Foreign Policy Blogs

ICJ absolves Serbia for Bosnian Atrocities

In July 1995, in the United Nations mandated "safe area' of Srebrenica, Serbian forces summarily executed some 8,000 Bosnian men. The forces of the Army of Republika Srpska, led by General Ratko Mladic (still at large in Bosnia for war crimes), "stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.", according to a press release by the President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Judge Theodor Meron.

Following a NATO led mission to intervene in the conflict, former Yugoslavian President, Slobodan Milosevic, was indicted by the ICTY in May 1999 for war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia, and for genocide, also in Bosnia. Milosevic was the first acting head of state to be indicted for war crimes, however, his death prior to conclusion of his trial at The Haque has left a longing for justice in the region. Nonetheless, his trial implicated his direct contribution to the Serbs during the Bosnian conflict.

ICJ absolves Serbia for Bosnian AtrocitiesThe International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its findings on February 26th, 2007, stating that the Serbian state was not responsible for acts of genocide during the Bosnian conflict. The allegations against Serbia are the first such incidence of a state being brought before the international body for war crimes. Despite Serbia being cleared of responsibility, the indictment is a significant statement by the UN's top court that the Srebrenica massacre was in fact genocide.

The indictment of Serbia, in addition to those against individuals such as Milosevic, raises interesting questions regarding international law. The ICJ has in the past conducted legal proceedings on state-centric grounds. For example, Yugoslavia filed suit against the United States for its use of force in the Bosnian campaign, and not, for example, against President Clinton or General Wesley Clark. War crimes allegations, however, have typically been focused on the behavior of individuals, and not the collective actions of the state. Considering other cases involving the Sudanese backed Janjaweed, the indictment of Serbia may be signal a paradigm shift in international law.

Several of the press releases from the ICJ regarding the Serbian case may be found here
The BBC has excellent coverage of the case, including background, here
The UN has a site devoted to the ICTY here




Daniel Graeber

Daniel Graeber is a writer for United Press International covering Iraq, Afghanistan and the broader Levant. He has published works on international and constitutional law pertaining to US terrorism cases and on child soldiers. His first major work, entitled The United States and Israel: The Implications of Alignment, is featured in the text, Strategic Interests in the Middle East: Opposition or Support for US Foreign Policy. He holds a MA in Diplomacy and International Conflict Management from Norwich University, where his focus was international relations theory, international law, and the role of non-state actors.

Areas of Focus:International law; Middle East; Government and Politics; non-state actors