Thursday, 20 November 2008

International Court of Justice to hear Croatia’s genocide claim against Serbia

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by Kathryn Hadley

On November 18th, the United Nations’ International Court of Justice in La Hague ruled that it would hear Croatia’s complaint filed against Serbia for genocide during the early 1990s. The Court rejected Serbia’s argument that it lacked the jurisdiction to hear Croatia’s complaint and the presiding judge, Higgins, concluded that:

“The court… by ten votes to seven finds that… the court has the jurisdiction to entertain the application by the Republic of Croatia”.

Croatia first filed its complaint on July 2nd, 1999, against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia accusing Serbia of having violated the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. According to Croatian sources 20,000 died and Croatia has demanded the punishment of those responsible, reparations and the recovery of the cultural treasures that were allegedly pillaged during the war.
The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia existed from 1992 to 2003 and consisted of the republics of Serbia and Montenegro, following the dissolution of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 2003, it was reconstituted as the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. On June 3rd, 2006, the republic of Montenegro declared its independence. Serbia formally declared its independence two days later. The Republic of Serbia consequently accepted continuity between the State of Serbia and Montenegro and the Republic of Serbia; Montenegro, however, is a new State and does not continue the international legal personality of the State union of Serbia and Montenegro.
Serbia had argued that the International Court of Justice lacked the jurisdiction to hear Croatia’s complaint because Serbia was not a member of the United Nations when the complaint was filed and was therefore not party to the Statute of the Court. The legal status of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was indeed unclear following the dissolution of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992. It was admitted to the United Nations on November 1st 2000 when it consequently became party to the Statute of the Court. The date when the complaint will be heard has yet to be fixed and the procedures will take many years.

The leading Croatian lawyer explained that Croatia did not wish to dwell on its past, but that the hearing was necessary for its future development:

“We are not launching these proceedings to live in the past but to build healthy foundations for the sustainable future of the region”

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