ICJ ruling doesn’t end Balkans genocide discussion: Kosovo up next?

11 February 2015 by Sandra Milic, The Hague (The Netherlands) and Stephanie van den Berg, Belgrade (Serbia)

Some hoped it would be the end of an era when the UN’s judicial branch last week ruled that neither side of the 1991-1995 war in Croatia committed genocide. After the International Court of Justice’s ruling on Bosnia in 2007, Belgrade could think this was the last ICJ lawsuit it would face. But now Kosovo is determined to have its day in court.

Serbian delegation interviewed by journalists inside the Peace Palace, which holds the seat of the ICJ (Photo: Sandra Milic)
Image caption: 
Serbian delegation interviewed by journalists inside the Peace Palace, which holds the seat of the ICJ (Photo: Sandra Milic)

In a widely anticipated judgement, the ICJ’s 17-member panel found that while both Serbia and Croatia committed crimes constituting actus reus – the underlying acts required for a genocide judgement – not proved was the mental element, mens rea, and more precisely the specific intent to destroy a racial, ethnic or religious group in whole or in part. 

“Croatia wanted to pin the label of genocide on Serbia and the court was very clear: lots of horrific things happened, but we don’t think it meets the standard of what constitutes genocide,” James Ker-Lindsay, a political analyst on south-east Europe at the London School of Economics, told IJT.

Feeding war narratives

The mutual legal defeat did not deter the delegations from cherry-picking parts of the judgement that fit best their respective war narratives.

Croatia has always insisted the case would finally show who was aggressor and who was victim. 

Want to read more?

If you subscribe to a free membership, you can read this article and explore our full archive, dating back to 1997.

Subscribe now

Related articles

article
19 February 2007 by Laetitia Grotti

One year ago on January 6, 2006, the 17 members of Morocco's Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER) were closing up shop after submitting their final report to King Mohammed VI. The Moroccan truth commission had received a flood of compliments from the international community praising the recommendations in its report, especially those advocating legislative and constitutional reforms. One year later, however, the results have been rather mixed.

article
11 September 2006 by our correspondent in Arusha

After having tried high-ranking officers, ministers, businessmen, priests, journalists, local officials and militiamen, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is in uncharted waters. On September 11, the most famous rwandese troubadour of his generation will stand trial for genocide. 

article
23 October 2006 by Christine Chaumeau

China is keeping a polite distance from international criminal justice. Beijing is hardly disinterested, but China does want to make sure that these new global mechanisms are not going to infringe upon its sovereignty by delving into particularly sensitive cases such as Tibet. 

article
United Nations Operation in Burundi disarms rebel forces in Mbanda in February 2005 (Photo: Flickr/UN Photo/Martine Perret)
03 June 2015 by Janet H. Anderson, The Hague (The Netherlands)

Over the last month, Burundi has hit the headlines as the president put himself forward to be elected for a controversial third term, resulting in street protests, thousands of refugees who fled instability and an attempted coup. Behind the issues of elections and constitutionalism are also those of justice following Burundi’s long-running civil war. The international community supported an intensive process of negotiation and the signing of the Arusha Accord in 2000. But in the decade and a half since, its provisions on justice have been debated though never fully implemented.

article
06 November 2006 by Pierre Hazan

France's attitude towards international criminal justice is marked by ambiguity. Paris subscribes to a vision of the world in which international humanitarian law is considered a way to curb violence against civilian populations, but at the same time it is wary of an unchecked judicial system that could end up prosecuting French soldiers engaged in areas where it has old and deep-rooted interests.