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?

We have tailor-made memberships for students, individuals, groups of professionals and large companies and organizations. A subscription entitles you to receive the International Justice Tribune every two weeks as well as become a member of the Justice Tribune Foundation, supporting independent reporting on international justice.

Subscribe now

Related articles

article
The International Court of Justice (Wikipedia/Yeu Ninje)
27 January 2015 by Stephanie van den Berg, Belgrade (Serbia)

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will rule on 3 February in a case that saw wartime foes Croatia and Serbia accuse each other of committing genocide during the 1991-1995 war in Croatia [IJT-156].

article
Bosnian victims protesting outside the ICTY during the Karadzic judgement. The banner reads: 'Truth sometimes sleeps but never dies' (Photo: Joost van Egmond)
24 May 2016 by Joost van Egmond

“Finally, good news from The Hague!” famously cried the then Serbian prime minister Ivica Dacic at the acquittal on appeal of former Yugoslav army commander Momcilo Perisic by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. For him, and for the government he represented, this counted as vindication of Belgrade’s actions during the war. The fact that Serbia as a state had already been held partly responsible by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the very crimes this individual was tried for, was swept under the carpet [IJT-63].

article
04 April 2014 by Radosa Milutinovic, The Hague (The Netherlands)
During a month-long, high-powered legal clash Croatia and Serbia have each accused the other of genocide before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. 20 years after last artillery salvos announced the end of the former Yugoslavia's bloody breakdown, two of its principal republics continued to wage war, by judicial means. 
issue
04 April 2014

Links to articles and PDF of IJT 156

article
Serb ultra-nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj (Photo: Twitter/@seselj_vojislav)
31 March 2016 by Stephanie van den Berg, The Hague (The Netherlands)

Serb ultra-nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj was acquitted Thursday of all nine charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes and is now a free man presiding judge Jean-Claude Antonetti of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) ruled. Seselj, already provisionally released on health grounds, was not present in court.