This programme was first broadcast
on 13 October 2000 and launched the 'I have a right to...' initiative.
It was presented by BBC World Affairs Correspondent Rageh Omar and
produced by Charu Shahane.
TONY BLAIR, British Prime Minister:
"I believe you are fighting a just war and a just cause, and
we have all watched - everyone right around the world - these people
driven at the point of a gun from their homes - the men murdered,
the women raped, families dispossessed of everything they had and
I believe we are fighting for the values of civilisation here."
The British Prime Minister Tony Blair
speaking to British NATO forces during last year's bombing of Yugoslavia.
A just war, a just cause. NATO said it was fighting for the values
of civilisation. But can things ever be as simple as that? Over the
next few weeks I will be investigating the competing claims of individuals
and communities - must individual human rights be sacrificed for the
greater good? And should one community be hurt in order to help another.
This programme asks - whose rights are worth going to war for?
"I had no idea I just couldn't believe that something like
this could happen. Of course we were all living in fear because we
were being bombed. But this, I just couldn't understand how they could
do something like this".
Borca Bankovic, whose 26 year-old daughter
Ksenya was killed as she worked a night shift on the 23rd of April
1999. A month after it dropped its first bomb, NATO targeted Radio
Television Serbia - or RTS, - the state-run media station in central
Belgrade where Ksenya worked. In the 11 weeks of the war, NATO warplanes
flew more than 9,000 bombing missions and dropped more than 23,000
bombs. It was all done, NATO's leaders said, to prevent a humanitarian
crisis - the forcible expulsion of Kosovo's majority Albanian community
by Serb forces controlled by the Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
BORCA BANKOVIC :
"NATO's countries are western democracies, they presented
themselves as humane, as champions of human rights and freedom of
speech and said they were doing this in the name of humanity. I didn't
in my remotest thoughts imagine they would bomb a building in which
ordinary citizens were doing their jobs. It was direct murder".
Her mother says Ksenya was an ordinary
20-something with ordinary ambitions. According to NATO, she was part
of Milosevic's propaganda machine - one of 16 technicians, artists
and journalists killed when RTS's four-storeyed building collapsed
in one of the much-vaunted surgical strikes.
"This is her stuff, her photo albums, her books. Ksenya liked
to take photos and you can see all the photographs have a caption
under them written by her. When I look at it now I think she's left
a record of her life, like she sensed she was going to die".
Ksenya's bedroom is now a shrine to
her memory - there are soft toys and books on the tables and photographs
"This large photo we took for the funeral ceremony".
Borca can't reconcile the image NATO
had of RTS and its staff with what she knows of her daughters friends
"They were just doing their job - nothing apart from that.
They were not responsible for the policies of this government or of
the policies of RTS. If NATO had wanted to stop the broadcasts they
could have bombed the transmitter, which they did later anyway. Not
a building in which people were working. Would it be right if somebody
shot a journalist from the BBC or bombed the BBC because you are now
producing a programme which some people might dislike or not agree
with? Would that be right?".
"NATO is a war criminal. It's a terrorist organisation. I
will always say that it was NATO that killed my child but I also think
that NATO had a sort of an ally in the Yugoslav regime. And that's
why we've laid charges against both".
Borca Bankovic and four other families
of victims of the RTS bombing have taken NATO's European countries
to court, saying they violated their rights under the European Convention
on Human Rights. In a separate case, they have also accused senior
staff of the Yugoslav state media of negligence. They say RTS managers
knew the building would be bombed but failed to tell its staff to
leave or to provide them with adequate protection.
"My main aim is to make them responsible for killing my child
and 15 of her colleagues".
But as NATO said during the Kosovo campaign,
if there's a war there will always be victims - is that a price worth
paying to stop a dictator in his tracks?
MIRKO MANDRINO DRIVING:
"OK now we are now entering the town of Pancevo0.now we are
entering the area called the southern industrial zone".
Mirko Mandrino drives us through his
hometown Pancevo, twelve miles from Belgrade.
"And here we have a very dangerous chemical factory, you can
see to the right
His misfortune is that he lives in an industrial city which became
the focus of NATO's attention during the war. Pancevo was pummelled
by NATO bombs - there were several hits on an oil refinery, fertiliser
factory and petrochemical plant.
"The second reservoir to the left was bombed. The very first
day first missile hit Utra factory".
Not many people died in Pancevo as a result of NATO's air strikes
- at least not by the standards of conventional wars. NATO's precision
strikes kept the body count low. But over lunch and a cup of coffee
at Mirko Mandrino's home, his wife Senka talked about the after-effects
of bombing chemical plants and factories.
"Sometimes I don't dare say what I really think of the consequences
and what we experienced and how we really feel. I am sure that all
of us see SOME effects of the bombings on a daily basis. We have a
lot of children suffering from respiratory problems. I had the toughest
flu ever in my life, I was not able to get up from my bed. We have
also recorded an increase in number of abortions by women who were
in the early stages of pregnancy during the war".
A UN task force set up to assess the
environmental impact of the conflict identified Pancevo as one of
four "hot spots", as it called them, where there was a serious
threat to human health.
(MUSIC IN THE BACKGROUND)
This music is from a CD Mirko Mandrino produced to mark the bombing
of Pancevo. He and his wife are long-time peace activists and Mirko
has pictures of Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi on the walls
of his study and his business cards which sport the words 'peace and
human rights. Senka says she doesn't for a minute condone the discrimination
against the Albanians in Kosovo but can't understand why western intervention
took the form it did:
"I know that the condition of the Albanians in Kosovo was
deteriorating rapidly during Milosevic's regime. I went there in 1994
to visit my nephew and I saw several shocking scenes. At around six
in the evening, policemen would arrive on every street corner patrolling
residential areas. I don't approve of a single act of repression of
the Albanians committed by the Yugoslav regime. The problem really
is that whichever community was in a dominant position there has repressed
and abused the other. We had to try and solve that by making both
sides more tolerant - but not in this way. This bombardment by NATO
Around five hundred civilians were killed in Serbia and Kosovo by
NATO bombs. But as Mirko Mandrino says, the bombings have left another
legacy as well:
"I said OK we will mourn our dead and it will pass, the destroying
of factories, bridges or roads, or radio stations, we will be able
to repair, but the hatred created by the bombing, hatred towards the
entire world, towards the eighteen countries: Germans, Hungarians,
French, British, Spanish, Americans, the hatred would remain. Most
unfortunately I was right. Eighty per cent of them are full of hatred
against the rest of the world".
He and his wife Senka can't quite believe what's happened to them,
to Pancevo and to Yugoslavia. The international community failed in
some of its aims. Milosevic's brutal grip on power was not broken
as a direct consequence of NATO's intervention in Kosovo. When the
Milosevic regime crumbled it was at the hands of the Serbian people
and one of the international community's most spectacular failures
was its inability to create a harmonious multi-ethnic Kosovo.
SOUNDS OF A REFUGEE CAMP
This is where you'll find many of Kosovo's Serbs and Roma today -
a refugee camp just across the border. It was to this sleepy little
town of Kraljevo that they fled when defeated Yugoslav forces withdrew
from the province in June last year. Although the Albanians have been
able to return to their devastated villages, Kosovo's non-Albanian
communities have been driven unceremoniously from their homes. Serb
refugees talk about hurried public meetings in their towns - at which
international peacekeepers offered no guarantees for their security.
"How can I describe what it is like when you leave your home
and you don't know what lies ahead? You're going to some place you
have never seen, you don't know what it is like. You are leaving everything,
everything that you have behind. How can I tell you what that is like?".
Also living in Kraljevo is thirty eight
year old Blazenska Zirkovic. Blazenska talked to us about being a
minority Serb in a province dominated by Albanians. She told us about
long-standing tensions between the communities - about harassment
and killings and rapes in her neighbourhood - carried out on her community
by Albanians she called terrorists. Her words have a familiar ring.
We've heard them from thousands of Kosovo Albanians fleeing the province
when the Serb police were still in control. It's the same story. In
this competition of horrors, Blazenska's bitter that the international
community heard the Albanians but not the Serbs:
"The Albanian lobby did a better job than us. They have good
advertising techniques. They told all the world about the atrocities
and rapes and massacres and who knows what else and we didn't know
how to do that. We didn't want to do that. So they won - they won
in that way".
A little local difficulty. A domestic
conflict. A threat against the territorial integrity of a recognised
state. Perhaps NATO could have attached those labels to the conflict
in Kosovo and refrained from intervening. But they called it a humanitarian
disaster and said they must intervene to prevent more death and destruction.
It's now emerged that around three thousand civilians were murdered
by Yugoslav forces in Kosovo - and since evidence is still uncertain,
it's thought the final figure could be slightly higher. But it's still
not as high as the claims of tens - even hundreds of thousands of
people missing, possibly killed, which prompted the NATO action. So
is it the scale of atrocities which determines the grounds for intervention?
Dmitri Trenin is Deputy Director of the think-tank Carnegie Moscow
"You must think hard about these accusations of double standards.
The Russians were saying all along that the Serbs were punished for
what they had been doing to the Kosovars - Turks never were for what
they had been doing to the Kurds- this is not an easy accusation to
write off. Then you have massive threats to human lives and rights
in Africa, and we are talking about human catastrophes which dwarf
what's been happening in both Kurdistan and Kosovo and Chechnya. And
yet, since we are not willing to intervene - maybe for a good reason
- but then you must must explain - otherwise you we undermine the
whole foundation for this humanitarian intervention".
So what IS the foundation for intervention
that lets the international community wade into Kosovo but not Chechnya?
The Chechens, like the Kosovo Albanians, say they too have a right
to be free of their powerful rulers.
These are dance lessons for children at the Sputnik Refugee camp in
Nazran. The capital of the tiny mountainous republic of Ingushetia
hosts 200,000 Chechen refugees - the desperate victims of a virulent
feud between mighty Russia and Chechen warlords. The refugees live
in a scattering of tents and the carriages of a passenger train, stopped
in its tracks.
The dance classes, along with a small
schoolroom, are a mark of the refugees' efforts to bring a semblance
of normality to their lives. But there's no doubt at all that Dermagomed
Okhaev's life has been blighted. He nearly died on Christmas Day last
"On the night of the 25th the Russians started shelling the
area around our village. I heard the tanks and they were far away
so I thought good, they haven't hit the village, and they haven't
come to the village. Then I saw my neighbour, Amir Khan, lighting
a lantern. He said "is that you Dokhu?" I said yes, and
he shouted "in that case just lie flat on the ground, quick".
So I hit the ground. Then I heard this amazing whistling sound and
a shell fell near Amir Khan's house. And the next moment another shell
fell near my house. I don't know exactly what happened then, but I
remember thinking my right arm has become very heavy. It was lying
limp on my leg and I tried to lift it but I couldn't. There was all
this blood around me...".
It was several hours before Dermagomed
got medical attention in war-ravaged Chechnya.
"We couldn't leave the house till seven in the morning because
of the curfew. Then when we got to the checkpoint, all the Russian
guards were drunk and they took their time checking my documents,
asking how I had been injured, implying that I was one of the fighters
and must have been wounded while fighting".
Dermagomed had to travel all the way
to Ingushetia for medical help, but it was too late to save his arm
and it was amputated. His life has been turned upside down by Chechnya's
ongoing tensions with Russia. The last war ended in 1996, with victory
for the Chechen rebels but self-rule proved to be fraught with in-fighting
Last year an incursion into the neighbouring republic of Dagestan
by a Chechen leader and two unsolved bomb blasts in Moscow and other
cities brought Russia back on the offensive. Russia says it has to
tame the most problematic republic in the Russian Federation.
(GUNFIGHT/MACHINE GUNS mix with RUSSIAN
The Russian convoys ploughed in amid bitter fighting. Supported by
an aerial pounding of Chechen villages they captured the Chechen capital,
Grozny, and drove the rebels and their supporters to the mountains.
One third of the Chechen population has fled - mostly to Ingushetia.
The full horror of the Chechen war is only now beginning to be understood
as some of the world's media and international campaigners corroborate
early reports of atrocities. Deidrich Lohmann is Moscow Director for
the international campaigning group Human Rights Watch.
"The whole range of violations of the rules of war has been
basically been met, in particular we're taking about torture, we're
talking about summary executions, rape of both men and women".
In a small public park in Nazran we met Asiet Chadayeva. She now lives
in relative safety in Ingushetia, across the border from Chechnya.
It was a rare outing for her. She spends most of time shut away in
a darkened flat, alone with her memories and her misery.
"We could talk endlessly about what happened there in the
winter. There isn't one minute when I don't think about what happened.
All my thoughts are about revenge for the deaths of innocent people.
At least revenge by words, by telling the truth. In the end, the world
will know what really happened in Chechnya".
Asiet was a nurse in the Grozny suburb
of Aldi when the Russians came in on a mopping up operation.
"After the bombing stopped on the 4th of February we thought
the situation would get better. So when we heard some shooting on
the 5th we came out of our cellars and our houses. I went out into
the street and I saw Russian soldiers setting fire to houses and walking
along the street and killing and shooting anyone, everyone who was
in their path".
Asiet says the cold-blooded killings
at point blank range are her worst memory of the Chechen war:
"On that day I saw tens of people being killed by the Russians.
Before that I had seen hundreds of deaths because of the shelling
and the bombing and also people were dying every day because of heart
attacks, and diseases because there were no drugs to treat them and
no way of taking them away from Grozny. But that day, the 5th of February,
was the very worst".
Although the Russians allowed Chechens
to leave Grozny after that, Asiet wouldn't go. She said she couldn't
leave people in that situation. But she was forced to think of her
own safety when her testimonies reached the outside world. She says
she got warnings from the Russian army to keep quiet or risk having
her family being punished for what she had said. Now confined to her
tiny flat in Ingushetia, Asiet says she has a dream.
"My dream is that NATO's troops come in. Because then the
whole world would see what is happening here and they would see what
methods the Russians are using and they would understand that we,
the Chechens, are just defending ourselves. Yes, it would be a good
solution for NATO to come in. They should be brought to trial - something
like the Nuremberg trials. When I think about our history I realise
that for years the Russians have been trying to exterminate us. First
the deportations in 1944, then the war in 1994 now this war".
Extermination, genocide, war crimes,
ethnic cleansing - the Chechen view of their condition is no different
from the view Kosovo Albanians had of theirs. Campaigners like Diedrich
Lohmann of Human Rights Watch believe they have enough reliable oral
testimony and some hard facts to make a straightforward comparison
between the Chechnya and Kosovo:
"The conflict in Chechnya resulted in over 200,000 being displaced
in Ingushetia, some people have now been returning. [Total Chechen
population is not known, but estimated 500-800 000 people were living
in Chechnya before this war] - very large percentage of population
displaced. Ingushetia one of the poorest Russian republics which itself
[is only comprised of about 350 000 people]. Influx of more than 50
per cent. It's very interesting to compare to the situation in Macedonia
last year, when people were very concerned about influx of Albanian
refugees there. The relative number of refugees in Ingushetia is much
much higher than it was in Macedonia".
If NATO had ever wanted to build up a case for military intervention
in Chechnya it would undoubtedly have been able to do so, using the
same arguments that it did in Kosovo. Diedrich Lohmann again:
"In Kosovo one of the main incidents that speeded up decision
making in the west on what resulted eventually in a military intervention
was the massacre in Racek, where over 40 people summarily executed.
In Chechnya in January, Feb over 130 people summarily executed, all
of those incidents have been documented in great detail and the international
community is fully aware of the summary executions".
So why intervene in Kosovo but not Chechnya? Because there's little
doubt that a MILITARY response by the international community against
a nuclear power would be suicidal, says the Carnegie Moscow Centre's
"One of the lessons of Kosovo and Chechnya could be that in
order to be protected against international intervention you must
have nuclear weapons - that's a very sad lesson".
The examples of Kosovo and Chechnya
have forced the international community to confront its inconsistent
response to human rights violations. Few people believe that the world
should stand by and watch as governments oppress their people. But
if every war has its innocent victims, what are the options? There's
diplomatic, political and economic pressure - and Diedrich Lohmann
says these could still work in Russia. What might work best, he says,
is the legal option:
"Every member of the Council of Europe has the right to submit
a complaint over human rights abuses that are taking place in another
member state of the Council of Europe. We believe that that actually
was one of the most appropriate steps that the European Community
should have taken. Because filing an inter-state complaint would have
sent a very clear message to the Russian leadership that European
countries are willing to go beyond just rhetorical condemnations and
to take real action. On the other hand it would have meant asking
a panel of top European judges to investigate what has been happening
in Chechnya and to pass judgement on whether or not these are violations
of the European Convention on Human Rights".
But time and again the world has discovered
the peaceful option isn't enough. The UN provides for armed action
if the Security Council approves - and now there's even talk of an
international stand-by army ready to intervene as conflicts arise.
And even some campaigning groups been forced to rethink their traditional
resistance to armed intervention. Human Rights Watch, for one, has
gone as far as to urge military action in some cases. It's executive
director is Kenneth Roth:
"Human Rights Watch has a policy as to when we will advocate
humanitarian intervention, which is that we will do it when it is
the last feasible option for avoiding genocide or other comparable
slaughter. When intervention appears likely to do more good than harm
and when the intervention will strictly abide by the requirements
of humanitarian law designed to spare civilians as much as possible
from the hazards of warfare".
The organisation has called for international
military action with very specific humanitarian aims on four occasions
in its 21-year history - in Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia, and just after
the Gulf War, to protect returning Iraqi Kurd refugees from Saddam
Hussain's forces. But it did not advocate military intervention in
Kosovo or Chechnya. About those the world remains ambivalent. There
are some, like Dr Gwynn Prins of the London School of Economics, who
believe that on balance, despite the civilian casualties, NATO was
right to intervene in Kosovo:
"War is about killing people - and there is always the risk
that innocent people will die even if the cause is just. And I don't
believe that the actions in Kosovo were taken lightly. They were taken
when the evidence became incontrovertible that if nothing was done,
then Mr Milosevic would indeed, in the spring of 1999, have sent his
black-helmeted interior police sweeping through Kosovo and had that
happened, then the loss of innocent life would almost certainly have
been far greater given the track record of Mr Milosevic - who let
us remember, is not a politician, but an indicted war criminal".
But others, like Dmitri Trenin, say the global community has been
shamed by the bombing of Belgrade:
"When NATO was bombarding Belgrade I had the uneasy feeling,
let's imagine that you and I are just normal citizens of Belgrade,
we have nothing to do with Milosevic - we hate him or not - it's not
a crime not to hate Milosevic if you're a Serb - even then your life
is in jeopardy. Why? What have you done? Why is it that NATO bombers
or indeed Russian bombers are bombing innocent people? It's totally
unacceptable from today's point of view to make innocent civilians
pay for the crimes committed by their masters. This is what democracies
should not be doing. Absolutely not. [This is something world was
not thinking about in 1945 - all those bombardment s- Dresden, Hamburg
- then no one thought much about it.]"
They will certainly not be doing it in Chechnya. While the world ponders
what kind of pressure to exert on Russia - and whether to exert it
at all - Chechen civilians await some sign that the world even notices
their plight. Asiet Chadayeva paints a grim picture of the price of
"You see this photograph? It's of a girl whose body pieces
I had to gather together after she was hit by a shell. I spent two
hours gathering the pieces of her body. I saw her alive at four in
the morning and at six I was collecting the pieces of her body. It
still haunts me. Tell me - who will be held responsible for all this
Governments are normally held responsible
for the suffering of their people, but this leaves the question, who
is responsible when they fail?