Croatia Vs Serbia At ICJ – Serbia Dodging Responsibility For Genocide

International Court of Justice, the Hague

International Court of Justice, the Hague

In presenting Croatia’s case against Serbia at the ICJ for genocide committed in Croatia during 1990’s the Croatian legal team had detailed gruesome atrocities committed against hundreds of towns and villages in Croatia. It put forth as evidence the great multitudes brutally killed, tortured, subjected to sexual abuse, locked into concentration camps, forcefully expelled from their homes in the campaigns of ethnically cleansing non-Serbs from all areas Serbs had aggressively declared as their own even though these were within the internationally recognized sovereign borders of Croatia. The relentless rhythm of death and destruction over a relatively short period of time, orchestrated from Serbia’s capital Belgrade as the headquarters of the Yugoslav People’s Army, Serbia took over as the former Yugoslavia disintegrated amidst individual states seeking to secede (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia) became very clear in the courtroom and anyone who has had the audacity to call this lawsuit unnecessary and bound for dismissal – and there have sadly been plenty of those in the media – must have pulled back and re-examined their conscience in both human and legal terms. Or, at least, I hope they did!

Croatia’s legal team said to the court that proof of genocide was not only the actual genocide or a high number of victims and that it was enough to prove genocidal intent which, together with concrete crimes, made it the gravest crime under international law.

The extent and pattern of the crimes, the words spoken and the racist propaganda confirm beyond any doubt Serbia’s genocidal intent to destroy Croats in areas that, to Serbs’ plan, were to have become part of a Greater Serbia, the Croatian lawyers submitted.

Serbia’s legal team said that Serbs are victims of genocide in Croatia emphasising the August 1995 Operation Storm (Croatian military action to liberate Serb-occupied Croatian territory) when more than 200,000 Serbs fled Croatia. The fact that the ICTY it its acquittal of Croatian Generals, November 2012, stated that there was no forced deportation of Serbs from Croatia around the said Operation Storm did not seem to have bothered Serbia’s legal team at ICJ.  Serbia’s legal team said that the war in Croatia caused major sufferings for Serbs who, faced with the separatist ideas of the then Croatian top government, decided to set up their own national entity known as the Republic of Serb Krajina (RSK).

So Serbia’s legal team is now labeling the 94% of Croatian voting population as “separatists” because they voted for democracy, they voted to secede from communist Yugoslavia, while the Serb minority there did not!

Furthermore, Serbia’s legal team likened the July 1995 meeting of Croatia’s government and military leadership at which Operation Storm was being planned in Brioni to that of the meeting held in 1942 at which the Nazi’s delivered the decision about the destruction of the Jews!  Croatia’s legal representative Phillipe Sands had, in no uncertain terms, asked Serbia’s team to withdraw this statement at its next appearance.

The Croatian legal team has accused Serbia of falsifying evidence including the fabrication of victims carried out by Serb NGO “Veritas” – in simple words it accused Serbia of lying. No one has ever been convicted in any court for the genocide that Serbia’s legal team claim was committed against Serbs (Operation Storm) and which they say represents the worst case of genocide since WWII and yet the international criminal court ICTY had spent many years, if not a full decade, analysing and deliberating on Operation Storm only to come up with the finding that no crimes had been committed as part of Operation Storm by Croats.

Serbia’s legal team went so far as to suggest that Croatia is the state that arose from WWII Nazi-puppet state in which multitude of Serbs were killed! They went so far as to try and make the world believe that the period of 1945 to 1991 did not happen for Croatia! Sorry, Serbia’s legal team, but Croatia of today arose out of former Yugoslavia and not out of any WWII state.

Serbia’s lawyers also argued that the authorities in Belgrade (Serbia) could not be called to account for crimes committed in Croatia before the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY/Serbia + Montenegro) was established in April 1992!

Before the proclamation of the new state Belgrade was not a member of the Genocide Convention which therefore cannot apply to the crimes during the 1991 war in Croatia, Serbia’s team argued!

Well, well, well! Serbia took over the former Yugoslav Army, Serbia’s people acted on behalf of Serbia’s political aims to secure parts of Croatia where Serbs lived in relative ethnic majority … the date of the actual establishment of FRY is really not important. It’s more than clear that Serbia would now like to think of itself as the heir of former Yugoslavia in everything except the crimes it planned and committed in the name of that failing Yugoslavia!

So, it’s then as Serbia’s legal team put it: The Croatian argument of genocide, which Croatia’s team says was committed against Croats in 1991, is basically an application to the court to apply the genocide convention retroactively against the Serbian authorities, despite the fact that they didn’t sign the convention at the time.

Some will argue that a retroactive application of the convention is not allowed, but these appear to me as mere agents of Greater Serbia who would like to muddy the waters and try to convince the ICJ that 1946 – 1991 did not happen for Serbia, either!

As it happens the truth is that the former Yugoslavia (Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) signed the Genocide Convention on 11 December 1948! And Serbia who insisted on keeping that Yugoslavia, mounting aggression against Croatia via the Yugoslav People’s Army, was to my view obligated in observing all international conventions former Yugoslavia was a signatory to!

Indeed at the time of the proclamation of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) on 27 April 1992, a formal declaration was adopted on its behalf to the effect that
“The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, continuing the State, international legal and political personality of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, shall strictly abide by all the commitments that the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia assumed internationally”!

How Serbia’s legal team can now argue in the ICJ that “all the crimes” included in Croatia’s charges “were committed before Serbia was bound by the Convention.”

It is as clear as day: Serbia has not, does not nor is it likely to admit to its crimes – unless it is made to do so through an ICJ ruling that points to its responsibility.

The Convention (on genocide) was adopted to protect human dignity and not for states to avoid responsibility, said Croatia’s counsel Phillipe Sands, a British professor.

Croatia has on Friday 21 March sought that ICJ finds Serbia guilty of genocide, that Serbia brings perpetrators of war crimes to account (especially its officers of the Yugoslav People’s Army), that Serbia hands over the details of those still missing from the war in Croatia, that Serbia returns the cultural wealth stolen from Croatia during the war, that Serbia pays for war damage caused to the sum set by the court. The Croatian legal team submitted that the ICJ judgment will have exceptional importance for Croatian people but also for peace and stability in the region and that this was an invitation to uncover the Greater Serbia ultra-nationalism for what it really is – a criminal project for the creation of Greater Serbia through theft and ethnic cleansing in Croatia and the neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Croatia has moved forward, it’s a member of the EU, it has democratic institutions and high level protection of minority rights. Serbia also wants that but it will be difficult for it to achieve this as long as it continues avoiding its responsibility,” said Vesna Crnic Grotic, leader of Croatia’s legal team at ICJ.

Indeed, this case is so very important for the region but above all, for humanity and human dignity. Dodging ones responsibility for horrendous crimes against humanity, for genocide, cannot, must not be permitted in the face of such overwhelming evidence. If ICJ fails to accept the reality and fact that Serbia was at the time the body, hands and mind of former Yugoslavia, which was a signatory to the Convention on Genocide, then the whole of humanity will indeed suffer and the future be left to legal technicalities whose only aim is to absolve the criminals of their crimes if political currents seek it.  Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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