June 10, 2000 International Tribunal for U.S./NATO warcrimes in Yugoslavia
THE ROLE OF THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT IN NATO WARCRIMES IN YUGOSLAVIA
by Gilles Troude, France
Gilles Troude is the author of Yugoslavia, an impossible bet?The national question in the Federative Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia from 1944 to 1960 and a founder of the anti-NATO French monthly Balkans Infos. He described Frances role in the war and in suppressing dissent at home.
Your Honors, I am very grateful to the organizers of this meeting, especially to Mr. Ramsey Clark, for inviting me to this Tribunal, a gesture that, as the sole French witness in this Court, I deeply appreciate. I represent a group of people of various origins and opinions, who, when we came together five years ago, realized that it was impossible to get accurate news about the Yugoslavian conflict in France. We decided to create an independent monthly newspaper, Balkans Infos, which would be entirely financed by subscribers.
Other qualified and dignified people before me spoke about the illegality of the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia. So I shall only speak about the specific part of the French government in this intervention, and in the awful crimes that followed it.
First, the French government, along with the British government, was responsible for the Rambouillet so-called negotiations, which turned into parody. We know now that everything was done so that these negotiations could not lead to any peaceful result in any case. I might very well, have sheltered in a cowardly manner under the American flag to justify this intervention, just as many French lawyers and political journalists did, on the sham pretext of the American leadership in this sorrowful and dismal affair. I shall not speak in this way. As far as I can know, it is not true that the French participation in NATO strikes can be accounted for merely by its alignment with the American government. The French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin stated, in response to the people who criticized him for his "towing the line" attitude, "We have decidedthe French authorities and the President and myselfin a deliberate and mature way, to take part in this conflict. We are not followers. France is not used to following, it is not accustomed to following, it is accustomed to assuming its responsibilities, and it did it in this Alliance." What a pity and what a derision when you know that Prime Minister Lionel Jospin is in principle the heir, as the leader of the French Socialist Party, of the great Jean Jaurès, who was assassinated in 1914 because he was opposed to the First World War! As for President Jacques Chirac, he is the self-proclaimed heir of General de Gaulle, who ousted NATO from France in 1966!
Unhappily, these proud words of Mr. Lionel Jospin were effective, as everybody knows here that French forces were second rank in this intervention in terms of the number of soldiers, as much as the number of planes and the number of strikes. This French intervention is entirely illegal. If we consider the Constitutional Law, this intervention was an open infringement of Article 35 of the French Constitution, which states that every decision on war must be subjected to the Parliament's authority. Butand it was an insult to itthe matter was not referred to the Parliament for eight days, and the totally boring proceedings did not lead to any vote!
I read here and there that President Chirac personally prevented NATO Headquarters in Brussels from bombing Belgrade bridges thronged with civilian people. If this information is true, thanks to him! But we have not yet the least proof of this intervention. As far as my personal sources are reliable, I would say that it is French Air Force pilots who refused to obey this awful order, and this refusal was transmitted to Brussels Headquarters through the official channels, maybe with the support of our President.
Obviously, the French government did not ask for the people's advice. It is clear that there were very deep divisions in French opinion, including inside the three political parties that participate in the government: the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and the Ecologist Party (Environmentalists). Many mass protests were organized in which thousands of persons were gathered against the NATO intervention, especially in Paris, from Place de la République to Place de la Nation, and Place d'Iéna, and in front of the American Embassy, Place de la Concorde. The French government, conscious of the divisions in public opinion, and probably afraid when they saw the American Embassy being hit by stones, decided to ban these peaceful mass manifestations, without any legal grounds. However, the Preamble of our Constitution states the freedom of speech and opinion and the freedom to demonstrate! Many people were arrested, handcuffed and taken off to the police station, where they stayed as long as five hours without the help of any lawyer. At Place d'Iéna, when there was a women's protestall theYugoslavian women wore black veils on their faces to showtheir mourningI personally can attest that they were encircled by policemen, who pushed them in a subway entrance and shut the gates behind them. This was a repetition of whato ccurred in 1961 when dozens of Algerians were killed in Charonne station in accord with the orders of the famous Préfet de Police Papon, who later was condemned to life imprisonment.
As for the media, the repression was also harsh, if not more hypocritical. Strangely enough, all the media were unanimous in supporting the NATO intervention, not least among them the television media, four channels of which are under State control in France. There was not one public debate about the reasons, nor about the opportunity, for the NATO aggression. Though the Gallup polls indicated between 65% and 70% of people favored the intervention, none of the 30% to 35% who were against the interventionwhich accounts for 18 to 21 millions of French peoplecould express their opinions. Only a few courageous and brave newspapers were not afraid of expressing their opposition to the NATO aggression. These included the weekly Marianne, which is managed by Jean-François Kahn, and Balkans Infos, with Louis Dalmas. The daily Figaro published a few letters written by personalities opposed to the intervention, but the so-called "left wing" daily newspapers Libération and Le Monde and the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur competed to ask for more forces for NATO, and a massive land attack. Balkans Infos, which is supported only by subscriptions, met with physical as much as financial difficulties when several members of its Editing Committee were arrested by the Paris police during protests.
It was only when the enlightened philosopher Régis Debraywho was with Che Guevara in Bolivia in the 1950's, and then a Cabinet adviser to François Mitterand in the 1980's published his brilliant report from Kosovo in May 1999, that public opinion, completely chloroformed by the official propaganda that followed the NATO propaganda, suddenly awoke. Though Régis Debray was a victim, as was acknowledged by everybody, of a "media lynching," this independent philosopher and famous writer made the French public understand that all the wrongs were not on the same side, and that maybe the massive exodus of the Albanians from Kosovo was due, first and foremost, to the NATO bombings.
One year after the NATO aggression, the French public is slowly finding out how big the NATO and French government lies were. Thousands of civilian victims were killed by allied bombs, daily crimes perpetrated by Kosovar Albanians against Roma and Turks and Kosovo Serbs are reported by the newspapers, which also comment on the French soldiers' interrogations and qualms, and the tentative self-criticism by the powerful U.N. Governor for Kosovo, Doctor Bernard Kouchner.
So the time has come now to begin the public trial of the men responsible for cowardly and totally illegal aggression, including the French leaders, who prided themselves on being second behind the United States. The International Commission of Lawyers, which met in Paris on July 2 and 3, 1999, and which was set up on the initiative of the International Association of Lawyers, highlighted the following grievances against the NATO leaders, including French leaders:
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