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

ICJ Genocide Case Restarts

TU No 449, 21-Apr-06
This is the second time in the proceedings that the two sides have had a chance to offer arguments in court. Since the last round of oral arguments, the teams have also called a series of witnesses to shore up their respective positions.

Phon Van den Biesen, a lawyer representing the Bosnian side, argued this week that throughout this process, the Serbian team had failed to submit substantial evidence against the claim that Belgrade was responsible for supporting and participating in a genocidal campaign against non-Serbs in Bosnia during the war there.

The Serbian side, he said, had also not provided documentary evidence to suggest that Belgrade ever sought to stop such acts or to punish those who were involved. The main reason for this, he argued, was that Belgrade in fact supported the genocidal aims of the Bosnian Serb leadership.

Van Biesen said the Belgrade legal team was overly concerned with repeating a set of "mantras" about the war in Bosnia, including labelling it a civil war and arguing that all sides were equally to blame for crimes. In fact, he said, such claims did not reflect the true nature of a conflict which involved a systematic campaign of genocide, rape and ethnic cleansing against non-Serbs.

Van den Biesen also accused the Serbian lawyers of misrepresenting data about the number of people who died during the war, which had been collected by the Research and Documentation Centre in Sarajevo.

Another lawyer on the Bosnian side, Professor Thomas Franck, reminded the judges that as early as May 12, 1992, the Secretary General of the United Nations had reported to the Security Council that Serb forces in Bosnia, together with the Yugoslav army, were engaged in a campaign to create "ethnically pure regions".

A third member of the Bosnian team, Professor Brigitte Stern, spoke at length about rapes and other sexual crimes which she said were employed systematically and on a massive scale by Serb forces against Muslim women and men throughout the conflict.

The head of the Sarajevo team, Sakib Softic, reiterated that the aim of the present case was "to heal what is still an open sore and make a fresh start for Bosnia and Hercegovina and the region".

This was especially important, he said, following the death of the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic in March, before the completion of his trial for crimes including genocide in Bosnia.

The Bosnian team is due to finish this second round of oral arguments on April 24. The Belgrade lawyers will begin presenting their own arguments on May 2.

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