Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bosnia Urges ICJ to Rule on Genocide

Serbian team disputes Bosnian contention that Belgrade has shown no sign of contrition.
By Adin Sadic
The longest case in the history of the International Court of Justice this week began drawing to a close as Bosnia and Hercegovina presented final arguments in its genocide suit against Serbia and Montenegro.

Lawyers for the Bosnian side said Serbia had failed to provide evidence either that genocide had not been committed, or that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – the precursor to the current state of Serbia and Montenegro – was not responsible for events in Bosnia during the early Nineties.

Bosnia first brought a suit against Belgrade in 1993, but it only came to court in late February this year. Since then, both sides have been presenting their arguments to a panel of judges in The Hague.

Bosnia wants the court to find Belgrade responsible for complicity in, aiding and abetting, conspiring to commit and inciting the crime of genocide.

Sakib Softic, the head of the Bosnian legal team, said that Serbia had failed to punish those who committed genocide and failed to transfer individuals accused of the crime to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

He concluded by calling for Serbia and Montenegro to pay “full compensation for the damages and losses caused”.

Serbia will present its final response to Sarajevo’s charges next month.

In an interview with IWPR, Softic said Bosnia had “presented relevant evidence and [had] proven that Serbia and Montenegro are responsible for committing genocide on non-Serbs”, in particular, “in the areas which … would have formed part of the future Serb state, or the future union of Serbian states”.

Another member of the Bosnian team, Dutch lawyer Phon van den Biesen, told the court that his side had provided a clear picture of state responsibility in “the killing, terrorising, starving and raping of virtually all of the non-Serb population from 70 per cent of Bosnia’s territory”.

The continued flow of military suppliesfrom Belgrade to the Bosnian Serb entity from 1992 to 1995, accompanied by Yugoslav military officers paid, administered and promoted by Serbia, provides the true picture of Belgrade’s indispensable and dominant role, he said.

Van den Biesen also emphasised the role played in Bosnia by paramilitary forces from Belgrade, the massive dispatch of Yugoslav army troops and tanks to surround Sarajevo and Srebrenica, and the unified monetary system in the “three Serb entities”, subordinate to the National Bank of Yugoslavia - all of which leads to the conclusion that Belgrade played a dominant role, he said.

Van den Biesen said Bosnia’s main goal is to obtain a judgement from the court which will represent justice for all the victims of genocide.

He added that although the Serbian team denies responsibility for genocidal acts, they have failed to submit evidence that Yugoslavia did not participate in preparing and perpetrating an “ethno-blitzkrieg” in Bosnia, which effectively started in Bijeljina on March 31, 1992, and which resulted in the occupation of more than two-thirds of Bosnian territory until the end of 1992.

Addressing Serbia’s long-standing claims that the ICJ has no jurisdiction in this matter, Professor Thomas Franck of the United States – a member of the Bosnian team - said the court has ruled four times since 1993 that it does have the authority to hear the case.

“Instead of contrition and the assumption of responsibility, we have been treated to 12 years of evasion, tactics, feints, ruses and blind alleys,” he said in his presentation to the ICJ.

However, Sasa Obradovic, a Serbian diplomat and member of Belgrade’s team, insisted to IWPR that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction.

He described the Bosnian claims about jurisdiction as “their weakest arguments”. And he repeated the main Serbian line that since the ICJ has previously ruled that Serbia could not sue NATO members over the bombing of Belgrade, then the court should be consistent and rule that the country cannot be a defendant in this genocide case, either.

Observers in Sarajevo said Bosnia has handled the case well.

“They adequately challenged all arguments and testimonies presented by the Serbia and Montenegro witnesses and experts,” said Admir Malagic, a columnist on Dnevni Avaz.

Amor Masovic, a lawyer and president of The Missing Persons Committee from Sarajevo told IWPR, “If the court considers the evidence presented, it would certainly lead just towards only possible judgement – that Serbia and Montenegro are responsible.”

The gap between the two sides appears as wide as ever, as proceedings move to a close next month.

Softic told the court that a friendly settlement had never really been offered, since “the Serbian legal team never accepted any responsibility or acknowledged what has been done to non-Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

Obradovic disagreed, saying, “It is absolutely not true when the head of Bosnian team suggests that no effort was made from Serbia and Montenegro to take the responsibility for what happened in Bosnia and Hercegovina, and that no regret was shown.”

He pointed out to IWPR that there had been a number of visits by officials, including President Boris Tadic, to Bosnia “to show their compassion for what happened there”.

According to Obradovic, “Unfortunately, the last chance for an agreement was missed and now there is no even theoretical possibility for such solution.

“My opinion is that any kind of judgment will not contribute to the improvement of relations between the two countries and… will not lead towards the improvement of democratic standards,” he said.

In court, however, Softic continued to argue that the trial is a way “to heal what is still an open sore and make a fresh start for Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region”.

Final arguments from Serbia and Montenegro will begin on May 2.

Adin Sadic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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