshevich, what many NATO politicians are just trying to do now. But we think that this is an incorrect approach. Those, who initiated the military activities are responsible as well.

However, it is becoming more and more obvious that for many politicians, as well as for the public opinion of the West, the main target was not liquidation of the humanitarian catastrophe, but the struggle with the criminal dictator Miloshevich. In this case it is not so important that Albanians are deported form Kosovo and that bombs ruin civil objects and kill civil population. After all, continuing the bombardments long enough, it is possible to achieve the retirement of Miloshevich from politics and retreat of Serbian armed forces from Kosovo. To this end, it will be sufficient to completely ruin the industry and communications of Yugoslavia, killing by the way many Serbian women and children. May this policy be justified?

And then what shall the united Europe (bar Russia) do with the beggarly angry Yugoslavia, headed by another extreme nationalist, for example, Sheshel?

Let us fancy the following ‘optimistic’ situation. The NATO troops in maximally brief time with minimal losses among the peaceful population will succeed: Miloshevich will capitulate; the absolute majority of refugees will return to Kosovo controlled by international forces; the population returned will be provided with food, shelter and jobs; the international police force will keep in check the terror of the Albanian liberation army. Disregarding the victims, it could be called a success, if there is no other danger.

The NATO decision to start the military operation against Yugoslavia contradicts the norms of the international right. We understand the arguments of those, who state that the modern international right is obsolete, that for the sake of human rights protection under certain conditions one can neglect the letter of international agreements and ignore the UNO statute. But who are the judges who must decide what may be done here and now and what may not be done there and tomorrow? Today the judges are the governments of a number of democratic countries of Europe and America. Thus we shall construct the paradise in the United Europe. But why tomorrow other countries from Asia or Africa may not start to establish order in neighboring countries, coming from their notions of democratic norms and human rights? Maybe, they will be prevented to do this, since they are not democratic enough. But who will give the verdict?

The UNO authority and role are undermined by the present actions of the NATO. Certainly the helplessness of the UNO Security Council set the world community helpless to solve difficult problems long before the military crisis in Yugoslavia. The supporters of the military action explain their decision to act without the UNO sanction just because of this fact. Who will coordinate actions with the UNO now, if the NATO did not? This means that instead of the recent imperfect order we shall have dictatorship of superpowers and blocks, the idea is being spread that the NATO must take the role of the ‘kind and fair policeman’ in the world. God save us from it!

In any case this precedent opens the road to the uncontrolled arms race, creating blocks, universal distrust.

It seems that the only justification of the current actions of the NATO countries can be real steps of the governments of these countries aimed at terminating the war in Yugoslavia and frank efforts to change the existing and obviously obsolete world order. The countries ought to develop new rules and to take firm obligations to follow them.

Yet, are the most politicians of the NATO countries prepared to serious changes, for example to cancel the veto right by permanent members of the UNO Security Council? A new consistent system of international acts must be developed in order to regulate the problem of interference in other countries’ affairs together with forming the criteria when such interference may be admitted. Another important international problem is to use, instead of political bargaining, a system of judicial or quasi-judicial procedures.

It would be good if the democratic countries will start energetic and insisting initiatives in reforming the international right. Yet, we are afraid that the most politicians of the NATO countries want to preserve the existing world order giving privileges to the NATO countries as most progressive and democratic, as ‘more equal among equal’, with the implicit permission to disregard the order now and then. But then it is not surprising that the relation to the Western countries will become more distrustful and irritated in many other countries, including Russia.

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