Saturday

23rd Jul 2016

Serbia verdict 'closes chapter' in history, EU says

The EU has welcomed the UN's top court ruling which sees Serbia cleared of direct responsibility for the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslims in the Bosnian village of Srebrenica, while urging Belgrade to distance itself from Milosevic-era crimes and hand over war criminals still at large.

"I appreciate very much that there [in the ruling] is no collective punishment", EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said, as it was the first time in the 60-year history of the International Court of Justice that an entire nation was being held to judicial account for genocide.

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"The verdict will help to close a page of history which was dramatic, painful and damaging to many people", Mr Solana added, calling for reconciliation in the region.

In a 171-page ruling, the Hague court said "Serbia has not committed genocide, through its organs or persons whose acts engage its responsibility under customary international law" nor has it been complicit in genocide.

According to the judges, Belgrade – which had armed and financed the Bosnian Serbs – fell short of having effective control over the Bosnian Serb army and the paramilitary units that carried out the ethnic cleansing. Instead, they ruled that Belgrade stood by and "failed to take all measures within its power to prevent" atrocities.

The verdict, which cleared Serbia of direct responsibility, has provoked bitter feelings and deep disappointment in Bosnia, which brought the case to court and demanded billions of euros in compensation.

Dozens of Bosnian Muslims expressed anger outside the court building, as The Hague also noted "financial compensation is not the appropriate form of reparation for the breach of the obligation to prevent genocide."

Approximately 200,000 people died in the 1992-95 Bosnian war, with the Srebrenica massacre being the bloodiest episode in the violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

Hand over Mladic now

The European Union urged both sides to accept the ruling, with Berlin – currently presiding over the 27-nation block – calling upon Belgrade "to use the judgement as a further opportunity to distance itself from the crimes by the regime of the then Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic."

The UN highest court criticized Serbia for "failing to fully cooperate with the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and to hand over war crimes fugitives, including Ratko Mladic," the general accused of overseeing the killings.

"Serbia shall immediately take effective steps to comply with its obligation," the verdict said.

Such wording has been welcomed by UN chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte, with her spokesperson telling EUobserver that "the EU should maintain pressure on Serbia as well".

Earlier this month the EU softened its stance on war crimes and signalled it was ready to restart integration talks with Serbia even before Belgrade hands over top war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic.

However, Mr Mladic's transfer to the Hague remains a necessary condition to sign, or conclude, a so-called Stabilisation and Association Agreement, the pre-membership partnership deal specifically created for the Western Balkan countries.

Serbian President Boris Tadic said on Monday (26 February) he would ask the Serbian parliament to adopt a declaration condemning the crimes committed in Srebrenica.

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