- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2007

THE HAGUE — In one of the most momentous cases in its 60 years, the United Nations’ highest court will deliver its judgment today on Bosnia’s demand to make Serbia accountable for the slaughter, terrorizing, rape and displacement of Bosnian Muslims in the early 1990s.

If it rules for Bosnia, the International Court of Justice could open the way for compensation amounting to billions of dollars from Serbia, the successor state of Slobodan Milosevic’s Yugoslavia. Specific claims would be addressed later.

Such a ruling also would be a permanent stain on Serbia in the eyes of history, regardless of any effort by Belgrade to distance itself from the brutality of those years.

Reflecting the complexities, the 16 judges have deliberated for 10 months since hearing final arguments. Officials at the World Court, as it is informally known, say that reading out the summary of the judgment is likely to take three hours.

The court was created after World War II to adjudicate disputes among U.N. members, most often over borders or treaty violations. Its decisions are binding, without appeal and enforceable by the Security Council.

The Bosnia case touches deep nationalist chords and arouses strong emotions. Among survivors expected to stand vigil outside the baroque Peace Palace while the decision is read are women from Srebrenica, where about 8,000 men were killed in July 1995.

Bosnia first approached the court 14 years ago, during the chaos of Yugoslavia’s bloody disintegration. The political landscape has since changed dramatically, with both Bosnia and Serbia separately seeking membership in the European Union.

“This will be a very significant judgment, both from the perspective of the aftermath of the conflict and for international law generally,” said Andre Nollkaemper, director of the Amsterdam Center for International Law at the University of Amsterdam.

Other courts already have ruled that acts of genocide occurred during the Bosnian war, when more than 100,000 people were killed in a Bosnian Serbian campaign that gave the world the phrase “ethnic cleansing.”

Two Bosnian Serbian officers have been convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Gen. Radislav Krstic is serving a 35-year prison term for aiding and abetting genocide, and Col. Vidoje Blagojevic is appealing his 18-year sentence for complicity in genocide. Mr. Milosevic died last year in his prison cell in the final weeks of his four-year-long genocide trial.

The World Court case, entirely separate from the tribunal’s deliberations, is not about people. Bosnia says the Serbian state must accept blame.

It argues that Serbia’s nationalist ideology incited genocidal hatred, its financial and military aid to the Bosnian Serbs gave them the tools for genocide, and Yugoslav army officers actively participated in driving out Muslims.

Serbia says it’s not that simple. Genocide, by definition, requires the clear intent to wipe out an ethnic or racial group, in whole or in part, in specific territories. Serbia says it never waged such a systematic campaign.

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