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ICJ Rules on Croatia Case

Court decides it has authority to hear genocide case against Serbia.
By Merdijana Sadović
The International Court of Justice, ICJ, has this week ruled it has jurisdiction over the case Croatia filed against Serbia for genocide.

On November 18, the court passed a final and binding decision, which is not subject to appeal, that it does have authority to judge in this case.

Croatia launched a lawsuit against Serbia, then known as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, FRY, with the ICJ in 1999, claiming that a campaign of ethnic cleansing during the four-year war in Croatia yielded "a form of genocide which resulted in large numbers of Croatian citizens being displaced, killed, tortured, or illegally detained as well as extensive property destruction".

According to Zagreb, the campaign, which claimed more than 10,000 lives, was directly controlled from Belgrade. About one third of the victims were civilians – including women, children and the elderly.

But at a preliminary hearing held at the ICJ in May this year, Serbia argued that this court had no jurisdiction to hear this case. It also claimed that crimes committed in Croatia during its 1991-95 war did not amount to genocide.

However, a panel of 17 judges dismissed a Serbian challenge to the ICJ's competence to hear Croatia's complaint.

Croatia is the second country from the Balkans to bring a genocide case against Serbia to the ICJ.

Bosnia filed its own genocide lawsuit against the country in 1993. In February 2007, ICJ judges acquitted Serbia of direct responsibility for the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, and found it guilty only of failing to prevent and punish the perpetrators of this crime.

Serbian authorities responded to ICJ ruling this week, saying they would counter-sue Croatia for war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

Serbia’s foreign minister Vuk Jeremic told Serbian state television on November 18 that "Serbia will sue Croatia... and give it an opportunity to respond to our charges of war crimes and ethnic cleansing" committed against Serb civilians during the Croatian war.

Serbia claims that more than 200,000 Serbs fled Croatia, while hundreds died during a 1995 Croatian military offensive, Operation Storm, launched to regain territory held by rebel Serbs.

Jeremic said he was "sorry" that Croatia insisted that ICJ should hear its genocide lawsuit, adding that Serbia and Croatia "should turn to reconciliation... and our European future”.

Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR’s Hague tribunal programme manager.

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