Croatia Vs Serbia ICJ Genocide Trial Begins

Genocide in Croatia Photo: Marko Mrkonjic/Pixsell

Genocide in Croatia
Photo: Marko Mrkonjic/Pixsell

Finally – it begins! One of the most important international court cases addressing the 1990’s war of aggression against Croatia will today 3rd March 2014 begin with hearing of evidence at the trial in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague. The trial is said to end on 1st April 2014 and there is a total ban on publishing any details from the hearing until the trial ends, which include specific evidence and testimonies.

Croatia had filed a suit in 1999 against the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (the remnants of former communist Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro, which disintegrated into two separate independent states in 2006/ into Serbia and Montenegro ) for genocide at the highest UN court – the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.  As Serbia and Montenegro went their separate ways in 2006, Croatia’s lawsuit at the ICJ stayed as against Serbia, and not Montenegro. In 2010 Serbia filed a counterclaim against Croatia.

Croatia aims to prove that units commanded by Serbia committed genocide in the war between 1991 and 1995.
Croatian Application to the court states, among other matters: “The Genocide Convention prohibits the destruction, in whole or in part, of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, including the elimination or displacement of members of that group from a particular territory. Between 1991 and 1995, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia ( read Serbia) repeatedly violated the Genocide Convention. By directly controlling the activity of its armed forces, intelligence agents, and various paramilitary detachments, on the territory of the Republic of Croatia, in the Knin region’, eastern and western Slavonia, and Dalmatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (read Serbia) is liable for the “ethnic cleansing” of Croatian citizens from these areas – a form of genocide which resulted in large numbers of Croatian citizens being displaced, killed, tortured, or illegally detained, as well as extensive property destruction – and is required to provide reparation for the resulting damages. In addition, by directing, encouraging, and urging Croatian citizens of Serb ethnicity in the Knin region to evacuate the area in 1995, as the Republic of Croatia reasserted its legitimate governmental authority (and in the face of clear reassurance emanating from the highest level of the Croatian Government, including the President of the Republic of Croatia, Dr. Franjo Tudjman, that the local Serbs had nothing to fear and should stay), the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (read Serbia) engaged in conduct amounting to a second round of “ethnic cleansing”, in violation of the Genocide Convention…

In July 1991, there were already 30,000 registered displaced persons in Croatia. The long list of displaced persons started with the persecution of the Croats from Lika in the spring of 1991, and intensified in the summer with the persecution of the Croats from the territory of Banovina, Kordun, eastern Slavonia, western Slavonia, west Syrmium, Baranja, Dalmatian hinterland, Drnis, and Knin. The peak of the refugee crisis occurred in November 1991, when 600,000 displaced persons were registered in Croatia, including 15,000 survivors of a massacre in Vukovar. The atrocities inflicted by the Serbs on Vukovar’s people were brutal, and the resulting humanitarian crisis among displaced persons was unprecedented. In fact, the city of Vukovar, including countless historic buildings, and cultural and sacral artefacts, was completely destroyed
by the so-called JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army).

By 1999, in the period of time following 1995, Croatia has discovered and registered at least 120 mass graves, mostly in the eastern Slavonia, Banovina, Dalmatia, and Knin regions. To date, the exhumation process has registered 2,989 bodies in both mass and individual graves. For example, in Ovchara,
near Vukovar, a mass grave was discovered, from which some 200 bodies were exhumed. These were the bodies of wounded persons and patients who had been taken from the Vukovar hospital. At the mass grave at the New Grave yard of Vukovar, 938 bodies were found, and in Bakin, 56 bodies, mostly of elderly victims, were discovered in a mass grave. In Skabrnja, near Zadar, another mass grave was recently discovered to contain 27 bodies. Also, in Vila Gavrilovik, near Petrinja, a mass grave was found that contained 17 bodies…

As a result of the aggression waged by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (read Serbia), its agents, officials, and surrogates, Croatia and its citizens suffered the following damages :
In Croatia, there were 20,000 dead and 55,000 wounded, with over 3,000 people still unaccounted for.
Out of the total number of victims, 303 children died, 35 children were taken prisoner and disappeared, and 1,276 children were wounded.1,700 people were killed in Vukovar alone (1,100 of them were civilians), more than 4,000 people were wounded, between 3,000 and 5,000 taken prisoner, and 1,000 people are still unaccounted for.

In 1992, the humanitarian crisis in Croatia was at its peak, with approximately 800,000 displaced persons and refugees, which constituted more than 15 per cent of the total population of Croatia. Several thousand Croat civilians were taken prisoner and forcibly transferred to Serbia and other areas of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Of the 7,000 people later released, 60 per cent had spent time in prisons or detention facilities in Serbia.

According to estimates by the National Commission for the Registration and Assessment of War Damages, 590 towns and villages suffered damage, 35 were razed to the ground, with another 34 suffering significant damage. 1,821 cultural monuments were destroyed or damaged, including about 651 in the area of Dubrovnik-Neretva County and about 356 in the area of Osijek-Baranja County.

Three national parks, five natural parks, 19 special reservations, 10 parks, and 19 park cultural monuments were damaged. 323 historical sites and settlements were destroyed or damaged. 171,000 housing units (constituting approximately 10 per cent of the housing capacity of Croatia) were destroyed, often by arson.
Approximately 450 Croatian Catholic churches were destroyed or severely damaged, with lesser damage to over 250 others. In addition, approximately 151 rectories, 31 monasteries, and 57 cemeteries were destroyed or severely damaged. 210 libraries were destroyed or damaged (from school libraries to such famous libraries as those in Dubrovnik).

22 journalists were killed, many of whom were trying to reveal the truth about the aggression against Croatia.

Estimates indicate that upwards of 3 million various explosive devices were planted within Croatia, mostly anti-personnel and anti-tank devices. These mines are, for the most part, uncharted, and block about 300,000 hectares of arable land. About 25 per cent of Croatia’s total economic capacity, including such large facilities as the Adriatic Pipeline, was damaged or destroyed during 199 1 – 1992. Approximately 10 per cent of Croatia’s tourist facilities were damaged or destroyed by the FRY-backed forces and agents…

In this genocide ICJ case Croatia wants to be clearly identified as the victim of the war and that would surely stop the equating of the victim and aggressor that had been a prolific and evilly twisted political push, clearly originating from Serbia and its supporters.
The suit calls on Serbia to have all Serbian war criminals put on trial, all cultural assets seized during the war to be given back to Croatia, and calls for the payment of reparations to Croatia. Additionally, Croatia wants an explanation of what happened to the more than 1,400 Croatians who have been missing since the war.

The genocide counterclaim against Croatia, Serbia filed in 2010, will see claims of Serbs killed during that war in Croatia, it’s 2010 claim that 200,000 Serbs were expelled from Croatia in 1995 after the Croatian military Operation Storm, which liberated Croatian sovereign territory from Serb occupation, is surely not to hold any water at the ICJ given that the ICTY had in November 2012 in its acquittal of Croatian Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac found that there had been no forced deportations of Serbs from Croatia.

Serbia, however, seems to introduce into this case WWII killings of Serbs in Croatia!

Well, well, well! If such is permitted then I do hope that Croatia will have the opportunity to insert another claim to its Application – that of murdered Croats under the tyranny and dictatorship of the Serb-led Kingdom of Yugoslavia prior to WWII!

Lately, there has been much thrashing about in the media by legal professionals that neither Croatia nor Serbia have a chance of winning this case. Most refer to the case when in 2007 ICJ judges acquitted Serbia (in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina Vs Serbia) of direct responsibility for the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, finding it guilty only of failing to prevent and punish the perpetrators of this crime. However, in the same breath, ICJ ruled that genocide took place in mid-1995 at Srebrenica when almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb troops after they overran a UN-protected enclave.
These legal professionals who thrash about saying that the case of genocide at the ICJ has no prospects are fools for rushing out so, to my view. From many articles I have read in the past couple of weeks none of these legal professionals have mentioned that Bosnia’s lawyers were unable to access transcripts from meetings of Serbia’s Supreme Defence Council, SDC, which they believed were crucial to proving the case.
Although minutes from these meetings are widely believed to contain vital information about Belgrade’s involvement in the wars in Bosnia and Croatia, their most relevant parts had been granted confidential status by the judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY and it would be a miserable day for justice if these documents do not appear as evidence in 2014 at ICJ!

So far there have at the ICTY been both charges and convictions of Croatian Serb Krajina individuals for crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing …, e.g. Milan Babic, Milan Martic, Mile Mrksic, Veselin Sljivancanin, Pavle Strugar and cases still on ICTY Trial: Goran Hadzic and Vojislav Seselj. Links to Serbia, Yugoslav People’s Army and Serbia’s government including president Slobodan Milosevic have been established. This, I believe is most significant for Croatia’s claim against Serbia, let alone the mountains of evidence that’s surely to land in the ICJ courtroom during the coming month – aspects of genocide are many and the totality of the various horrors that included mass killings surely equate to genocide in moral and legal sense.

Zvonimir SeparovicThe 1999 lawsuit of Croatia against Serbia for genocide was a major contribution to seeking justice for the victims of Serb aggression under the then minister of justice dr Zvonimir Separovic, a legal scholar and politician. His dedication to justice for victims of war and other mass crimes is a permanent co-traveler in his life – he is a pioneer of victimology and today, despite his advanced age, still heads with great vigour and determination the Croatian Victimology Society, whose goals include justice for victims of communist crimes.

I join the multitudes of Croats and victims of war crimes in wishing the Croatian legal team in the ICJ the victory Croatia truly deserves. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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