State responsibility for genocide in the open


Some say that this has been the most difficult case in the history of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), a 60-year old UN court that rules on disputes between States, such as border issues or coastal fishing zones. On February 26, the ICJ finally concluded the genocide case of Bosnia-Herzegovina against Serbia, which had been running for almost 14 years.

Could Serbia be held responsible for genocide in Bosnia during the 1992-1995 conflict? Although crimes against humanity do not fall under its jurisdiction, the ICJ, closely following the footsteps of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), established that Serbia committed large-scale crimes against humanity. It also agreed with the ICTY that the Srebrenica massacre was genocide committed by the Bosnian Serbs. But for a State to be held responsible for genocide, it is necessary that the crimes were committed by organs of that State or under the instructions, directions or effective control of these organs, the Court said. The Court accepted that in the first years of the conflict such a strong link between Belgrade and the Bosnian Serb leadership did exist, but less so in 1995 when Srebrenica fell. Thus, it could ultimately not conclude, on the basis of the pattern of violence alone, that Serbia had the intent to destroy the Muslim population of Bosnia as such, in whole or in part, as required by the Genocide Convention.

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

21 December 2011 by Thijs Bouwknegt

Being the ICC's Chief Prosecutor is a delicate and politically sensitivejob.ForLuisMorenoOcampo it has been "the best job in the world." Fatou Bensouda will be taking over his office in June. She inhe

07 December 2011 by Thijs Bouwknegt

December 7, 2011 Ivory Coast is the latest playgroundoftheInternationalCriminal Court. This week the courtroom in The Hague became its theatre of justice. Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo proudly p

07 December 2011 by Richard Walker

Four Congolese witnesses testifying at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, find themselves caught in a legal wrangle, which could at once set a legal precedent and make them the last

07 December 2011 by Lindy Janssen

Brazil is booming. The economy is expanding and the country is getting ready to host the Football World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. But the Latin American giant has not even begun dealing wi

07 December 2011 by Radosa Milutinovic

The primary purpose of the retrial of Ramush Haradinaj, as proclaimed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in its appeal judgement in July, should have been to hear testimonies of two "key" witnesses who proved unwilling to testify in the original trial in 2007. Almost four months into the retrial which started in mid-August, its stated aim has not yet been achieved.