By Maja Garaca Djurdjevic and Danijel Kovacevic
The International Court of Justice in The Hague has rejected a controversial request from Bosnia and Herzegovina to appeal against a judgment clearing Serbia of responsibility for genocide.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague on Thursday rejected a request for a review of the 2007 genocide judgment clearing Serbia, saying it had not come from Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state.
The UN court said that it had considered the opinions of the three members of the tripartite Bosnian presidency, who each wrote to the International Court of Justice to express their views on the issue that has divided the country along ethnic lines.
“The court considered that their content demonstrates that no decision has been taken by the competent authorities, on behalf of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state in terms of requests for revision of the judgment of 26 February 2007,” the court said in a statement.
“Accordingly, no action can be taken,” it said.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s legal counsel Sakib Softic submitted a request to the ICJ in The Hague last month for a review of the judgment in the lawsuit in which Bosnia attempted to sue Serbia for genocide in Bosnia during the war of 1992 to 1995.
The appeal request was supported by the Bosniak member of the tripartite presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic.
But Bosnian Serb politicians strongly opposed the appeal request, arguing that it was unconstitutional because it was not approved by the state-level tripartite presidency.
The Serb member of the tripartite presidency, Mladen Ivanic, said that the ICJ’s decision to reject the request for a review was “completely expected” and in line with the Dayton peace agreement which ended the war.
“Nobody other than the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina can make decisions,” Ivanic told a joint press conference with the Bosnian Foreign Minister, Igor Crnadak.
Crnadak said that it showed that “Bosnia and Herzegovina can only function as one”.
“This is a triumph of law over politics,” he told the press conference.
At a separate press conference, Bosniak presidency member Izetbegovic described the ICJ’s decision as “a tough blow for me, as a Bosniak and as a politician”.
“This decision will calm down the political crisis [in Bosnia and Herzegovina] but I don’t know how it will compensate for the injustice committed towards Bosniaks,” Izetbegovic said.
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic meanwhile welcomed the court’s move.
“This decision of the International Court of Justice in The Hague is absolutely correct because any other solution would seriously jeopardise the functioning of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state and further contribute to raising unnecessary tensions in relations with Serbia, which no one needs, now or at any time,” Nikolic said.
The 2007 judgment in the original case said that genocide had been committed when more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys from Srebrenica were massacred by Bosnian Serb forces.
The court found that Serbia had failed in its duty to prevent genocide, but that there was insufficient evidence to say that Belgrade bore direct responsibility.
The Croat member of the tripartite presidency, Dragan Covic, said on Thursday that the failed attempt to launch an appeal had damaged Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“We have weakened the country’s reputation in the eyes of this international institution,” Covic said.
But the head of the Association of Victims and Witnesses of Genocide, Murat Tahirovic, expressed disappointment at the ICJ’s decision not to hear the appeal.
“We expected that the court would be considerate to the victims… Unfortunately, the court was guided exclusively by legal issues,” Tahirovic told BIRN.
“This is unfortunately the end of the process against Serbia,” he added.
Srdjan Puhalo, a political analyst from Banja Luka, said that Bosniak presidency member Bakir Izetbegovic had miscalculated and “clearly lost this game”.
“The first thing is that the ICJ has shown us is that it is important to respect the institutions of the state,” Puhalo told BIRN.
He argued that war victims had been unnecessarily hurt by the situation.
“The victims did not deserve this kind of treatment,” he said.
Puhalo also said that the controversy over the appeal had not helped Bosnia to do any more to deal with its traumatic wartime past.
“The third thing is that we most certainly will not learn anything from this,” he said.