On 4 November 2011, the International Humanitarian Law Clinic at Emory Law School convened a group of well-known military operational law experts with extensive experience in applying and enforcing IHL. The meeting was convened to analyze the broader legal issues in and implications of the recent judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the case of Prosecutor v. Gotovina, which focused on Operation Storm, the Croatian operation to re-take the Krajina region in the summer of 1995. Operation Storm was, as the experts at this meeting noted, an example of conflict between evenly matched belligerents fighting with limited capabilities, a situation much more common than the ideal of precision-guided munitions and “clean strikes” that is surely more desirable.
For this reason, the manner in which IHL is enunciated and applied in the Gotovina judgment has extraordinary import for future operations and conflicts. The case is apparently the first—and likely the only—case assessing complex targeting decisions involving the use of artillery against a range of military objectives in populated areas during a sustained assault. In particular, the group of experts, which included several with extensive operational and legal experience in the use of artillery, focused the discussion on the portions of the judgment analyzing artillery attacks against objectives in the City of Knin and the application of IHL to this targeting process.
The day-long discussion focused on two central issues:
1) potential flaws in the Trial Chamber’s application of IHL; and
2) potential institutional concerns and second-order effects resulting from these flaws.
The exchange between the experts has resulted in a very interesting report entitled ‘OPERATIONAL LAW EXPERTS ROUNDTABLE ON THE GOTOVINA JUDGMENT: Military Operations, Battlefield Reality and the Judgment’s Impact on Effective Implementation and Enforcement of International Humanitarian Law’. The report has been put together by the International Humanitarian Law Clinic at Emory University School of Law. For the full text of this report click here.