ICJ Clears Serbia, Croatia of Genocide

ICJ Clears Serbia, Croatia of GenocideICJ Clears Serbia, Croatia of Genocide

The International Court of Justice rejected on Tuesday claims of genocide by Serbia and Croatia against each other during the Croatian war of secession from Yugoslavia.

The Croatian government had alleged that Serbia committed genocide in the town of Vukovar and elsewhere in 1991. Serbia later filed a counter-claim over the expulsion of more than 200,000 Serbs from Croatia, BBC reported.

About 20,000 people died during the 1991-1995 war, mostly Croatians.

The Croatian town of Vukovar was devastated when it was occupied by Serbs for three months in 1991. Tens of thousands of ethnic Croats were displaced, and about 260 Croat men were detained and killed.

Four years later, the Croatian military’s Operation Storm bombarded the majority ethnic-Serb Krajina area, forcing about 200,000 people from their homes.

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”.

Serbian Justice Minister Nikola Selkovic said the ruling would “start a new and blank page in our relationship with Croatia” and Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said he hoped it would lead to “a period of lasting peace and prosperity” in the region.

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said: “We are not satisfied with the court’s ruling but we accept it in a civilised manner.”

Croatia filed its initial case with the International Court of Justice - the top UN court - in 1999, accusing Serbs, led by former president Slobodan Milosevic, of targeting ethnic Croats during the conflict.

It wanted Serbia to pay compensation for damages “to persons and properties as well as to the Croatian economy and environment.”

In 2010, Serbia responded to Croatia’s case with a countersuit, saying that ethnics Serbs were expelled when Croatia launched its 1995 operation to retake territory captured by Serbs.

“What is generally called ethnic cleansing does not constitute genocide,” Judge Tomka said in his ruling against Serbia’s claim.

“Acts of ethnic cleansing may be part of a genocidal plan but only if there is an intention to physically destroy the target group.”

Relations between the two countries have improved in recent years but in 2012 Serbia was outraged when Operation Storm commander Ante Gotovina was cleared on appeal by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.