The Grdelica Passenger Train Bombing

Anatomy of a NATO War Crime

By Carl Savich

Introduction: NATO War Crime

On April 12, 1999, a NATO attack on a passenger train in Grdelica in southern Serbia killed at least 12 civilians. NATO purposely targeted civilians in this atrocity. NATO failed to suspend their attack even after it was known it was a civilian target. NATO then covered-up this war crime.

Was the Grdelica bombing a NATO war crime? The Geneva Convention of 1949, Protocol I Additional, the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflict, which was adopted in 1977 and ratified by 150 countries, except the US, France, and Turkey, governs this case. The Principles of Distinction and Proportionality were violated in the Grdelica bombing. Article 48 of Protocol I requires that a distinction be made between civilian and military targets. Article 51 (4) of Protocol I prohibits “indiscriminate attacks” that endanger needlessly the lives of civilians.

What are war crimes under the Geneva Conventions? Article 85 of Protocol I defined “grave breaches” as war crimes when they are committed willfully and cause death and serious injury, when civilians are the “object of attack” or when there is an “indiscriminate attack” on civilian targets. Article 8.2. (b) of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court prohibits “intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects.”
Under Additional Protocol I, a warring party is legally bound to warn civilians of imminent attack to prevent or minimize civilian casualties. NATO, on the other hand, did everything to maximize civilian casualties. NATO used cluster bombs extensively in the 1999 attack against Yugoslavia. Cluster bombs are meant to cause as much human suffering and carnage as possible. Cluster bombs were used in the NATO attack on Nis on May 7 that destroyed civilian districts of the city and killed and injured civilians. Although cluster bombs are not banned under international law, they are highly controversial because they are meant to cause as much injury and death as possible, especially to innocent civilians and bystanders. Cluster bombs present a high risk of violating the prohibition against indiscriminate attack when they are used because they show a total and complete disregard for human life.

NATO displayed an utter disregard for not only civilian casualties, but for the ecosystem of Kosovo as well. In Kosovo itself, 54 civilians were killed by cluster bombs and landmines. NATO fired 31,000 depleted uranium (DU) rounds by A-10 Warthog attack aircraft during the bombardment of Yugoslavia. When inhaled or ingested, DU projectiles can cause severe health problems, such as cancer. Article 35 (3) of Protocol I prohibits methods or means of warfare that would result in damage to the ecosystem or environment. Article 35 (2) prohibits “superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.” Article 36 stipulates that before an attack, the attacker must ascertain the risk involved first.

The rules of distinction and proportionality were violated by NATO/US in the Grdelica bombing. No precautionary measures were taken to protect civilian lives. There is a strong presumption that NATO has committed a blatant war crime.
When NATO attacked the Yugoslav passenger train at the Grdelica bridge in the second wave, NATO violated Article 57 of the Protocol which requires an attack to be “cancelled or suspended” if the attacker is aware it is not a military target or would cause civilian losses. NATO did not do this. The passenger train was indisputably a civilian target.

NATO indiscriminately targeted Yugoslav civilians during the 1999 bombing campaign. Civilians were systematically targeted in a planned and orchestrated campaign of terror. In the Djakovica attack, NATO killed an estimated 100 Albanian civilians, the population it was ostensibly seeking to protect by means of “humanitarian” bombing. A US F-15E Strike Eagle McDonnell-Douglas, using an AGM-130 bomb, attacked Djakovica in Kosovo-Metohija on April 14, killing 75-100 Albanian civilians.

NATO began targeting Yugoslavian civilian infrastructure when bombing military targets was proving ineffective. On May 31, NATO bombed the Surdulica hospital and retirement home. Hospitals, schools, factories, bridges, power plants, water stations, television stations, were all systematically bombed by NATO aircraft.

NATO committed egregious war crimes by targeting civilians for indiscriminate attack. The Grdelica passenger train bombing was one of the most horrendous NATO war crimes committed during the 1999 attacks.