The United Nations' International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled that Serbia is guilty of failing to prevent the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995, but not guilty of acts of genocide during the war between Serbia and Bosnia.
The Guardian reports that the ICJ ruling cleared Serbia of direct responsibility for the genocide and any complicity in genocide that happened between 1992 and 1995.
The decision took the form of several votes. In the key verdict, the court decided by 13 votes to two that Serbia had "not committed genocide, through its organs or persons whose acts engage its responsibility under customary international law". In another vote, however, the court found by 12 votes to three that Serbia had "violated the obligation to prevent genocide."
Judge Rosalyn Higgins said it was clear in Belgrade there was a serious risk of a massive slaughter in Srebrenica. However, Serbia "has not shown that it took any initiative to prevent what happened or any action on its part to avert the atrocities which were being committed."
Serbia's claim that it was powerless to prevent the massacres "hardly tallies with their known influence" over the Bosnian Serb army, said the ruling.
The Associated Press reports that the ICJ also said that Serbia has failed to comply since 1995 with an international obligation to punish those responsible for the massacre.
The ruling was the first time in the 60-year history of the court that it had been asked to decide whether a country was responsible for genocide. Bosnia, which brought the case to the court, would have sought billions of dollars in compensation from Serbia if the case had been decided in its favor. The Guardian reports that during the war, over 100,000 people, most of them Bosnian Muslims, were killed.
The ICJ is composed of 15 justices from different countries elected to terms of nine years in office. If a state fails to act by the terms of the ruling, another state may take the issue to the UN Security Council.
The BBC reports that a number of Bosnians protested outside the courtroom in The Hague as the verdict was read Monday morning.
One demonstrator, Hedija Krdzic, who lost her husband, father and grandfather in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, said: "A ruling that Serbia committed genocide in Bosnia means everything to me."
The war crimes tribunal, also based in The Hague, had previously found several individual Serbians guilty of genocide and had ruled that the Srebrenica massacre was a genocide. The BBC also reports that the hunt for those guilty of genocide in Serbia now turns to focus almost exclusively on the capture oftwo former Bosnian Serb leaders, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. The two men are at the top of a war crime tribunal's most wanted list and have been since 2001.
The West's attempts to capture them have been characterised by unfulfilled promises, botched arrest attempts and, until recently, a distinct lack of interest.
Radovan Karadzic, the former political leader and Ratko Mladic, his military commander, have managed to exploit not only their hero status among many Serbs but also the remote, inaccessible mountains and valleys where they are believed to have spent much of their time in hiding.
But the BBC reports there have been three key changes that make the capture of the two men more likely: the Serbian government, eager to see its application for membership in the European Union granted, has begun to cooperate more closely with the war crimes tribunal; the international community has taken steps to clamp down on the networks that have supported the two men; and a video showing the massacre Srebrenica was seen by many Serbs, who had up until now believe the incident was a fabrication. The result of this last development is that public opinion in Serbia is turning against the two men.