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Attention Shifts To Bosnia's Genocide Suit Against Serbia
The Associated Press (apwire)     Print Article 
Published 2006-03-13 16:56 (KST)   
Associated Press Writer

THE HAGUE, Netherlands-Slobodan Milosevic can no longer be tried for genocide, but his country can.

Just down the road from where the former Yugoslav president had been on trial until his death Saturday, the U.N.'s highest court is hearing a civil suit by Bosnia against the state of Serbia-Monternegro _ the first of its kind.

The International Court of Justice, also known as the world court, cannot judge individuals. It was created 60 years ago to adjudicate disputes among U.N. member states.

But now that Milosevic is dead, many will see its ruling in the Bosnia suit as a verdict of guilt or innocence for the man who led Serbia during the 1992-95 Bosnia war.

"Bosnia's case is a case against the leadership, and the leaders represent the state. They employ the organs of state power," said Edgar Chen, a lawyer for the Coalition for International Justice, which monitors war crimes cases.

At the same time, Chen said, it's not a criminal case in which guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. "The standard of proof at the world court is lower than that," he said, speaking by phone from Washington.

Bosnia alleges that Serbia-Montenegro _ the successor state of Milosevic's defunct Yugoslavia _ is responsible for the genocide of Bosnian Muslims. More than 200,000 people of all ethnic groups died in the conflict.

It is seeking reparations, but hasn't specified how much. It's almost certain to be in the billions of dollars.

Belgrade denies responsibility. Technically, it argues, Serbia was not a member of the United Nations at the time, so the court has no jurisdiction. Yugoslavia's U.N. membership was suspended in 1992, and Serbia regained entry only in 2001.

More to the point, their lawyers say, the war sponsored by the Milosevic regime has nothing to do with today's Serbia.

Bosnia filed the case in 1993, while the carnage was still at its height. After submissions of thousands of pages and a series of interim pleadings and motions, it was only last month that lawyers for the two countries stood before the 16 black-robed justices to argue their case.

Appearing in the baroque Hall of Justice in the century-old Peace Palace, they lay out their arguments _ simultaneously complex in their legality and simple in their emotive appeal.

"Belgrade authorities have knowingly taken the non-Serbs of Bosnia-Herzegovina on a path to hell, a path littered with dead bodies, broken families, lost youth, lost future," Sakib Softic, head of Bosnia's legal team, told the judges.

"The stakes in this case are daunting," cautioned an advocate for Serbia, Tibor Varady. "The question is whether the balance sheet of the 20th century would show Serbia-Montenegro being the one and only State convicted for genocide."

Milosevic's death came within weeks of the conclusion of his US$200 million (168 million) trial on 66 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It dragged on for more than four years, repeatedly delayed by his ill health until his death.

With no defendant, there can be no trial and no judgment. In 1998, the judges in the case of Croatian Serb leader Slavko Dokmanovic had already written their verdict when Dokmanovic committed suicide in prison. It was never rendered.

The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal already has determined that genocide occurred in Bosnia, when Bosnian Serbs slaughtered 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica in July 1995. Two officers have been sentenced for aiding and abetting genocide.

But the link between the Bosnian genocide and Milosevic was never conclusively established. That could have been done in his own trial, which is now over.

Legally, Milosevic died an innocent man.

But if the judges in the Peace Palace find Serbia guilty of genocide, Milosevic's responsibility becomes an inescapable, albeit indirect, conclusion, said Michael P. Scharf, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

"That will be the historic determination of Milosevic's guilt, even thought it's not a criminal trial," he said.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter The Associated Press

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