In an era of global protest, France and Israel stand out for use of dangerous ammunition

Please see the original article here.

With the world gripped in a historic wave of unrest, journalists in no fewer than 65 countries – about a third of the world – have been attacked covering protests since 2015, according to a report I authored for a U.N. agency that was published today.

One thing that stood out during my research for the report Safety of Journalists Covering Protests: Preserving Freedom of the Press During Times of Turmoil, published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO – was the use of dangerous munitions to suppress demonstrations.

Security forces in France and Israel, in particular, have deployed specific tools to devastating effect on the safety of the press covering protests.

French-invented “flash balls” have been used by riot police in the country since before the “yellow vest” protests began in 2018 over rising fuel prices and other economic grievances. They are made of rubber or condensed foam. While the original flash balls emitted a flash, the ones in use today do not. They travel at a higher velocity than other non-lethal projectiles like rubber bullets or pepper balls. A recent model of flash ball gun, known as the LBD40, fires 40mm projectiles traveling at speeds of up to 100 meters (328 feet) per second.

In December 2018, French authorities fired flash balls at reporters covering “yellow vest” protests, as CPJ documented at the time, citing news reports. According to CPJ’s research, several journalists were injured, including Boris Kharlamoff, a journalist for the audio press agency A2PRL, who said he was hit in the side even though he showed a press badge, and Liberation reporter Nicolas Descottes, who was struck in the face.

Multiple phone calls for comment to the French embassy in Washington, D.C. were not returned.

In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, another harsh weapon, the “butterfly bullet” was used by the Israel Defense Forces in response to Palestinian protests in 2018-2019, according to Al Jazeera, which cited testimony from medics. During those protests, known as the Great March of Return, Palestinians demanded to return to their historic homelands inside Israel, and for Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli military vehicle keeps position at the border fence with Gaza during the Great March of Return protest on March 30, 2019. Medics in Gaza said the Israeli army shot “butterfly bullets” at protesters; reporters were injured and killed by Israeli fire during the protests. (AFP/Jack Guez)

While butterfly bullets come in different forms and calibers, the most damaging are live ammunition or rounds with metal casings designed to expand and fan out upon impact, causing maximum injury to flesh and bone. Marie-Elisabeth Ingres, the former head of Doctors Without Borders in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, described seeing injuries among Gaza protesters “where the bullet has literally destroyed tissue after having pulverized the bone.”

In August 2018, at least four Palestinian journalists were injured by gunfire and shrapnel, including from live “butterfly” rounds covering protests in Gaza, as CPJ documented at the time, citing news reports. During the same series of protests, photojournalist Yaser Murtaja with the Gaza-based Ain Media agency and journalist Ahmad Abu Hussein who was reporting for Voice of the People radio, were shot by Israeli forces in separate incidents and both died from their wounds, as CPJ documented. In both cases, the journalists were clearly identified as members of the press. It’s unclear what kind of munition the IDF used in those two shootings.

In a statement on its website, the IDF denied that it used expanding bullets against Gaza protesters. Such munitions, also known as “dumdum” rounds, have been outlawed in war since the Hague Declaration concerning Expanding Bullets of 1899. However, the treaty does not apply to situations where no war has been declared. A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. did not return a request for comment sent via email.

According to my review of attacks against the press, Israel is unusual in its use of live ammunition on protesters. Flash balls have shown up in countries outside of France; in Spain, riot police under the regional government in Basque Country used the ammunition to quell protests as late as at least 2012, before their use was discontinued, the BBC reported.

Did Kosovo Beget East Timor?

Never have so many different forces been deployed in the same place. Hungarian soldiers guard “Film City,” the former movie studio that is now a hilltop command post for NATO-led international forces in Kosovo’s capital of Pristina. French soldiers and Italian police guard the bridge that divides Serbian from Albanian communities in Mitrovic near Serbia. Russian troops man a checkpoint in the West just a few miles from where Albanian civilians demonstrate against them. British soldiers guard a road in the South not far from where Serbian civilians demonstrate against them. Polish forces in armored vehicles patrol the hills near Macedonia. Meanwhile, the United Nations is assembling a police force with men and women from countries including Ghana, Jordan, Portugal and Sweden.

Although Kosovo remains part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Western-led international community has governed it since June. The society’s links to Belgrade have been broken, and the province has just begun to develop its own institutions; yet its future is still in doubt. Though Albanian Kosovars widely yearn for independence, the province is likely to remain an international protectorate for at least one decade. International forces already have been in nearby Bosnia for five years, and its ethnic tensions are still burning.

Every matter in Kosovo — from who should be allowed to broadcast over local radio stations to breaking up fistfights over fender-benders — is now handled by either international officials or troops. NATO, Russia, and the United Nations have jointly assumed the responsibility for nation building. They face the formidable task of forging a multi-ethnic society in the wake of mass ethnic violence. So far they have enjoyed only marginal success. That, however, has not stopped the United Nations and a new multilateral force under Australian command from assuming the same responsibilities in East Timor amidst another tense climate.

Changing the tenor of the debate

The international community’s mandate in both places is to forcibly uphold human rights. The new role is consistent with other recent trends around the world, including the establishment of ad hoc U.N. tribunals for the Balkans and Rwanda and the national prosecutions of suspected perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Chile and Hungary. The common denominator in all these events is the premise that the time-honored tradition of national sovereignty is now secondary to the universal value of human rights. This is nothing less than a seismic shift in the international order.

The invention challenges, too, the basic premises of American realists who have dominated the landscape of U.S. international relations since the 1970s, most notably Henry Kissinger (Then Secretary of State Kissinger accompanied President Gerald Ford in December 1975 to meet then Indonesian President Suharto in Jakarta one day before Indonesia invaded East Timor). Realists long have argued that moralism is overly ambitious, whether driven by anti-communism or human rights.

The Clinton administration’s actions over Kosovo are as radical to the foreign-policy establishment today as Kissinger’s were to it in his time. “Focusing the vast strength of American foreign policy on a tiny former Ottoman possession of no strategic importance or economic value, with which the United States had no ties of history, geography or sentiments, is something that not even the most powerful and visionary of her predecessors — not Thomas Jefferson or John Quincy Adams, not Charles Evans Hughes or Dean Acheson — could ever have imagined, let alone achieved,” writes Johns Hopkins professor Michael Mandelbaum in the current Foreign Affairs. “But as American bombs fell on Yugoslavia, [Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright had done both.”

Neither Albright nor President Clinton have yet to articulate real guidelines or limits for international human-rights enforcement. A vacuum has been created in that absence. Last week U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stepped into the gap.

“To avoid repeating [more] tragedies in the next century, I believe it is essential that the international community reach consensus — not only on the principle that massive and systematic violations of human rights must be checked, wherever they take place, but also on ways of deciding what action is necessary, and when, and by whom,” Annan wrote in The Economist. “A new, broader definition of national interest is needed in the new century, which would induce states to find greater unity in the pursuits of common goals and values.”

At the same time, a new kind of moralism is on the rise. Though many observers like journalist Allan Nairn predicted Indonesian military and paramilitary forces would launch attacks against East Timorese residents as they finally voted their desire for independence from Indonesia in an Aug. 30 U.N. referendum, few foresaw that the intensity of attacks would provoke the international community to launch another Western-led multilateral intervention to stop them.

Though the U.N. force for East Timor will be led by Australian troops, they will be supported by military and police forces from nations including the United Kingdom, Portugal, New Zealand, the United States, Thailand and China. Still, the troubled territory’s future remains in doubt. The United Nations will govern East Timor in cooperation with Indonesia, even though no Western nation but Australia has ever recognized Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor.

UN Forces working with Indonesian police

Universal values — to be credible– must be applied consistently. One tenet held dear by most realists is that one can negotiate with even the worst thugs, as long as they are not mere freelancers but in fact heads of states. Richard Holbrooke negotiated the end of the Bosnia war with Slobodan Milosevic upon this premise, although the latter’s subsequent indictment by an ad hoc U.N. tribunal is consistent with a moralist approach.

Just as consistent would be the indictment of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity including acts of genocide upon evidence already gathered by U.S. forces after Desert Storm. Other Western practices are also inconsistent with the new trend. The United States continues to provide arms and training to Turkey, and it is escalating the same to Colombia even though they, too, have each undeniably committed crimes against humanity. Meanwhile, China participates with multinational forces in East Timor 50 years after it unilaterally seized Tibet.

The approaching century will no doubt be marked by more economic integration. Will it also be marked by effective international efforts to defend universal values? The effort remains crippled by inconsistency. Moreover, by now everyone knowing that the original estimates of what it might take to achieve even reasonable goals were grossly understated. Though they led the first charge, neither Clinton nor Albright has risen to the task of leading the trend that is developing its own dynamic. Without backing from the United States, Annan is likely to fail, as well.

In the United States there are advantages to having any watershed issue break before an election year. Although most of the presidential candidates have yet to take a stance on it, the notion of neo-moralism and whether or how America should try to lead it hangs before each of the candidates like a curve ball nearing the strike zone. Of course, the entire field lacks depth on foreign matters, which may explain why nearly everyone but Pat Buchanan is still hesitant to answer the question. But they cannot afford to ignore it forever, even if Clinton et al go on taking the pitch.

Frank Smyth, a freelance journalist who has also served as an investigative consultant for Human Rights Watch as well as Amnesty International, is a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know, edited by Roy Gutman and David Rieff.

Most Wanted

The less-than-modest American diplomat who brokered the 1995 Dayton accords to end the war in Bosnia, Richard Holbrooke, did more than anyone else to persuade the Clinton administration that Yugoslavia’s president, Slobodan Milosevic, could be trusted. Holbrooke did so even though Milosevic had risen to power upon a nationalist agenda that led Yugoslavia’s Serbian forces to start no less than three wars of ethnic aggression. He did so even though the Dayton accords’ provisions for the repatriation of displaced ethnic minorities were not accompanied by any enforcement teeth. And he did so even though the accords allowed indicted war criminals to remain free and left intact Milosevic’s forces in Yugoslavia, along with those of their ethnic Serbian allies in neighboring Bosnia.

But now Milosevic has begun (and lost) his fourth ethnic conflict in this decade, a civil war over Yugoslavia’s southern province of Kosovo. He and his ethnic allies have flouted their promises to allow non-Serbs displaced from previous, international wars to return to their homelands in either Repuplika Srpska, the Serbian entity of the nation of Bosnia, or Yugoslavia. And he along with other leaders like the noted paramilitary commander, Zeljko Raznjatovic or “Arkan,” stand indicted by a U.N. court for their alleged crimes against humanity.

Finally, Clinton administration officials have come to see Milosevic differently.

NATO’s choice

“There is more resolution within the government on carrying this [trial] through to its completion than before,” says one senior State Department official. “The answer is yes, we want to see him tried,” he adds. “But the question is how?”

President Clinton himself has ruled out any military efforts to try and apprehend Milosevic in Yugoslavia, although he is withholding all U.S. aid for its reconstruction as long as the Serbian nationalists remain in power. Clinton administration officials along with human-rights advocates hope that the Yugoslavian opposition will act soon to not only depose Milosevic but also to turn him over to the ad hoc U.N.-established International Criminal Tribunal at the Hague, where since May he has been wanted for trial. “My hope is that [Yugoslav] people will eventually realize that he is a liability,” says Nina Bang-Jensen of the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for International Justice.

How will Clinton handle Milosevic?

The anti-Milosevic movement, however, already is divided over whether to hand Milosevic over to The Hague to stand trial. Some opposition leaders including Zoran Djindjic, the former mayor of Belgrade, have said they would do so; one of his rivals for control of the movement, Vuk Draskovic, who served in Milosevic’s government throughout most of the Kosovo war, said this week that he would not. Meanwhile, other opposition leaders have said they would only try him at home. Many Serbs oppose Milosevic not because of his attempts to “cleanse” ethnic Albanians from Kosovo but only because he failed in the end to expand greater Serbia, according to one international official who does not expect opposition forces, even if they take power, to give Milosevic up for trial.

What would NATO do then? “The United States will have to make a choice,” the State Department official says, pointing out that a new Yugoslavian government might still protect Milosevic or otherwise allow him to avoid prosecution by letting him flee to a country such as Belarus, Cyprus or Iraq.

“What sort of deals are NATO governments willing to make to get Milosevic out of power?” the official asks.
Human-rights advocates ask the same thing. “Any sort of deal that would shield him from prosecution would be a disappointment,” Gay Gardner of Amnesty International says.

A movement toward international justice

Milosevic is not only the first acting head of state to be indicted by an international tribunal since World War II; he is the first to be charged with committing abuses within his own nation’s borders. Milosevic faces three counts of crimes against humanity and one count of violating the laws or customs of war over his forces’ actions in Yugoslavia’s Kosovo. The U.N. Security Council established the ad-hoc tribunal for the Balkans upon the premise that crimes against humanity are universal offenses that transcend national boundaries.

The notion that national sovereignty is not inviolate in such cases, although relatively novel, seems to be gaining pace. After Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, the U.N. Security Council expanded the ad-hoc tribunal for the Balkans to also establish an ad-hoc tribunal for Rwanda. Spain, too, recently has been arguing to the United Kingdom that crimes against humanity are universal, as it demands from Great Britain the extradition of the former head of yet a third state, the retired Chilean General Augusto Pinochet, who Spain alleges is responsible for crimes against humanity in Chile.

“Justice is an essential ingredient of any long-term peace process and stability,” Gardner maintains.

An international pariah

But whether justice will come to the perpetrators of war crimes throughout the Balkans remains in doubt. Out of 70 individuals who have so far been indicted by the ad-hoc U.N. tribunal at The Hague, 36 including Milosevic and “Arkan” remain at large.

While the Bosnian or Muslim-dominated entity within the nation of Bosnia has cooperated in apprehending and extraditing its suspects, the nation of Croatia only began turning over suspects after coming under intense international pressure including the withholding of IMF and World Bank loans. Meanwhile, Serbian authorities in both Republika Serpska and Yugoslavia have yet to turn over any suspects (although a mob in Republika Serpska did spontaneously turn over one). Croatia continues to protect one suspect, while Republika Serpska continues to harbor 25 indictees and Yugoslavia shelters 10.

Western governments, too, have been reluctant to apprehend war-crimes suspects, human-rights groups charge. British, French, and American troops assigned to the Western “stabilization” or peacekeeping force in Bosnia, which followed the Dayton accords, have apprehended only seven of 26 suspects believed to be living within their respective areas of responsibility. The most notorious figure among them is the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic who is still believed to be residing in the French military zone within Republika Srpska.

The failure to apprehend suspects indicted over previous wars in the Balkans does not bode well for the prospects of apprehending Milosevic. Nonetheless, human-rights groups see his indictment as a big step forward. “The man is a prisoner in his own country,” says Holly Burkhalter, the former Human Rights Watch advocate who now represents Physicians for Human Rights. Milosevic can no longer safely travel outside Yugoslavia except to the few nations that would be willing to protect him, and Switzerland has frozen his bank accounts.

Many veteran Balkans observers say momentum is building toward more forceful action against other suspects as well. Human-rights advocates and State Department officials alike say that Karadzic, in particular, could still be captured by Western troops within the Serbian entity of Bosnia. “He’s changing bedrooms every night. He’s got armed security guards,” says the senior official. “You can’t really mount a military operation to apprehend Milosevic. But with Karadzic it is much more feasible.”

Still the issue of how to make Milosevic stand trial remains unresolved. He is the suspect most observers blame for fueling the Balkans’ decade-long cycle of ethnic violence, and now at least he no longer enjoys either the legitimacy or the immunity that he was once extended through the international community’s endorsement of the Dayton accords.

“He’s a pariah,” Burkhalter says. Yet he remains at large.

Frank Smyth, a freelance journalist who has also served as an investigative consultant for Human Rights Watch as well as Amnesty International, is a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know, edited by Roy Gutman and David Rieff.

Limp Willy?

As the Clinton administration escalates NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia to a level not seen in the Balkans since World War II, the worst humanitarian disaster in Europe since that war is likewise emerging, as Yugoslavia’s Serbian troops attack ethnic Albanians in the southern province of Kosovo.

Clinton himself has referred to “genocide” in defending his decision to bomb Yugoslavia. “The world did not act early enough to stop” abuses in Bosnia back in 1995, even though “this was genocide in the heart of Europe,” Clinton said last week. This week State Department spokesman James Rubin went even further. “There are indications that genocide is unfolding in Kosovo,” Rubin said Monday. “We can clearly say that crimes against humanity are being committed.”

But even as the State Department calls the Kosovo situation “genocide,” the administration and its NATO allies are resisting what seems to be the only option to stop the slaughter: The use of ground troops to protect the remaining Kosovar Albanians.

Human rights advocates are frantic over the escalation of the carnage in Kosovo, but they are divided over whether to openly call for ground troops. Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian forces “have decapitated the community leaders” and “destroyed civil society” in Kosovo, says an anguished Holly Burkhalter of Physicians for Human Rights in Washington. Burkhalter and others observe that scenes from Kosovo are disturbingly reminiscent of the 1995 massacres at Srebrenica, when at least 8,000 men and boys were marched out by Serbian forces in long lines. Only to be killed and dumped into mass graves. The initial refugees fleeing Kosovo were “mostly elderly [people along with] women and children,” says Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch. “That makes us wonder what happened to the men.” Lines of men and boys, he adds, have been seen marching out of Kosovo in some places.

A self-described “humanitarian interventionist,” Burkhalter insists Clinton “can’t wait” to act to save Kosovo’s people. She says the Clinton administration is obligated to resolve the Kosovo crisis by sending ground troops, pointing out that the United States signed (in 1988) the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. “You don’t have to kill everybody for it to be a genocide,” says Burkhalter. The language of the convention she mentions includes “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” — including “killing members of the group” and “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Physicians for Human Rights “is calling this one genocide,” Burkhalter adds.

“A year ago, I was in favor of early intervention with a lot of force to stop abuses” in Kosovo, including “ground forces,” she says. But she points out that she speaks only for herself; neither Physicians for Human Rights nor Human Rights Watch has officially endorsed sending ground troops. “I’m still in favor of [ground troops],” she says. Besides deploying ground forces, Burkhalter thinks the United States and other NATO member states should indict Yugoslavia’s Milosevic himself as a war criminal.

But Fareed Zakaria, author of “From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World Role” and managing editor of Foreign Affairs, favors humanitarian intervention only in far more limited cases. “I don’t rule out all humanitarian assistance or intervention,” says Zakaria. But he sees the Kosovo crisis as a messy secessionist issue, as the province’s relatively new and weak guerrilla group, the Kosovo Liberation Army, along with many of the province’s civilians, is seeking Kosovo’s independence from Serbia.

Zakaria is in favor of the Clinton administration cutting its losses now and pulling out of Kosovo. Most observers believe that further intervention to defend Kosovo could make it a NATO protectorate for years to come. “It is a thorny political problem to get involved in backing a secessionist province [of any country],” Zakaria says. “Is this political objective in our strategic interest?” President Clinton “says it is strategic [for us to intervene] because it is in the heart of Europe,” but “to say the fate of Kosovo is vital to our national interest seems to be a stretch,” he continues.

Many human rights advocates maintain that the time is long overdue for the United States to adopt clear guidelines for humanitarian intervention. So far, President Clinton has actually remained fairly consistent, in that he has consistently drifted into one foreign policy crisis after another, rather than steering a clear course. The Clinton administration never took the time to present a strategic argument to justify the current need for humanitarian intervention, or outline how this intervention would achieve its goals. And those looking for a “Clinton Doctrine” will be disappointed. The administration has certainly never articulated a set of guidelines on when to intervene and when not to.

Genocide has not been a reason to intervene before. The Clinton administration has stood by while genocide occurred at least twice. In 1994, by Clinton’s own belated admission last year, the administration watched by satellite as at least 500,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda’s genocide. And in 1995, as he acknowledged last week, the United States and other NATO member states did nothing to stop the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica.

One place the Clinton administration did intervene to stop a mass tragedy was in Somalia, and that 1993 experience is one reason the president resists deploying ground troops anywhere. The Somalia intervention began under President Bush, who in 1992 ordered U.S. military forces to the clan-split African country, trying to provide order for a besieged relief effort. Bush even visited U.S. forces there near Christmas as one of his last official acts. But Clinton paid the price months later when Somalia clansmen killed 29 U.S. Marines and Army Special Forces “Green Berets.” The tragic loss still limits the Clinton administration’s options.

Surprisingly, Zakaria, the de facto dean of the contemporary realist school of thought about the use of U.S. power, says that Somalia should stand as a model for future intervention. “It was in and out,” he says, with the modest objective of trying to help distribute food to starving people, rather than intervention in an internal crisis.

But even among Clinton’s fractious critics, who disagree with each other about what to do next in Kosovo, there’s consensus that the current policy is failing fast. Bombing alone is “too little, too late,” says Bianca Jagger — who has long advocated for intervention to stop Serbian aggression in the Balkans — by telephone from London. Zakaria says the current policy is “futile.” And Burkhalter worries that ground troops might be too late, as Milosevic “may have already accomplished his goal” of driving out most of the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo.

Frank Smyth, a freelance journalist who has also served as an investigative consultant for Human Rights Watch as well as Amnesty International, is a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know, edited by Roy Gutman and David Rieff.