Yugoslavia, Federal Republic of
Practice Relating to Rule 45. Causing Serious Damage to the Natural Environment
Section A. Widespread, long-term and severe damage
In 1999, following the NATO bombing of the petrochemical complex in Pancevo in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav Federal Minister for Development, Science and Environment warned “the European and the world-wide public of the danger which will, with repeated attacks on such industrial complexes, affect lives and health of people and cause environment pollution”.
On the occasion of World Day of the Planet Earth, on 22 April 1999, the Yugoslav Federal Minister for Development, Science and Environment launched an appeal to stop NATO’s bombing campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which he stated had already provoked an “environmental catastrophe”. In particular, the Minister referred to attacks by NATO forces on national parks and nature reserves harbouring protected species of flora and fauna, as well as on chemical, oil and pharmaceutical plants.
Another appeal by the Ministry dated 30 April 1999 aimed at informing the international community of the effects on the environment of NATO’s military operations against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, accused NATO forces of bombing civilian industrial facilities, including the petrochemical complex in Pancevo and the refinery in Novi Sad, thereby causing the spillage of harmful chemical substances which posed a “serious threat to human health in general and to ecological systems locally and in the broader Balkan and European regions”. According to the Ministry, “the nineteen countries of NATO are committing an ‘ecocide’ as it were against the population and environment of Yugoslavia”.
The accusations were reiterated in a subsequent appeal dated 25 May 1999, which provided information on the actual and potential environmental impacts of NATO’s attacks on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
In a further appeal to the international community issued on 3 June 1999, the Yugoslav Federal Minister for Development, Science and Environment denounced daily attacks on chemical and electrical power plants by NATO forces, which he said had resulted in the emission of large quantities of dangerous substances “with negative consequences for people, plants and animals”. The Minister maintained that “the NATO aggression on Yugoslavia contains essential elements of ecocide”, adding that “man’s right to safe and healthy environment is endangered by the NATO aggression”. He also referred to the violation by NATO of “humanitarian law provisions, especially the Geneva Conventions with the related Protocols”, as well as of “international agreement provisions in the field of environment” and “the basic proclaimed principles of environmental protection”.
In a letter to the UNEP Executive Director, the Minister for Development, Science and Environment of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia stressed “the environmental consequences inflicted by the NATO aggression on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia”. After accusing NATO of targeting on a daily basis “national parks, nature reservations, monuments of cultural and natural heritage, rare and protected plants and animal species, among which are those of international importance”, the Minister stated that “NATO by its aggression is causing ecocide in the environment of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and wider, in the whole Balkans and considerable part of Europe. The real ecological catastrophe is going on in the heart of Europe with unforeseeable time and space range.”
In the Legality of Use of Force cases in 1999, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia initiated proceedings before the ICJ against ten NATO member States (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom and United States) on the ground, inter alia, that:
- by taking part in the bombing of oil refineries and chemical plants, [the respective States had] acted against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in breach of [their] obligation not to cause considerable environmental damage.
- by taking part in the use of weapons containing depleted uranium, [the respective States had] acted against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in breach of [their] obligation not to use prohibited weapons and not to cause far-reaching health and environmental damage.