Montenegro NATO Victims’ Families Still Seeking Justice

28 Nov 14
Montenegro NATO Victims’ Families Still Seeking Justice

Relatives of six civilians including three children killed in NATO air strikes on Montenegro in 1999 plan to take their case to Europe after their compensation claims were rejected by local courts.

Dusica Tomovic

Child victims of the bombing of Murino.

Dragica Boskovic, whose 40-year-old brother Vukic Vuletic was one of the six people killed in the air strike on a bridge in the village of Murino on April 30, 1999, told BIRN that the Montenegrin courts had acted unjustly after they rejected the families’ case for compensation, forcing them to turn to the European Court of Human Rights to seek justice.

The families sued the state because the Montenegrin authorities failed to issue an emergency alert in Murino ahead of the bombing of the bridge, although sirens were sounded in the nearby town of Plav.

“Was [Montenegro] obliged to warn people of the danger? Or was it enough that it allegedly warned about the danger with the siren in Plav? How could the unfortunate people on the bridge in Murino hear the siren in Plav, ten kilometres away?” Boskovic asked.

As well as Vuletic, Julija Brudar (aged 10) and her sister Olivera Maksimovic (13), Miroslav Knezevic (13), Milka Kocanovic (69) and Manojlo Komatina (69) were killed when 10 missiles hit the bridge on the River Lim near the border with Kosovo.

Murino after the air strikes.

NATO considered the bridge to be a ‘legitimate military target’ because it was believed to be one of the main transit routes to Kosovo for Yugoslav Army troops stationed in Montenegro.

Lower courts ruled in favour of the families, but the supreme court said in 2013 that the cases should be thrown out because “the claims are out of date”, and the appeals court in Podgorica finally rejected the six cases for compensation in September and October this year.

The lawyer for all six families, Velija Muric, said that the decision to reject the claims had no basis in Montenegrin or international law.

“In the case of the civilian victims of NATO, justice in Montenegro is degraded and devastated. Especially bearing in mind that this is a textbook example of a war crime,” Muric told BIRN.

Muric said that during the court proceedings it had been proved that Montenegro received a warning from the NATO base in Aviano in Italy, the military command for the air strikes on Yugoslavia, telling the authorities which targets would be hit so they could warn civilians.

Bomb damage in Murino.

But this was not done in Murino, even though sirens were sounded in Plav and as far away as the capital Podgorica, almost 200 kilometres from the village.

Muric has submitted a complaint to the Montenegrin constitutional court over the recent appeals court ruling, but said he was not optimistic that it would succeed, so the families will file a suit at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Boskovic said that the Montenegrin authorities’ actions display contempt for the victims.

“Nobody wants the misfortune of having to measure that kind of loss with money and nothing can compensate for it, but it shows the attitude of the country towards its citizens, innocent victims and their families,” she said.

The NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia were launched in a bid to end Belgrade’s military campaign in Kosovo – the first time that the Western alliance used force without UN Security Council backing.

Around 500 civilians were killed during the 78 days of bombing, according to Human Rights Watch estimates.

Source: Balkan Insight (Montenegro)