Dr. Vesna Kontic and Others v The Ministry of Defence

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeMr Justice Irwin
Judgment Date04 August 2016
Neutral Citation[2016] EWHC 2034 (QB)
Docket NumberCase No: HQ14X02291
CourtQueen's Bench Division
Date04 August 2016

[2016] EWHC 2034 (QB)



Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL


Mr Justice Irwin

Case No: HQ14X02291

(1) Dr. Vesna Kontic
(2) Snezana Milenkovic
(3) Verica Tomanovic
The Ministry of Defence

Kirsty Brimelow QC, Catherine Meredith and Alex Gask (instructed by Savic & Co) for the Claimants

James Eadie QC, Brendan McGurk and Michelle Butler (instructed by The Government Legal Department) for the Defendant

Mr Justice Irwin



These claims arise from the dangerous and chaotic period which followed the deployment of the international military coalition known as the Kosovo Force ("KFOR") into Kosovo, in June 1999. Following violence and unrest, and the departure of many ethnic Albanian citizens of Kosovo outside the country, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1244 ("UNSCR 1244"), on 10 June 1999, authorising the deployment of KFOR.


Continuing ethnic conflict within Kosovo had led to the displacement of large numbers of ethnic Albanian Kosovars. An air bombardment of Kosovo followed, beginning on 24 March 1999. By 8 June 1999, the authorities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia ["FRY"], who were overwhelmingly ethnic Serbians, had agreed to withdraw. The aerial bombardment was halted. On 9 June a Military Technical Agreement ("MTA") was signed, providing for the phased withdrawal of FRY forces and their replacement by KFOR.


On the following day, 10 June 1999, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1244. The troops constituting KFOR had massed in Macedonia. There were contingents from many nations. British forces were an important component, and the Commander of KFOR was General Sir Michael Jackson. On 12 June KFOR began the move into Kosovo. The last Serb forces left on 20 June.


Part of the operational plan for KFOR was that the component of KFOR comprised of UK forces would occupy the central area of Kosovo, including the largest population centre, the city of Pristina. The three Claimants are the widows of Serbs abducted or murdered in or near Pristina, between 16 June and 5 July 1999. In the case of the Second Claimant, her teenage son was murdered alongside his father. In very short summary, the Claimants allege that British forces "failed to protect their family members or properly investigate [the killings] and to date the perpetrators remain at large".


The great part of this judgment is concerned with technical legal matters. Before I embark on such considerations, I wish to record that I understand the terrible impact of such killings. I readily comprehend the feelings of the Claimants at their losses, and at the lack of any final explanation of what happened. The Court has every sympathy with the position of the Claimants.

The Issues


In earlier hearings, preliminary issues were identified, and this judgment addresses the following issues:

"2. In respect of all of the claims:

a. Are they barred in the English Courts as a matter of international law by reason of the immunity conferred on the Defendant under UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and set out in the Joint Declaration and UNMIK Regulation 2000/47? Alternatively, are they barred as an abuse of the process of this Court as a matter of English procedural law?

b. Were the acts and omissions as alleged against the Defendant:

i. Attributable to the United Kingdom; or

ii. Attributable to the UN?

3. In respect of the HRA claims:

a. Whether or not the HRA claims are time barred. In this regard:

i. Did time start to run from an 'instantaneous act' of the authorities; and/or

ii. is there a continuing violation of the Convention for the purpose of extending the one year limitation period under the Human Rights Act 1998.

b. Does the HRA apply to the deaths and disappearances which are the subject of the complaint given that the HRA does not have retrospective effect in relation to deaths that occurred prior to 2 October 2000?

c. Were the Claimants within the jurisdiction of the UK for the purposes of Article 1 ECHR?

d. Does an operational protective duty arise under Articles 2 and 3 ECHR?

e. Does an investigative duty arise under Articles 2 or 3 ECHR and is there a continuing duty to investigate 16 years later?

f. Are Articles 8 and 13 of the ECHR engaged?"


Two further issues have been stayed, pending the outcome of other proceedings before the Supreme Court, since the judgments in the Supreme Court may be determinative of those further issues.

Late Submissions


At the close of the hearing, leading counsel for the Claimants indicated that she sought to supplement the written submissions on the evidence. A Note was sent on 27 May 2016. I have read that, and taken it into account, alongside a brief response from the Defendant, in its letter of 7 June.


I have also noted the minor correction to the Defendant's closing submissions, contained in the letter of 7 June.


After the hearing, the Claimants' solicitors filed extensive further submissions entitled "Supplemental Submissions on Attribution and Jurisdiction under the Law of the European Union", with enclosures. It appears this document is a revised version of submissions which were put forward by the solicitors during the hearing, and then withdrawn. Counsel for the Claimants stated at the time they had no instructions in relation to these submissions; they did not bear the signature of counsel instructed. In their letter of 7 June, the Defendant objects to these submissions being received: they are late, not filed with permission, and are said not to relate to the matters set down for determination at preliminary issue by Master Leslie. In the light of the irregular way in which these submissions have been produced, and the Defendant's objections, I have not read them. To do so would be to encourage an incoherent process.


I address the issues in the sequence which seems to me most logical and convenient rather than list order. Important to all of them is the factual and legal basis on which KFOR entered into and occupied Kosovo.

The Facts


I have had extensive written material placed before me, including statements from all three Claimants. I have also heard oral evidence from five witnesses: General Jackson, Lieutenant General Sir William Rollo, Major General Jeremy Rowan, Squadron Leader Anthony Quinn and Warrant Officer Ian Pratt. Aside from Warrant Officer Pratt, each of these witnesses is retired from service. In addition I have read the statements of Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Watton, and Warrant Officer Ian Pratt.


The decision by NATO to commence air strikes on Kosovo, the territory of the FRY, was announced on 30 January 1999. There followed negotiation between the FRY, the Kosovar Albanian leadership and NATO countries in France. The Rambouillet accords were, however, never signed by Belgrade. As a consequence NATO air strikes actually began on 24 March 1999. Discussions clearly continued during the air campaign, involving FRY, NATO and UN representatives, with others. They culminated in a series of choreographed steps in early June. General Jackson emphasised the linkage between these steps in his evidence: each step happened because the next was anticipated.


On 3 June 1999, detailed terms for the cessation of air strikes and withdrawal were presented to the Serb Parliament and the Yugoslav government. On 8 June 1999, in anticipation of the MTA and of what became UNSCR 1244, the forces of Yugoslavia ["the Serb forces"] agreed to leave Kosovo. The air strikes ended.


The next step took place on the following day. General Jackson had been serving as Commander of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, a NATO force. As such, he had deployed to Macedonia in March 1999. It was this force which formed the nucleus of what became KFOR, and General Jackson served as Commander of KFOR from 9 June to 8 October 1999. In that capacity, he served as a NATO officer. He reported to General Wesley Clark, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.


As anticipated, General Jackson signed the MTA as Commander of KFOR on 9 June. Article 1 of the MTA recorded that KFOR would deploy into Kosovo, following the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution; that took place the next day with the passage of UNSCR 1244. The legal position of KFOR falls to be considered, therefore, in the light both of the MTA and UNSCR 1244.


The critical provisions of UNSCR 1244 for present purposes are:

" The Security Council

5. Decides on the deployment in Kosovo, under United Nations auspices, of international civil and security presences, with appropriate equipment and personnel as required, and welcomes the agreement of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to such presences;

6. Requests the Secretary-General to appoint, in consultation with the Security Council, a Special Representative to control the implementation of the international civil presence, and further requests the Secretary-General to instruct his Special Representative to coordinate closely with the international security presence to ensure that both presences operate towards the same goals and in a mutually supportive manner;

7. Authorizes Member States and relevant international organizations to establish the international security presence in Kosovo as set out in point 4 of annex 2 with all necessary means to fulfil its responsibilities under paragraph 9 below;

8. Affirms the need for the rapid early deployment of effective international civil and security presences to Kosovo, and demands that the parties cooperate fully in their deployment;

9. Decides that the...

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