U.N. Court Issues Ruling on Bosnia Genocide
By GRAHAM BOWLEY
Published: February 26, 2007
The International Court of Justice ruled today that Serbia had failed to prevent the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war, but cleared the country of direct intent to commit genocide.
The landmark case, brought by Bosnia against Serbia, was the first time the United Nation's highest court had dealt with a lawsuit in which one country charged another with genocide.
The court, based in The Hague, found that genocide did take place at Srebrenica, and gave a long list of atrocities throughout Bosnia which it said were carried out by Bosnian Serb fighters. But the court said it could not prove strict intent by the Serbian state, and therefore decided Serbia was not guilty of genocide.
"Serbia failed to prevent the genocide of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica," the court president, Rosalyn Higgins said.
The nuanced judgment is likely to be seized upon as a victory by Serbia, even though the court gave extensive and damning detail about the violence committed by Bosnian Serb troops. It was greeted with disappointment among Bosnian Muslims and human rights groups.
The practical effect of the ruling is to spare Serbia from being forced to pay heavy financial reparations that Bosnia was seeking over the massacre.
Groups like the Mothers of Srebrenica believe that the Serbian state was directly involved in the atrocities, and that direct evidence exists of Serbia's role in war crimes. "Shame on the people who reached such a verdict," Zinaida Mujic, a representative of Mothers of Srebrenica, told The Associated Press.
The court found that the Serbian state could have prevented the massacre, and had failed in its duty to prosecute those who had been responsible. It demanded that Serbia hand over Ratko Mladic, the general who oversaw the Bosnian Serb attack on Srebrenica, to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
The panel of judges at the court had been deliberating on the case since May 2006, when nine weeks of hearings were completed.
Many thousands of people were killed in ethnically mixed Bosnia during three years of civil war from 1992 to 1995, with Bosnians of Croatian, Serbian and Muslim background fighting one another for full control of the sections of the country where they were the majority.
Although Serbia supported the Bosnian Serbs in the war, the court found that the Serbian state did not have effective control over the Bosnian Serb army and paramilitary units that carried out the massacres.
The massacres at Srebrenica "were committed with the specific intent to destroy in part the group of the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina as such" and thus were "acts of genocide," the judgment said.
Following the court decision, the president of Serbia, Boris Tadic, urged the Serbian parliament today to condemn the massacre, the Reuters news agency reported. "For all of us, the very difficult part of the verdict is that Serbia did not do all it could to prevent genodice," Mr. Tadic told reporters, according to Reuters.
He said that the failure by Serbia to allow the accused perpetrators of the massacre to be extradited to face criminal charges could have serious political and economic repercussions for Serbia, which is seeking closer integration with the European Union.