Sunday, March 05, 2006

Serbia - A nation on trial for its past

The Christian Science Monitor

Serbia and Montenegro may become the first country to be found guilty of genocide.
By Peter Ford and Beth Kampschror

PARIS AND SKOPJE, MACEDONIA - Serbia and Montenegro, already struggling to find its place in Europe, risks becoming the first state ever to be formally branded genocidal, as judges at the World Bank last week began hearing arguments in a Bosnian lawsuit over crimes committed during the war in the early 1990s.

The case could make Serbia, as the successor state to Yugoslavia, liable for tens of billions of dollars in reparations. But Bosnian Muslims say the suit's importance lies elsewhere, in creating an accurate and unchallengeable account of the conflict, which continues to poison regional politics.

"For our future, to have clean relations with our neighbors, we need to have a clear vision of our past and our future," says Sakib Softic, the lead Bosnian lawyer at the World Court in The Hague. "The international court has the authority, with its judgment, to finish up these questions from our past and move on toward the future."

While another international court in The Hague is trying individuals - including former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic - for war crimes, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), as the World Court is officially known, hears cases between states.

Bosnia must prove to the court not only that genocide occurred, through the policy of "ethnic cleansing," but that the Bosnian Serb militias committing it did so on the orders of Yugoslav government officials, and with their support.

The Bosnian side "seeks to establish responsibility of a state which, through its leadership and through its organs, committed the most brutal violations of ... the most sacred instruments of international law," Mr. Softic told the 16-judge panel in his opening statement last week.

When they present their oral arguments this week, Serbia's lawyers are expected to argue that the court has no jurisdiction over the case because when it was brought in 1993, the former Republic of Yugoslavia was not clearly recognized as a member of the United Nations, and thus not of the ICJ either.

It was on those grounds that in 2004 the court dismissed a suit filed by Serbia and Montenegro against the US-led bombing of Serbia during the 1999 Kosovo war.

Serbia's lawyers are also expected to argue that however horrific the crimes committed in Bosnia by Bosnian Serb forces, such as the massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys near Srebrenica, the authorities in Belgrade were not responsible for them.

The case will challenge the ICJ, which is more accustomed to dealing with reconciling territorial claims in boundary disputes between nations. "This is a very, very political affair, and the decision will be a grave one," says Emmanuel Decaux, an international law professor at the University of Paris II.

In the field of international humanitarian law, the ICJ has been overshadowed by ad hoc war-crimes tribunals like those set up in The Hague to try cases arising from the Balkan wars, and in Arusha, Tanzania, to deal with those responsible for the Rwandan genocide, and by the recently created International Criminal Court, which has yet to hear a case.

"We are in the process of creating the architecture of international accountability for human rights violations," says Nicholas Howen, head of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists. "You need to hold individuals responsible, but there is a big gap if you can't say the machinery of a state is responsible, too."

The court's judgment, not expected until late this year, is eagerly awaited in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "I expect the court ... to give a good decision and say that Serbia is guilty," says Refik Begic, the Muslim mayor of Bratunac, a majority Serb town in eastern Bosnia. "If we are to trust each other and establish a good relationship, we need to know what happened here."

Serbian leaders, however, say that raking over the coals of the past will be bad for the future. The lawsuit could have "dramatically negative effects on future relations in the Balkans," Serbia's deputy prime minister, Miroljub Labus, told Nezavisne Novine, a newspaper published in Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serb-dominated Republika Srpska.

But in a region divided as much as anything by opposing memories and interpretations of what happened during the war "this [case] is about establishing the nature of the war, whether it was aggression or whether it was civil war," says Nerma Jelacic, a human rights investigator in Sarajevo.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), where Mr. Milosevic is on trial, has already ruled that genocide did occur in Bosnia. Although the ICJ is not bound by that precedent, "it would be very troubling, and troublesome for the coherence of international justice" if the ICJ judges find otherwise, says Professor Decaux.

It will not be easy, however, for the Bosnian side to establish the Yugoslav government's responsibility for the war crimes its proxy forces committed. Prosecutors at the ICTY have sometimes had trouble proving all the links in alleged chains of command between the battlefields and Belgrade, and Bosnian lawyers at the World Court will not be able to use all the evidence presented at the ICTY, some of which Belgrade provided only on the condition it not be released to third parties.

The hearings will continue until May 9, when the judges will retire to consider what they have heard, along with thousands of pages of legal arguments. That is expected to take several months. The case was first brought in 1993, and has been prolonged by repeated procedural incidents and political upheavals in Belgrade.

But rather than blunting the impact of the judgment, the long delay might actually give it greater force, suggests Mr. Howen. "It shows the timeless nature of the crimes, the timeless need for accountability, and the timeless nature of the law," he says.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

"It shows the timeless nature of the crimes, the timeless need for accountability, and the timeless nature of the law."

People, I'm doing a paper on why Kosova should get its independence? What do you think are the strongest reasons for it?

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm, let me see...

How about 90% of the region's population desires to be independent?

Kristian said...

Serbia: Student arrested after parents murdered
04/03/2006 - 13:13:05

A 27-year-old man has been arrested in northern Serbia on suspicion of killing and mutilating his parents, then throwing their body parts into the rubbish, police said.

A headless torso, a leg and two arms were found on Friday after they were dumped in different locations around Novi Sad, 30 miles north of Belgrade, police said.

The suspect allegedly killed them late Wednesday, cut up their bodies, put the parts into plastic bags and rode his bicycle to scatter them around the city, local media reported.

Police did not name the suspect but reports, citing police sources and neighbours, identified him as a student who lived with his parents.

Independent Kosova said...

How about Kosova was an occupied country, and deserves to protect its people from another Holocaust from the North.

Note, if you look up genocide, it says "look up holocaust".

Albasoul said...

Anonymus,
If you wanna write a paper about why Kosova should get its independence, you better digg on books of history and encyclopaedias. You will see that Kosova was never part of Serbia until 1913.
Serbs got it as a present from their russian friends. Now is time to give back what it is not theirs.

Anonymous said...

Kosova deserves its independence based on two things. First is self-determination; i.e. the will of ~90% of the population, although that alone is not enough. The second thing and what clinches the argument is the illegitimate nature of the Serb government. No government that strips away the human rights of its own citizens and then conducts a campaign of viiolence against them is a legitimate government.

Illegitimate government plus will of the people = independence.

Mir said...

"People, I'm doing a paper on why Kosova should get its independence? What do you think are the strongest reasons for it?"

Main Reason: Serbians are all direct descendants of evil and Satan. They should probably be wiped off the face of the world also just to be safe.

albasoul said...

Mir,
Now I feel sorry for you man. What can you do. There is raise and fall for those who try to spin faster than it should

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone. This is my first time ever on a blog. Out of curiosity I stumbled on this particular blog and read the thread. The tone of the article, as well as the blog header suggest a serious jounalistic approach, and none is lacking. In times as turbulent as these, this is very commendable and shows that the Albanian nation has a clear goal and intelligent people working on it. What bothered me were the absolutely inappropriate comments. I presume that an answer might be along the lines of "we carry no responsibility for comment contents".

Yet they remain and utterly destroy the picture of having even a remote possibility of putting the conflict behind and working on a peacefull solution.

I did my share of Balkan history. For the good of all the people who inhabit the land of Kosovo-Kosova, I believe that it is only fair to mention several names and years.
Stephen II Nemanjic, 1208
William of Wied, 1914

books are fun, people. Prejudice is not.