Monday, February 27, 2006

World Court to launch landmark Bosnia genocide case

World Court to launch landmark Bosnia genocide case
By Emma Thomasson

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Bosnia will accuse Serbia and Montenegro of genocide in the 1992-95 war on Monday, as the highest U.N. court opens the first trial of a state for the war crime.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, also known as the World Court, opens the case 13 years after Bosnia sued the rump Yugoslav state from which it seceded in 1992, triggering a war in which at least 100,000 people were killed.

The hearings at the court, set up after World War Two to mediate in disputes between states, are scheduled to run until May 9. A ruling is expected by the end of the year.

In its application to the court in 1993, Bosnia said the agents and surrogates of Serbia and Montenegro "killed, murdered, wounded, raped, robbed, tortured, kidnapped, illegally detained and exterminated the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina".

"The policy of driving out innocent civilians of a different ethnic or religious group from their homes ... was practiced by Yugoslav/Serb forces in Bosnia on a scale that dwarfs anything seen in Europe since Nazi times," the application said.

While Bosnia's lawyers say their primary objective is to establish that Serbia committed genocide, the country could also seek hefty compensation from its neighbor if it wins the case.

Serbia and Montenegro's lawyer in the case, Radoslav Stojanovic, admitted that individuals might have wanted to kill Bosnian Muslims, but said the court could not prove the state or the Serbian people had intended genocide.

The U.N. war crimes tribunal, not far from the ICJ in The Hague, is trying former Yugoslavia President Slobodan Milosevic for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide during the wars that tore the Balkans apart in the 1990s.


Survivors of the war in Bosnia will hold a vigil outside the World Court on Monday, displaying a banner bearing the names of the victims of the 1995 Serb massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia.

"It was the first genocide on European territory since World War Two. In spite of appeals, protests and campaigns by human rights organizations, Europe did not intervene in Bosnia until it was too late," the vigil organizers said in a statement.

In 2001, senior Bosnian Serb commander Radislav Krstic became the first person convicted of genocide by the tribunal -- for Srebrenica -- but his conviction was cut on appeal to one of aiding and abetting the crime.

The two men most wanted by the tribunal, Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic, are also accused of genocide in the Srebrenica massacre and the siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.

Bosnia's Muslims and Croats followed Slovenia and Croatia in breaking away from Yugoslavia in April 1992, against the wishes of Bosnian Serbs who made up one third of the population.

Backed by the Serbian-led remnants of Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav army, the Bosnian Serbs responded by swiftly capturing two-thirds of Bosnia and launching "ethnic cleansing" in which tens of thousands of non-Serbs were killed and hundreds of thousands forced out of their homes.

The 1995 Dayton peace agreement divided post-war Bosnia into two highly autonomous regions -- a Muslim-Croat federation and a Serb Republic -- under a loose umbrella central government.