News 17 Feb 17

Bosnia to Revive Genocide Lawsuit against Serbia: Izetbegovic

The Bosniak member of the country’s tripartite presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, said an appeal will be lodged against the International Court of Justice verdict clearing Serbia of direct responsibility for genocide.

Eleanor Rose, Dzana Brkanic, Danijel Kovacevic
BIRN
Sarajevo, Banja Luka
Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak member of the country's presidency, arrives for Friday's meeting. Photo: BIRN.

Bosnia will launch an appeal against the International Court of Justice’s 2007 verdict that cleared Serbia of complicity in genocide during the 1992-95 war, the Bosniak member of the country’s tripartite presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, announced on Friday.

Izetbegovic said that Bosnia has gathered new evidence for the case “over time and through the [court] process against [Bosnian Serb military chief] Ratko Mladic [at the Hague Tribunal]”.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic responded by saying that this meant the beginning of a time of difficult relations between Serbia and Bosnia – and insisted that Bosnia has more to lose than Serbia.

“Serbia and its political leadership and the government did not do anything that would cause such a reaction of Sarajevo,” Vucic said.

“No matter what, I am convinced that we will know how to preserve our state and national interests, but we will nonetheless continue to talk with the leadership in Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to ensure lasting peace in the Balkans,” he added.

The decision is likely to be strongly challenged by Bosnia’s Serbs, who claim that the move is unconstitutional.

Milorad Dodik, the president of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska, said that only Bosniaks in Bosnia supported the case.

“Even ten years ago there was not any evidence against the Republic of Serbia, and it still does not exist today, for the simple reason that Serbia did not do what Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina are trying to imply,” Dodik said.

In the 2007 verdict, the ICJ held that the 1995 massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces was genocide, and that Serbia had breached the Geneva Conventions by not impeding it.

However the ICJ ruled that there was not enough proof to show that Bosnian Serb forces committing the genocide acted under the “direction” or “effective control” of Serbia.

The window during which an appeal can be lodged at the ICJ expires on February 26.

The decision to lodge the appeal was made following a joint meeting in Sarajevo of about 50 legal experts, representatives of government, opposition parties, academics and NGOs.

“There is a question whether a review would cause a crisis between Bosniaks and Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There will be a crisis, but not the one that is expected,” said Izetbegovic.

“Difficult crises are happening when someone is stripped of their essential rights. We are not taking away anyone’s rights with this, we all need the truth – even those who resist it,” he added.

Izetbegovic also stated that Bosnia’s representative in the lawsuit against Serbia at the ICJ, Sakib Softic, has full support to continue with the case.

The news is likely to rock already frayed relations in the country’s political sphere.

Bosnian Serb representatives refused to take part in Friday’s meeting, and top officials in Republika Srpska and Serb representatives in state-level bodies warned that launching the appeal would be unconstitutional and unacceptable.

Branislav Borenovic, the president of the Party of Democratic Progress, which is part of the ruling coalition at the state level, announced the possibility of filing criminal charges against Izetbegovic, Softic and others if they file the appeal request.

“It is known that in this case, there are no new arguments. If there is a request for a review of the judgment outside the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the sole blame for the deadlock in the functioning of the institutions will be the Bosniak member of the presidency Bakir Izetbegovic, Sakib Softic and others who advocate such retrograde actions,” Borenovic told reporters.

On Thursday, lawmakers from Bosnia’s two largest Serb-led parties boycotted Thursday’s session of the state parliament in protest at Izetbegovic’s consultations.

The Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Mladen Ivanic, has warned that the appeal would be disastrous for ethnic relations.

“This would mean that we are entering a very serious crisis and I warn everyone to reconsider their actions,” Ivanic told media on Tuesday.

Izetbegovic announced last week that he would spend 10 days consulting with experts over how and whether an appeal should be lodged, insisting it was not a political issue, but a legal matter.

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