November 19, 2008
Last century was marked deep ethnic tensions between Croats and Serbs. These tensions erupted most violent way during WWII and Yugoslavia’s breakup wars early 1990s. Now this brutal past is going on tables of international courtrooms while Croatian lawsuit against Serbia and Serbia’s countersuit will be heard in Haague.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled on Tuesday 18th Nov. 2008 that it can hear a Croatian lawsuit filed against Serbia for genocide during the war in the early 1990s. The verdict of the 17-member trial chamber at the United Nations’ highest court was delivered by Court President Rosalyn Higgins at a public session. The trial chamber officials voted 10 to seven in favour of Croatia.
Earlier Belgrade claimed that the International Court of Justice has no authority in the case. However the court ruled that Belgrade recognised the jurisdiction of the ICJ during the 1990s by responding to suits filed against it by Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, and by filing charges against the NATO alliance for its bombing of Serbia in the spring of 1999.
Since an out-of-court settlement is highly unlikely, the next expected step is the confirmation of the suit being filed by Croatia, after which the Serbian legal team would be given at least a year to prepare both its defence and the countersuit announced by its legal representatives for the alleged genocide committed by Croatia against ethnic Serbs during the war. (Source BalkanInsght).
Croatia filed the suit in 1999, claiming that Belgrade participated in the ethnic cleansing of Croats, through its command over the armed forces, information agencies and paramilitary units that perpetrated war crimes in Croatia. Serbs in Croatia set up their own entity in 1991 in response to Croatia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia, forcing thousands of Croats out of the area referred to as the Republic of Serb Krajina.
However, the breakaway state was defeated in 1995 in a Croatian military offensive known as “Operation Storm,” pushing thousands of ethnic Serbs out of Croatian and forcing them to seek refuge in Serbia.
Serbia will file a lawsuit against Croatia for ethnic cleansing and war crimes committed during the so-called Op Storm, FM Vuk Jeremic said late on Tuesday 18th. “Croatia did not appropriately respond to the hand of reconciliation which Serbia repeatedly offered, with a desire to leave the past behind and turn to our common future in Europe. A lawsuit will now be filed against Croatia in order for the truth finally to be found out,” the minister told the state television RTS.
Jeremic said that Croatia had refused to face the fact that 250,000 ethnic Serbs had been ethnically cleansed from the territory of Croatia in 1995. “We will do all in our power to have our case appropriately presented to the court. We will review all developments in the 20th century, World War II and Independent State of Croatia. We will turn to history to find out the truth for the sake of our common future,” the foreign minister stressed.
It is quite clear that both sides have made brutalities, ethnic cleansing, war crimes etc to each other. On the one hand these events also include a part of myths or one-sided propaganda for political purposes, on the other hand the full picture or true story is still waiting for its paragon. While the process in ICJ will take at least some two years I am in doubts if this is the right way to complement the history. I think that a better way could be a “Truth Commission” like implemented in South Africa after apartheid. Due the lack of verdicts this kind of forum can go deeper to issues on the ground, it can also make base for mutual understanding better than some technical court procedure far away.
About Croatian/Serbian conflicts I have published few articles earlier, such as “Operation Storm” 5/8/2008 and 22/9/2008, “Nazi’s Funeral shadows Croatia’s past” on 1/8/2008, which can be found from my Archives:Blog.Ari Rusila