March 1997 Vol. 9, No. 5 (D)
Chemical Weapons in the Former Yugoslavia
I. SUMMARY 2
II. A NOTE ON SOURCES 3
III. RECOMMENDATIONS 4
To the Government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) 5
To the Government of the Republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina 5
To the Government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 5
To the Government of the Republic of Slovenia 5
To the Government of the Republic of Croatia 5
To the International Community 5
To the Government of the United States 6
IV. CHEMICAL AGENTS IN THE FORMER YUGOSLAVIA 6
V. PRODUCTION OF CHEMICAL AGENT MUNITIONSAND CHEMICAL WARFARE DEFENSE EQUIPMENT 8
VI. OPERATIONAL DOCTRINE OF THE YUGOSLAV NATIONAL ARMY 11
VII. ALLEGATIONS OF USE 12
VIII. THE ISSUE OF TRANSPARENCY 13
IX. A NOTE ON THE LAW 14
X. CONCLUSION 15
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 15I. SUMMARY
Human Rights Watch has uncovered evidence that the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) had an extensive and sophisticated chemical weapons program prior to the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991; that the army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) inherited much of this program; and that the army of the Republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina produced crude chemical munitions during the Bosnian war (1992-95). Human Rights Watch also has strong indications that the army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia continues to maintain an offensive chemical weapons capability.
This information is based on a year of research in the United States and republics of the former Yugoslavia, including interviews with persons who were involved in the JNAs chemical weapons program. Human Rights Watch has also obtained a JNA manual offering doctrinal guidelines on the use of certain chemical weapons, and western intelligence assessments, as well as several other documents which support our findings. Most of these documents have not been publicly available.
There has been little or no public discussion of the issue of chemical weapons production and use in the former Yugoslavia. By releasing this information Human Rights Watch seeks to initiate a debate on this issue in light of the continuing tensions and the threat of chemical weapons proliferation in the Balkans.
The U.S. government, which is fully aware of the existence of a chemical warfare agent production capability in the former Yugoslavia, has yet to make this information public. As the principal sponsor of the Dayton peace accords, the United States has a special responsibility to make public the information it has on the chemical weapons production capabilities that exist in the former Yugoslavia, and to place pressure on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to dismantle its chemical weapons production facilities. Greater transparency on the part of the international community, including and especially the United States, on the presence of chemical weapons in the former Yugoslavia would be a vital and effective first step to eliminating them. It is critical, also, that the U.S. ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The possibility that chemical weapons may be used in the Balkans in the future cannot be discounted, especially in light of the likelihood that the Serb forces will not enjoy the enormous military superiority that characterized most of the Bosnian war. The war was marked by frequent and pervasive violations of international humanitarian lawethnic cleansing, indiscriminate use of force, summary execution, disappearance, mass rape, and targeting of civilian populations. Little if any regard was given for the safety and protection of civilians, and often civilians were the primary target of combatants. Chemical weapons would be one more tool to terrorize and kill unprotected civilians. One need only remember the Kurdish town of Halabja, where several thousand civilians were killed in an Iraqi chemical attack in 1988, to realize the terrible impact chemical weapons can have. Chemical agents are notoriously indiscriminate and can be horribly effective weapons of terror. This is one reason why the use of chemical weapons is prohibited by international law. It is also why Human Rights Watch holds that these weapons must be eliminated from the Balkans without delay.
The use of chemical weapons is prohibited under the 1925 Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and Bacteriological Methods of Warfare (Geneva Protocol). The ban on use, as codified in the Protocol, is considered to constitute customary international law, binding on all states regardless of whether they are parties to the Protocol. Moreover, the possession of chemical weapons is prohibited under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which is scheduled to come into force for ratifying countries on April 29, 1997.
According to information obtained by Human Rights Watch, the JNA conducted extensive research on a wide variety of military chemical agents, and produced the nerve agent sarin, the blister agent sulfur mustard, and the incapacitating agent BZ before the Bosnian war, and turned these chemical agents into weapons. The bulk of the JNAs chemical weapons program was acquired by the army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) at the time of the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991, and it appears to remain active today, staffed by formerJNA chemical weapons experts.1 Human Rights Watch also has obtained evidence indicating that the Bosnian government produced munitions filled with toxic chemicals in a factory near the city of Tuzla during the war. Human Rights Watch is continuing to investigate allegations that chemical weapons, in particular chemical incapacitants, were used during the war.
In light of the known chemical weapons production capability in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the presence of chemical weapons expertsas well as the basic chemical industry to support the production of chemical weaponsin other republics of the former Yugoslavia, there is a danger that chemical weapons may proliferate in the region and that chemical weapons may be used in the future in the Balkans. Human Rights Watch therefore calls on the international community to apply pressureby threatening to withhold aid and impose selective sanctionson all states in the region to abandon any offensive chemical weapons program and destroy any chemical agents or munitions they possess, and to sign and ratify the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. (The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina signed the Convention in January 1997, but is yet to ratify it. The Republic of Croatia ratified the treaty in 1995.) In addition, in order to ensure that chemical weapons are eliminated from the region, the international community, including the United Nations, former members of the U.N. Protection Force (UNPROFOR) and the Peace Implementation Force (IFOR), as well as members of the Stabilization Force (SFOR) should release all information in their possession on the development, production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons in the former Yugoslavia.1 During the war, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) gave extensive military, economic and political assistance to the Republic of Srpska, the Bosnian Serb-ruled entity in Bosnia and Hercegovina. The Republic of Croatia gave similar assistance to the Croat Community of Herceg-Bosna, the Bosnian Croat-ruled entity, now part of the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina.