International Court of Justice rejected genocide claims by Croatia and Serbia against each other for crimes committed during a war in 1990’s. Lengthy process started by Croatia more than a decade and a half ago and alleged that Serbia and affiliated Serb forces in Croatia committed a genocide in 1991 in city of Vukovar and elswhere. Serbia later filled a counter-claim over the expulsion of more than 200,000 Serbs from Croatia during Operation “Storm” in late 1995. Each side is unsatisfied with ICJ ruling, but based on statements issued right after both government will accept it and learn how to live with it.
In a separate process which was held at different justice instance, ICTY (International Court for Former Yugoslavia) several military officers from both sides were persecuted for crime committed in this era of Yugoslavian dissolution. Most memorable process was against General Ante Gotovina who commanded over Operation “Storm”, later became fugitive from justice, and was extradited from Spain to Den Hague after he was arrested in local hotel.
Croatia based its claim on on devastation of Vukovar in 1991, displacement of tens of thousands of ethnic Croats and murder of about 260 men who were detained. Some victims were injured soldiers and civilian patients of Vukovar hospital which were later murdered and buried in mass grave at the former farm on Ovčara.
Counter-claim filed by Serbia claimed that Croatia committed a genocide over majority ethnic-Serb Krajina area, which functioned as a separate country within a country under Serb control. During Operation “Storm” Croatia displaced some 200,000 ethnic Serbs from their homes forcing them to cross over a border first in Bosnia then to Serbia where they live today some 20 years after the end of war.
Speaking in court on Tuesday, Judge Peter Tomka dismissed both the Croatian claim and the Serbian counter-claim. Forces on both sides had carried out violent acts during the war, Judge Tomka said. However, neither side had provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate the “specific intent required for acts of genocide”, reported BBC on Tuesday.
In it’s ruling ICJ President Judge Tomka also said that “what is generally called ethnic cleansing does not constitute genocide”. ICJ proved once again that genocide is hardest to prove as part of international crimes under its jurisdiction. “Acts of ethnic cleansing may be part of genocidial plan but only if there is an intention to physically destroy the target group”, said Judge Tomka.
First reactions from Zagreb and Belgrade prove that both sides expected this could be final word in this lengthy process. Outgoing President of Croatia, Ivo Josipović, was part of original legal team who started process on behalf of Croatian government. In his comments President Josipović said that original tactics was set to be a gamble but that was only option in effort to get favorable verdict.
Serbian Justice Minister Nikola Selaković said in Belgrade the ruling would “start a new and blank page in our relationship with Croatia”, while President Tomislav Nikolić, once affiliated with paramilitary forces involved in war crimes in Vukovar, said he hoped verdict would lead “to a period of lasting peace and prosperity” in the Balkans region.