Genocide on the agenda for ICJ's 60th anniversary

22 May 2006 by HEIKELINA VERRIJN STUART

From February 28 to May 9, the fifteen judges of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague listened to oral arguments from the parties in the genocide case that Bosnia-Herzegovina brought in March 1993 against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), which became Serbia and Montenegro in 2003 and then simply Serbia after the May 21 yes vote on the referendum on Montenegro's independence. The ICJ is expected to issue a decision by year end. If convicted, Serbia could have to pay several billion dollars to its neighbor. This ruling represents more than just the first time that a State has been prosecuted for genocide. The Court in this case must render a decision on essentially two main points: does the ICJ have jurisdiction in this matter; and did the FRY commit genocide in Bosnia?

Thirteen years ago, in a somewhat desperate attempt to end the aggression and violence it was suffering at the hands of Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina turned to the ICJ on the only legal basis available at that time: the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Now, thirteen years later, just when the matter is under court deliberation, there is a serious debate about the wisdom of these proceedings as to whether they will contribute to, or obstruct the possibilities of reconciliation, and on the consequences that will result from the payment of damages. However, this debate is left for a later stage. For the moment, the judges of this long-standing international institution celebrating its 60th anniversary this year are faced with tough legal issues.

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