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World Court Launches Bosnia-Herzegovina Genocide Case

  • Lauren Comiteau

The International Court of Justice in The Hague opened two months of hearings in its first genocide case. Bosnia-Herzegovina has taken Serbia-Montenegro to court, accusing it of committing genocide during the 1990s Balkans war and demanding reparations.

Saying he was speaking on behalf of Bosnia-Herzegovina's victims, Bosnia's representative, Sakib Softic, told judges, the violence that hit his country, as he put it, like a man-made tsunami, in the early 1990s, destroyed the very character of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along with a substantial part of its non-Serb population.

"We are here because the Belgrade authorities have knowingly taken the non-Serbs of Bosnia-and-Herzegovina on a path to hell. A path littered with dead bodies, broken families, lost youths," he said.

While Softic was making his case inside, several dozen demonstrators were outside reading the names of some of the 8,000 victims of the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims in the U.N.-declared safe haven of Srebrenica.

Many of the demonstrators are originally from Bosnia, like 20-year-old Medina Alic. She lost almost all her male relatives in Srebrenica, and wants the world court to hold Belgrade responsible.

"I hope that some people find some peace," she said. "It can't bring the family members back, so ..."

Monday's hearings are the culmination of 13 years of legal back and forth, with Bosnia accusing Serbia of stalling proceedings in an effort to prevent a judgment from ever being handed down.

At the time Bosnia brought its case against what was then Yugoslavia, the war was still raging, and the Srebrenica massacres had yet to be committed. Sarajevo asked the court to order Belgrade to stop the violence, and find it guilty of ethnic cleansing and genocide. It also wants reparations.

Another court, the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal, also in The Hague, has ruled Srebrenica genocide. While there have been political and military leaders convicted of genocide, this is the first instance in which a state will be judged for the crime.

In order to prove it, Sarajevo's lawyers will have to convince the court's judges that Serbia intended to destroy Bosnia's Muslim population, something, which is not expected to be easy.

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