Serbia wins, for the greater good
Commentary by Anes Alic for ISN Security Watch (27/02/07)
Serbia breaks out the champagne in The Hague after the ICJ clears it of genocide in Bosnia in another move to appease Belgrade ahead of the Kosovo status announcement.
[O]n Monday [..] the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague [..] announce[d] the verdict on the case, filed in 1993, in which Bosnia accused Serbia of arming, financing and encouraging Bosnian Serbs to conduct an ethnic cleansing campaign against Bosnian Muslims and Croats. [..]
The ICJ [..] cleared Serbia of responsibility for the genocide of Bosnian Muslims and Croats. And those lesser crimes for which Serbia was found guilty will have no legal consequences.
[It was] a verdict that had already been widely predicted as the international community seeks to appease Belgrade in advance of its planned announcement of independence for Kosovo, for which it needs at least a quiet nod from Serbian authorities.
It was just another in a series of compromises in the context of putting the greater good before the smaller goods. Earlier this month, the EU announced that it would restart integration talks with Serbia despite the fact that Belgrade has not demonstrated a willingness to cooperate with the UN's war crimes tribunal. [..]
The court exonerated Serbia of direct responsibility for genocide or complicity in genocide during the 1992-1995 war, when some 200,000 people were killed and some two million others displaced. The court also said it found no evidence that genocide was conducted anywhere else in Bosnia outside of the eastern town of Srebrenica, where some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were slaughtered as a helpless UN force stood down.
Fifteen judges found that there was no evidence that Bosnian Serbs were in any way instructed by Serbian political or military authorities, and that even by the end of the war relations between Serbs and Bosnian Serbs were hostile.
The judges even rejected videotaped evidence showing a Serbian paramilitary police unit called the "Scorpions" massacring Srebrenica boys and men - a strong piece of evidence the Bosnian side was relying on.
The court ruled that the Scorpions, who are currently on trial in Serbia for their involvement in war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, along with elite Red Berets, were not under the direct control of Serbian authorities at the time. However, in 1999, the Scorpions were absorbed into the anti-terror unit of the Serbian Interior Ministry - an important fact in light of the court's apparent lack of evidence.
Those lesser crimes for which the court found Serbia guilty were nothing new. The ICJ recognized the Srebrenica massacre, ruling that it been perpetrated by Bosnian Serb forces, who have long been found guilty by the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
The court also just repeated the well known fact that Serbia refuses to cooperate with the ICTY, referring largely to its failure to arrest Bosnian Serb wartime commander General Ratko Mladic, who is believed to be hiding out in Serbia under Serbian Army protection. In fact, it was Serbia's failure to hand Mladic over to The Hague that prompted the EU last May to halt Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), the first step towards EU membership for Western Balkan nations.
The ICJ also ruled that Serbia failed to use its influence with Bosnian Serbs to prevent the genocide of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, and failed to comply with its international obligation to punish those who carried out the July 1995 massacre.
The international court rejected Bosnia's request for compensation for war damage from Serbia, with judges saying that that "wouldn't be an appropriate form of reparation for the breach of the obligation to prevent genocide."
However, the judges said that Bosnia should be awarded "symbolic" compensation from Serbia for its failure to meet its obligations in accordance with the 1948 Genocide Convention. The type of "symbolic" compensation was not indicated. [..]
A guilty verdict for Serbia for genocide would also have had implications had former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic not died of natural causes in his Hague cell last year. Milosevic, tried for genocide and war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, would most likely have been cleared of those charges in light of the ICJ ruling.
Since the ICJ found no evidence that Serbian political and military structures were involved in the Bosnian war, most likely Milosevic would have been found guilty for simply failing to prevent war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia.
The ruling is certainly a disappointment to the Bosnian people, but they have grown used to disappointment and, with the exception of those who survived Srebrenica, many are concerned more about the future than they are about the past.
There will be few rumblings in Sarajevo, at least from the wider public. Those even only slightly attuned to regional and international politics know that the crimes that happened in Bosnia will be conveniently forgotten in the name of the greater good. Today, the greater good seems to be appeasing Serbia in order to push through independence for Kosovo and avoid the bloodshed that would ensue if the ethnic Albanians do not win this round.