Analysis 10 Dec 07

Hague Court Acquits Serbia of Genocide

Blow to Sarajevo as judges rule Belgrade did not aid or abet genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992-5 war.

By Nerma Jelacic in Sarajevo (Balkan Insight, 26 Feb 07)

Almost 14 years after the case began, the International Court of Justice cleared Serbia of most charges of genocide brought by Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The court ruled on Monday, February 26, that the former Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, SRJ, which then comprised Serbia and Montenegro, neither committed, took part in nor encouraged genocide.

However, the court ruled that Serbia did not do enough to prevent or punish the acts of genocide.

The case, filed before the court by the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993, was the first in which one country accused another of genocide since the term became part of the UN human rights convention.

The Bosnian government argued that acts of war committed on its territory during the 1992-1995 conflict constituted genocide and further claimed the authorities in Belgrade aided and abetted this genocide.

Bosnia had asked the court to award reparations for damages and ensure that Serbia and Montenegro never committed such crimes again.

After the two sides presented their arguments in 2006, the court took almost a year to deliberate before releasing its judgment.

The 15-member panel of judges first ruled that what occurred over the whole the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina did not constitute genocide, even though widespread and systematic atrocities undoubtedly took place.

On the other hand, it found that the July 1995 massacre of almost 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in the town of Srebrenica was an act of genocide.

But it ruled that this mass murder was the work of the Bosnian Serb army and various paramilitary units. It did not find that the Belgrade authorities took part in, aided or abetted genocide in Srebrenica.

As part of its evidence, the Bosnian legal team had presented a video of the execution of six Bosniaks from the town by a unit from Serbia known as the Scorpions.

The court accepted that Belgrade gave substantial military and financial support to the Bosnian Serb military - the Army of Republika Srpska - and that there was little doubt Bosnian Serbs used this help while committing genocide in Srebrenica.

However, the court ruled that it was not proven that the Belgrade government was aware its assistance would be used to commit genocide.

Turning to the Scorpions, the court found that it was a paramilitary unit and said it was not proven beyond reasonable doubt that its members acted under instructions from Belgrade.

The judges found Serbia’s authorities guilty of certain failures. Principally, they did not do anything to prevent known crimes from taking place. They “did not do anything to prevent this, claiming that they were helpless, which does not correspond to the evidence, which shows their influence over the Army of Republika Srpska”, it said.

Serbia was also found guilty of failing to punish acts of genocide by failing to transfer General Ratko Mladic, charged with genocide in Srebrenica, to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

The court ruled that Serbia must take immediate steps to hand over remaining war-crime indictees to the ICTY.

Regarding reparations, however, the ICJ ruled that Serbia and Montenegro were not obliged to make any payments to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The court did not hold Montenegro legally responsible for any of the above-mentioned acts. After it seceded from the union with Serbia in 2006, only the government of Serbia inherited the “legal identity” of the former Yugoslavia, said the court.

Nerma Jelacic is BIRN Bosnia director. Balkan Insight is BIRN’s online publication.

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