The U.N.'s highest court has begun hearing a landmark case in which Bosnia-Herzegovina accuses Serbia and Montenegro of state-level genocide during the Bosnian conflict of the 1990s.
Bosnia filed the case with the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 1993. Proceedings opened Monday.
The suit charges the government of then-Yugoslavia with pursuing a policy of killing, raping, torturing, kidnapping, illegally detaining and exterminating Bosnian citizens.
Bosnian representative Sakib Softic said, in his opening statement, that the case is not aimed at Bosnian Serbs, but at the Belgrade authorities who, he said, took Bosnia's non-Serbs "on a path to Hell." His team is expected to focus on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims by Serb forces.
Serbia's attorneys admit that certain individuals targeted Bosnian Muslims, but say there is no proof of state-sanctioned genocide.
A finding of such genocide could lead to billions of dollars in compensation to Bosnia. Hearings are scheduled into May, and a decision is not expected for several months.
Hundreds of survivors of the Srebrenica massacre and other supporters planned a vigil Monday outside the World Court.
The court has no authority to enforce its decisions, which are final, but can refer any refusal to cooperate to the U.N. Security Council.
The 1995 U.S.-brokered Dayton Peace Accords that halted the Balkan conflict split Bosnia into a Serb Republic and a Muslim-Croat Federation, each with its own government and army. An estimated 200,000 people had died in the war.
Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is currently on trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity and genocide for his role in the Balkan conflicts.
Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and the former head of the Bosnian Serb forces who carried out the Srebrenica massacre, Ratko Mladic, are still at large and believed hiding in Serbia. The U.N. war crimes tribunal has indicted both men.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.