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. 

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