The sigh of relief in Serbia was almost audible as the International Court of Justice cleared the country of genocide in Bosnia. But the court further ruled that Serbia had failed to prevent genocide and had seriously violated international obligations by not handing over individuals accused of the crime. The three-hour session of the court, the UN’s highest judicial body, was broadcast on several Serbian TV channels. The country feared being pronounced a genocidal nation, in the first such case against a state, and risked having to pay billions of dollars in war damages if the ruling had gone in Bosnia’s favour.
The court president, Judge Rosalyn Higgins, said that the court defined only the massacre of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995 as an act of genocide. Other mass killings in Bosnia Herzegovina at the time of 1992-95 war were not.
More than 100,000 people died in the war, most of them non-Serbs. “The court finds that Serbia has violated the obligation to prevent genocide in respect of genocide that occurred in Srebrenica … Serbian leaders should have made the best effort within their power to try and prevent the tragic events then taking shape.”
The court ordered Serbia to immediately hand over for a war crimes trial General Ratko Mladic, who led the Bosnian Serb Army attack against Srebrenica.
But if many in Serbia were heartened by the ruling, leading international human rights activists pointed out that genocide was confirmed to have occurred in Bosnia.
“The ICJ has ruled that genocide did occur and that fact should not be obscured or lost in the context of court’s failure to find direct responsibility by Serbia,” said Richard Dicker, the international justice director of Human Rights Watch.
“I know it’s going to be disappointing and troubling for families of victims not only in Srebrenica, but all over Bosnia. But I hope this stiffens the resolve of those in Serbia to see that Ratko Mladic and [Bosnian Serb leader] Radovan Karadzic are arrested and surrendered for fair trial in the war crimes tribunal at The Hague,” Mr Dicker said.