Protesters take on NATO generals

High-level meetings inside Hotel Grand Pacific attract 200 for noon rally

Louise Dickson, with files from Richard Watts

Despite police fences surrounding the Hotel Grand Pacific, 200 noisy protesters managed to deliver a document to NATO officials yesterday accusing its generals of war crimes, crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity.

The notice of summons “charged” North Atlantic Treaty Organization military committee members meeting inside the hotel with 36 counts of International Criminal Court crimes.

Lt.-Col. Tony White, a NATO public information officer, said he had received and read the summons and will pass it to NATO’s legal team in Brussels when he returns in a few days.

“It will not be ignored,” said White. “I read it was alleging war crimes in Yugoslavia. It would take a legal expert to give an opinion on it.”

Protesters had earlier warned they would fight back if police tried to remove them from outside the hotel, but in the end, only one man was picked up by police — a protester riding his bike naked, towing two Scottish terriers in a yellow trailer.

Inside, where the high-level meetings were being held, chiefs of defence from NATO’s 26 member nations had “frank and open” discussions on the role of the military alliance and its upcoming missions, said Gen. Ray Henault.

“The demand is there. I can assure you NATO has a lot of work to do,” the Canadian general and chairman of NATO’s Military Committee said at a press briefing yesterday afternoon.

Henault said the discussions largely focused on the future, although the topic of the mission in Afghanistan inevitably arose. “This is a very new NATO,” he said. “It used to be a static NATO and one that was designed really to counter the Soviet threat that is no longer there.

“We are now in a NATO that knows it must have an expeditionary capability, and that expeditionary capability is very much embedded in the Afghanistan mission.”

Meanwhile, a coalition of local peace groups chanted “NATO killers” as they marched from the legislature to the Hotel Grand Pacific. Although a few military men looked on from their waterfront balconies, no one came down to address the crowd.

Jodi Wood joined the rally to protest Canada’s involvement in NATO. “We’re a democratic nation and I think we should have a right as a civilian society to make the decision to pull Canada out of what is basically world terrorism,” said Wood.

Marla Renn, an education student at Simon Fraser University, came to protest “atrocities” she said NATO is committing in Afghanistan. “There’s an untold amount of civilian deaths and brutality for women over there. We’re making things harder and worse over there.”

Camosun student Shawn Haley questioned NATO’s role in providing security. “Security against what?” asked Haley. “They are the most powerful entity in the world and they’re using illegal weapons and killing people.”

Many, like Haley, accused NATO of using prohibited weapons such as cluster bombs, white phosphorous and depleted uranium to kill and maim civilians. Raging Granny Fran Thoburn found pictures on the Internet of babies deformed by depleted uranium and had them laminated on posters.

“It’s the hardest things I’ve ever done for the peace movement,” said Thoburn. “We need to get our heads out of the sand and realize we are killing and maiming total populations, including our own.”

Members of the military committee were surprised by the protest’s focus on illegal weapons, said White. After consulting with senior officers, White told the press NATO does not use cluster munitions or depleted uranium in Afghanistan.

“Depleted uranium was an issue in Kosovo and Bosnia several years ago. Some nations were using it, but there was no proof it harmed people,” said White, adding Canadian Forces are unlikely to have used depleted uranium because they don’t have the airplanes to disperse it.

White argued that NATO is still relevant at 60, noting the United Nations, as representative of the international community, “is the one asking us to go to Afghanistan and Darfur.”

“We’re not imposing ourselves on other countries.”

In the past five years, demands on NATO have been increasing, said White, who says the international community sees NATO as a highly successful, responsible and professional force.

“You have to go to Afghanistan to see the progress. The GDP [gross domestic product] is up 14 per cent. Young girls are in school. Afghanistan is much better off than it was two years ago. If they listen to our soldiers, they’ll know we’re doing a lot more good than bad.”