News 03 Feb 15

ICJ Rejects Genocide Claims of Serbia and Croatia

The International Court of Justice has rejected the mutual genocide suits brought both by Serbia and Croatia.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade

 

 

Peter Tomka, ICJ judge. UN Photo/CIJ-ICJ/Frank van Beek. Courtesy of the ICJ

In a ruling on Tuesday, the Hague-based International Court of Justice, ICJ, rejected both genocide claims brought by Croatia and Serbia.

Turning to Croatia's lawsuit, Judge Peter Tomka said Serbia could not be found responsible for genocide before events that took place before April 27, 1992, as before then Serbia had not signed the UN Genocide Convention.

"It cannot be considered that Serbia had an obligation to respect articles of the convention, before it become a signatory," Tomka said. "We cannot retroactively judge on what happened before April 27, 1992," he added.

This interpretation thus ruled out most of Croatia's case, which was largely based on crimes that it said the Yugoslav Army committed in the eastern town of Vukovar in 1991.

Croatia claimed the attacks on Vukovar were masterminded in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, and should be treated as acts of genocide.

The judge said the Yugoslav People’s Army and Serbian forces conducted a campaign of violence in which Croats were killed and expelled.

“This was part of a political goal, as determined by the ICTY, to create an ethnically homogeneous Serb state,” Tomka said. However, “there was no aim to destroy Croats, but to expel them”, he added.

Tomka therefore concluded that Croatia had failed to prove that these acts were acts of a genocidal nature. “The Croatian claims need to fully be rejected,” he said.

Turning to Serbia's claim that Croatia committed genocide in 1995, during Operation Storm, when Croatia recaptured swaths of territory seized earlier by Serbian forces, Tomka also said it was “not proved that during and after Operation Storm genocide was committed against Serbs”.

The judge therefore said Croatia also cannot be held accountable for genocide.

Tomka said that much of the evidence that the court had used came from rulings from the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia.

“It was not proved that the killings were result of intense shelling of Croatian forces,” Tomka said, referring to casualties from Operation Storm.

“Even if there was an intention to expel Serbs, we cannot determine the aim was to destroy them,” the judge added.

According to Tomka, while numerous killings occurred, no evidence had been produced that determined that these killings led to or aimed at the total destruction of Serbs.

“Killings that took place did not happen on a scale that could be treated as genocide,” he said.

The ruling follows hearings that took place at the ICJ in March and April 2014, when both Zagreb and Belgrade presented their cases before the judges.

Both countries have spent large sums of money to secure their cases. According to Croatian Justice Ministry data, the country spent some 28,111,589 kuna [over 3.7 million euro] on its case. Serbia's Foreign Ministry said Belgrade had spent some 800,000 euro.

During the hearings, Zagreb aimed to prove that units commanded by Belgrade killed more than 10,000 Croats during a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the early 1990s in the war in Croatia.

Croatia filed genocide charges against Serbia in 1999, also demanding that Belgrade punish all those who had perpetrated war crimes during the conflict, return looted cultural property and pay for wartime damages.

Serbia claimed that the Croatian military committed genocide during Operation Storm in 1995, after which more than 200,000 Croatian Serbs fled the country.

Serbia submitted its counter-claim in 2010, maintaining that Croatia was guilty of genocide against Serbs both during and after the 1995 operation.

Since it was established after World War II, the ICJ has only recognised one case of genocide, the massacre in Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia in 1995.

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