Thursday, 3 November 2011

Serbia Reiterates Call to Mutually Withdraw Genocide Suits

Slobodan Homen
Credit: OSCE/Milan Obradovic

Serbian State Secretary at the Ministry of Justice and PR coordinator Slobodan Homen has reiterated the Serbian position that it would be best for both Serbia and Croatia to withdraw their mutual genocide suits.  However, reports that Homen has stated that if Croatia do not withdraw their claim then Serbia have no choice but to defend its interests.

Croatia initially filed the Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Croatia v. Serbia) with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in July 1999.  Preliminary objections culminated on November 18, 2008 when the ICJ ruled against Serbia's three objections to the case and decided that the court has jurisdiction over the case.

In January 2010, Serbia filed a counter-memorial against Croatia.  This prompted the court to issue an order on February 4, 2010 stating that they required a reply by Croatia and a rejoinder by Serbia to ensure equality between the parties and to give Croatia the opportunity to reply to Serbia’s counter-claims.  They fixed time limits for these proceedings.  Croatia was to issue their reply by December 20, 2010, which they did, and Serbia was given until November 4, 2011 to submit their rejoinder.

Croatia’s Case Against Serbia

In the application to institute proceedings [1999, PDF], Croatia assert that by seizing control of the Knin region and eastern Slavonia and their shelling and attacking of portions of Dalmatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) drove Croat and non-Serb citizens from the areas with the intent to "ethnically cleanse" these regions, and to unite them with the FRY to form a "greater" Serbian State”.  They see this as constituting a violation of the Genocide Convention.

They further assert that by instilling fear and panic into the Serbian population in the Knin region immediately prior to the commencement of Operation Storm, the FRY committed a further violation of the Genocide Convention when they “directed, instigated and coerced the Serb population …. to evacuate from the area, thus creating a second "ethnic cleansing" of the area”.

They further state their intention to show that the FRY conducted a campaign of terror designed to bring about the destruction of the Croat and non-Serb communities in part or whole, the causation of serious physical and mental harm and the imposition of measures designed to bring about the prevention of births, all violations of the Genocide Convention.

Serbia’s Case Against Croatia

In the counter-memorial filed on January 4, 2010, Serbia claimed that Croatia committed acts against ethnic Serbs living in the Krajina Region (UN Protected Areas North and South) in Croatia during August 1995 with the intention to destroy the local population and rid the area of ethnic Serbs.  Specifically, they claim that acts committed during operation Storm violated the Genocide Convention article II, a) killing members of the group; b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part [see ICJ Press Release February 18,2010].

In addition, reported in January 2010 that the counter-memorial detailed crimes committed against Croatia's ethnic Serb population in Gospić, Sisak, Pakračka Poljana, Karlovac, Osijek, Paulin Dvor, Medački Džep.  They cite crimes against victims not only during the 1991-1995 conflict, but also after the war when ethnic Serb refugees tried to return to their homes.

Finally, Serbia sought to present the lawsuit in the context of historical relations between the two countries, focusing on World War II, the Ustasha involvement in the persecution of Serbs and the mass killings that occurred at Jasenovac.

Serbia continues to maintain that this is not a matter that should be played out in the courts but one that should be dealt with through negotiation and reconciliation. 

It is indeed regrettable that the Truth Commission: Serbia and Montenegro failed in 2003 as such a commission would play an important role in paving the way to understanding, forgiveness, acceptance and reconciliation.  As it stands, tensions remain high and emotions volatile.

However, this is not in any way an excuse to avoid the investigation and prosecution of claims of genocide, if the ICJ sees merit in the claims.  In short, if genocide was committed, then there is simply no avoiding a trial.

© A Passion to Understand

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