The International Court of Justice in the Hague, the UN’s highest court, has decided it does have jurisdiction to examine Croatia’s accusation that Serbia committed genocide in the war of independence between 1991 and 1995.
The conflict, which claimed around 20,000 lives, pitted Croatia against a rebel Serb minority backed by Belgrade.
The ICJ agreed with Croatia’s assertion that Serbia was bound by the 1948 Genocide Convention. The tribunal also decided that the period upon which it could make judgements ran at least until November 2000, when Serbia became a member of the United Nations.
Croatia is seeking reparations from Serbia on the grounds that the Belgrade authorities were liable for crimes committed against Croatian citizens. These include allegations of killing, torture and ethnic cleansing.
Serbia had objected to Croatia’s lawsuit, arguing it was not a member of the UN, and therefore not subject to the UN court, when the case was filed in 1999. As such, Belgrade claimed, it had not been bound by the genocide convention. It also denied genocide took place.
But the ICJ ruled Serbia had committed itself to take on the international obligations of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including its participation in international treaties.
In 2007 the same court cleared Serbia of direct responsibility for genocide in a case brought by Bosnia. But it found the country responsible for not preventing genocide during the Srebrinica massacre of 1995.
With memories of the bloodshed across the region still painful for many people, the court’s task in ruling in such cases is extremely difficult and often controversial.