time to make the Serbs pay
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The World Court will rule on Monday whether Serbia committed genocide in Bosnia during the 1992-95 war, a decision that could allow Bosnia to seek billions of dollars of compensation from its Balkan neighbor.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague, the highest U.N. court, opened the case last year, 13 years after Bosnia first sued the rump Yugoslav state from which it seceded in 1992, triggering a war which killed at least 100,000 people.
"If Serbia were convicted of genocide, it would have far reaching consequences which would burden our future for decades," Serbia's lawyer Radoslav Stojanovic told Belgrade's B92 radio.
This is the first time a state is on trial for genocide, outlawed in a U.N. convention in 1948 after the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews. The separate U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague has already found individuals guilty of genocide in Bosnia.
Ahead of the judgment, sentiment is divided along ethnic lines in Bosnia, now split into a Muslim-Croat federation and a Serb Republic under an umbrella government.
Bosnian Muslims hope the court will rule that Serbia was an aggressor guilty of genocide, while Bosnian Serbs consider the lawsuit illegitimate because it was filed without their consent by the then Muslim-led government.
Bosnia's Muslims and Croats followed Slovenia and Croatia in breaking away from Yugoslavia in April 1992, against the wishes of Bosnian Serbs, who were left as a one-third minority in what had previously been a Yugoslav republic ruled from Belgrade.
Backed by the Yugoslav army, the Serbs responded by capturing two-thirds of Bosnia, besieging Sarajevo and carrying out "ethnic cleansing" in which tens of thousands of non-Serbs were killed and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes.
During the trial, Bosnia used evidence from the U.N. tribunal which has already ruled that the Serb massacre of 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia, in 1995 was genocide.
Serbia questioned the court's jurisdiction and disputed that Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, both also accused of genocide over Srebrenica, were under its control.
The trial has raised questions about the best ways of dealing with the past and whether it is better to pursue individuals or states for war crimes.
Serbia's lawyers argued the case between two multi-ethnic states did not mirror the conflict fought along ethnic dividing lines. They said a ruling against Serbia could find Bosnian Serbs, alleged perpetrators of genocide, on the side of the alleged victim.
Jakob Finci, chairman of the Center for European Integration Strategies think-tank, said the court would have to make "a Solomonic judgment" to satisfy both parties in Bosnia.
A ruling against Serbia would come at a time when Brussels has already suspended Belgrade's talks on eventual membership of the European Union because it had not arrested fugitive Mladic.
Serbia is also trying to hold on to the breakaway Kosovo province, which has been run by the United Nations since NATO forced Serb troops out in 1999.
Stojanovic told Reuters last week he was optimistic Serbia would not be found guilty of genocide.
But he said Serbia's weak point was its obligation under the U.N. convention to prosecute perpetrators of genocide, and Belgrade's position would be much better if Mladic had been delivered to The Hague for trial.
(Additional reporting by Reuters TV and Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo and Beti Bilandzic in Belgrade)