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Top UN court rules Serbia and Croatia not guilty of genocide during Balkans conflict

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Top UN court rules Serbia and Croatia not guilty of genocide during Balkans conflict



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Neither Croatia nor Serbia committed genocide against each other’s populations during the Balkan wars.

That is the verdict from the top UN court, the International Court of Justice.

In a complex judgement, the court dismissed both a Croatian claim and a Serbian counter-claim.

Judge Peter Tomka, the President of the International Court of Justice, said: “The court considers that even taken together, and interpreted in light of the contemporaries’ overall political and military context, the passages from the Briony transcript quoted by Serbia, like the rest of the document, do not establish the existence of the specific intent (Dolus Specialis)which characterises genocide.”

The claims of genocide arose from atrocities committed after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

The court said many crimes had been committed by both sides.

Croatia was seeking reparations against Belgrade for backing a rebel Serb minority in carrying out ethnic cleansing – in particular in the eastern town of Vukovar. The court found that “Croatia has not succeeded in proving the allegations that genocide was committed”.

It was there that the first mass atrocity of the war in the former Yugoslavia was carried out. Serb forces are said to have taken more than 200 patients from a local hospital and executed them in a nearby field.

In the days that followed some 2,500 people were reportedly killed after the town had been captured by the Yugoslav army and local paramilitaries.

More people were killed in the three days following the fall of the city than in the three-month siege preceding it.

The court cited cases at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which proved that there was evidence to show operations had the effect of making people flee, but could not establish intent for genocide under Article II of the Genocide Convention.

In response to Croatia’s lawsuit, Serbia had filed a counter claim over the expulsion of more than 200,000 ethnic Serbs from Croatia in 1995 – specifically under ‘Operation Storm’ in Krajina.

The court found that the evidence produced by Serbia was not entirely conclusive, but there is evidence to establish such attacks did take place.

The judge explained that acts of ethnic cleansing can be elements of a genocidal plan, but only if intention for destruction is there, but not forcible removal. He added that the killing and ill treatment of civilians was not on a scale that it would point to genocide. The judge thus announced that “the counterclaim must be dismissed in its entirety.”

Though many crimes had been committed by both countries’ forces during the conflict, neither side had succeeded in proving the intent to commit genocide by “destroying the population in whole or in part”.

The 1948 Genocide Convention

The convention entered into force in 1951 and defined genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

  • Killing members of the group
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

In Article III defines the acts punishable as:

  • Genocide
  • Conspiracy to commit genocide
  • Direct and public incitement to commit genocide
  • Attempt to commit genocide
  • Complicity in genocide

For more background on the cases page 23 of the ICJ’s Annual report 2013-14 has full details.

By Joanna Gill and Seamus Kearney


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