This article was originally published in 2018 following its 19th anniversary. Slight modification is made below for its 21st anniversary.
Twenty-one years ago, on 23 April 1999, a NATO missile attack on Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) headquarters killed 16 employees of the state broadcaster.
The forgotten war crime occurred during the Kosovo War (March 1999-June 1999), and was part of NATO’s aerial campaign alongside the US-backed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) a paramilitary entity with links to Al Qaeda and organized crime, in opposition to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
In the aftermath of the attack there were no great public campaigns launched for the 16 murdered journalists and employees, no outpouring of emotion for those killed, no calls for solidarity and togetherness in the face of aggression. On the contrary the West justified this grievous blow against freedom of expression, praised it even.
Tony Blair, Britain’s then Prime Minister, welcomed the killings when speaking at NATO’s 50th anniversary summit in Washington. Blair said the missile attack was “entirely justified… in damaging and attacking all these targets”, and that those murdered were part of the “apparatus of dictatorship and power of [Slobodan] Milosevic”.
Blair felt that, “the responsibility for every single part of this action lies with the man [Milosevic] who has engaged in this policy of ethnic cleansing and must be stopped”. Apparently Milosevic “must be stopped” by wiping out state journalists or what Blair describes as an “apparatus of dictatorship”.
According to one of the main leaders of the Western world, Milosevic must bear full responsibility for a NATO fighter plane firing a US-made missile on a state broadcasting service’s headquarters. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by Blair’s visions of justice, particularly when examining his key role in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in the following decade.
Blair was not alone in praising this violation of international law. His Secretary of State for International development, Clare Short, said afterwards that,
“the propaganda machine is prolonging the war and it’s a legitimate target”.
Short is a Labour Party member and her official title today is The Right Honourable Clare Short. Defending these killings was neither right nor honourable one can assume.