On the ICJ Ruling on Srebrenica

Martin Shaw on the International Court of Justice ruling in favor of Serbia on the Srebrenicia massacre, in openDemocracy:

The ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the case brought by Bosnia-Herzegovina against Serbia, delivered on 26 February 2007, is a compromise judgment, giving something to the Bosnian victims but largely denying the Bosnian genocide and exonerating the Serbian state of its role. Although seen by some western media as a progressive judgment, it is has largely been greeted with dismay by Bosnians and welcomed by apologists for the most reactionary Serbian forces, including those who seem to occupy the comment pages of the Guardian whenever Yugoslav war issues return to the headlines.

This was the major remaining opportunity for an authoritative legal ruling on the Bosnian genocide and Serbia’s role, since former Serbian and Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic’s death deprived the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of the possibility of ruling on his responsibility. Although the ICTY has found that genocide was committed in Bosnia, especially at Srebrenica in 1995 (when over 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred), and has convicted individuals for their roles in this crime, the ICJ ruling concerned the responsibility of the Serbian state for genocide committed in Bosnia against Muslims and others over the entire period of the Bosnian conflict (1992-95).

In the Guardian, John Laughland applauds the verdict.

The allegations against Milosevic over Bosnia and Croatia were cooked up in 2001, two years after an earlier indictment had been issued against him by the separate international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at the height of Nato’s attack on Yugoslavia in 1999. Notwithstanding the atrocities on all sides in Kosovo, Nato claims that Serbia was pursuing genocide turned out to be war propaganda, so the ICTY prosecutor decided to bolster a weak case by trying to “get” Milosevic for Bosnia as well. It took two years and 300 witnesses, but the prosecution never managed to produce conclusive evidence against its star defendant, and its central case has now been conclusively blown out of the water.

The international court of justice (ICJ) did condemn Serbia on Monday for failing to act to prevent Srebrenica, on the basis that Belgrade failed to use its influence over the Bosnian Serb army. But this is small beer compared to the original allegations. Serbia’s innocence of the central charge is reflected in the court’s ruling that Serbia should not pay Bosnia any reparations – supplying an armed force is not the same as controlling it. Yugoslavia had no troops in Bosnia and greater guilt over the killings surely lies with those countries that did, notably the Dutch battalion in Srebrenica itself. Moreover, during the Bosnian war, senior western figures famously fraternised with the Bosnian Serb leaders now indicted for genocide, including the US general Wesley Clark and our own John Reid. Should they also be condemned for failing to use their influence?