Vesna Peric Zimonjic
BELGRADE, Feb 26 (IPS) – The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled Monday that Serbia was not guilty of genocide in neighbouring Bosnia.
The court ruled also that genocide occurred in Srebrenica, and not the whole of Bosina.
More than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were executed by the Bosnian Serb Army (BSA) that overran Srebrenica enclave in eastern Bosnia in July 1995. The forces were under the command of Gen. Ratko Mladic.
The nine-point ruling of the ICJ, which is final and binding, held for a start that it was well within the jurisdiction of the court to rule on the complaints of genocide, first made by Bosnia back in 1993.
Serbia had disputed the jurisdiction of the ICJ on the grounds that in 1993 it had been expelled by the United Nations, which founded the court.
At the time, war was raging in the former Yugoslav nations between Muslims, Croats and Serbs. The Serbs were financially and logistically backed by Belgrade.
Bosnia claimed that Belgrade was responsible for the aggression against it and responsible for all war crimes committed there, mostly against Bosniak Muslims.
The ICJ ruled that Serbia did not commit genocide, or plan or incite the genocide in Srebrenica, and that it was not an accomplice in genocide either.
However, Serbia was held to have violated the international obligation to prevent the genocide due to its close links with the BSA and Bosnian Serbs.
Serbia was also held responsible for failing to hand over Gen. Mladic, and failing to respect the decisions of the ICJ from 1993 to prevent criminal acts, including possible genocide. Serbia has been asked to take immediate measures to locate and hand over Mladic to the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
In the end, the court ruled that Serbia owed no financial compensation or war damages to Bosnia.
“This is a very important decision for Serbia,” special war crimes prosecution spokesman Bruno Vekaric told IPS. Serbia has established a war crimes court of its own in an effort to deal with violations in the wars of disintegration of former Yugoslavia. The wars took at least 100,000 lives, most victims being non-Serbs.
“The court has put a clear difference between Serbia proper and Bosnian Serbs,” Vekaric added. “But it is clear now definitely that not all Serbs did what was done in Srebrenica.”
Vekaric said the obligation to hand over Gen. Mladic is significant because that is “crucial for the truth to be cleared once and for all.” Many Serbs still consider the general a hero.
Serbia had been apprehensive ahead of the ruling that the whole nation could be described as genocidal.
“This is a historically important decision,” Milos Jovanovic from the Institute of International Law told Radio-Television of Serbia immediately after the court ruling. “After this, further pressures on Serbia dealing with its role in the recent wars will ease.”
Serbia and its former leader Slobodan Milosevic, who died a year ago in detention at the ICTY at The Hague in the Netherlands while on trial for war crimes in the wars of the disintegration of former Yugoslavia, were often held entirely responsible for the bloodshed in the 1990s.
Reconciliation between Bosniak Muslims, Serbs and Croats has barely begun since the wars ended in 1995, because there has been no agreement who was guilty of the atrocities and destruction. Each side blamed others, with Serbs, whether living in Croatia, Bosnia or in Serbia proper, being the most frequently accused party.
This ruling may not end all that.
“Reconciliation is a long and painful process,” Jovanovic said. “I doubt it will go any quicker now, particularly as the Bosnian Muslim side will not be satisfied with this ruling of the court.”
President of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Croatia, Zarko Puhovski, agreed.
“Nothing will change substantially,” Puhovski told Belgrade media. “The ruling of the court will only be a nice argument in the mutual accusations between former warring nations, but it will never change deeply rooted opinions on all sides, and will not improve relations in the region.”