News 23 Nov 17

Srebrenica Survivors ‘Unlikely to Win’ Case Against Serbs

After Ratko Mladic was convicted of genocide, Srebrenica survivors announced a lawsuit against Serbia and Republika Srpska - but legal experts said they have little chance of winning compensation.

Filip Rudic, Denis Dzidic
Belgrade, Sarajevo
Srebrenica survivors celebrate as Ratko Mladic is sentenced to life in prison. Photo: Amel Emric/Beta/AP.

Srebrenica survivors told BIRN on Thursday that they will sue Serbia for backing Bosnian Serb forces during wartime after former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic was convicted of genocide - but legal experts cautioned that their case would probably fail.

“We will sue [Serbia] again for its role in murder and genocide. Of course Serbia is guilty of assisting [the Bosnian Serbs],” said one Srebrenica survivor, Aisa Omerovic.

After Mladic’s guilty verdict and life sentence was handed down on Wednesday, the president of the Mothers of Srebrenica association, Munira Subasic, announced a lawsuit against Serbia and Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated entity of Bosnia.

Subasic did not elaborate how she plans to launch the case, but lawyers told BIRN said that there is little chance of a successful suit.

“A guilty verdict would not be likely from the point of view of international law,” said Milan Antonijevic, director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, YUCOM, in Belgrade.

Antonijevic explained that no court has clear jurisdiction for the victims to address when seeking compensation. As for Republika Srpska, the chances of suing are small, as the International Court of Justice only processes cases brought by one state against another.

On top of that, Serbia has already been cleared of genocide charges brought by Bosnia at the International Court of Justice in 2007.

“Without seeing the full verdict [on Mladic], I can’t see any new facts that would serve as basis for a lawsuit,” Antonijevic said.

Serbia’s Justice Minister Nela Kuburovic also argued that Mladic’s conviction could not be used to ask for a review of the International Court of Justice’s 2007 verdict.

“The deadline to ask for a review has expired, so I don’t see how yesterday’s verdict could be used, especially since it is a first-instance decision [which can be appealed],” Kuburovic told Serbian media on Thursday.

Vesna Petrovic, the executive director of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, also said that the Srebrenica survivors had little chance of success.

“Everyone has the right to try to sue if they find a legal mechanism, but I think they don’t have a lot of grounds to win [the lawsuit],” Petrovic told BIRN.

She said that victims sometimes find ways to sue for compensation, citing the lawsuit that Srebrenica victims won against the Netherlands, which was found partially liable for the deaths of around 300 Bosniaks from Srebrenica who were killed after being expelled from a Dutch UN peacekeepers’ base.

But Petrovic says she doesn’t know in what country the Bosniak victims could file charges, who could they sue, and before which court.

Another Srebrenica survivor, Admir Velic, said that Serbia and Republika Srpska should come to terms with their own past and renounce war criminals, but further litigation should not be ruled out.

“If they were to give up on praising [war] criminals and the rest, then we could find a solution on a human level, instead of filing lawsuits. But if they continue to act in this manner then it’s probably best for the court to give its opinion,” Velic told BIRN.

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Srebrenica: Genocide Reconstructed

In July 1995 Srebrenica was shelled and occupied by the Army of Republic of Srpska,VRS, despite being declared a protected area by the United Nations. More than 7,000 people were killed, the victims of genocide.

Ratko Mladic: The Force Behind the Srebrenica Killings

The Bosnian Serb commander’s role in the genocide committed in Srebrenica is described in detail in many indictments and verdicts pronounced before local and international judicial institutions.

The Indictment Against Ratko Mladic

Indictments in 1995 and 2000, further amended in 2002 and 2010, charge the former commander of the Republika Srpska Army with genocide and other crimes.

Ratko Mladic: From Promising Officer to Bloodstained Warlord

When Mladic ordered his army to bomb the people of Sarajevo until they ‘go insane’, he revealed the murderous intentions that would culminate in the Srebrenica massacre.

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