Serbia will file a lawsuit against Croatia for ethnic cleansing, war crimes and genocide the Croat state had committed against its Serbian population during the latest civil war on the territory of former Yugoslavia, but also during the Second World War, at the time Croatia was a fascist state, Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić announced late on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, Croatia did not respond adequately to the hand of reconciliation Serbia repeatedly offered, with a desire to leave the past behind and turn to our common European future. They have refused to face the fact that 250,000 Serbs were ethnically cleansed from the territory of Croatia [during the “Operation Storm”]. This time around, they will have to do so in front of the Court of Justice. A lawsuit will now be filed against Croatia in order for the truth to finally be determined,” the minister told RTS.
“We hear that Croat officials are issuing calls to have the truth established. We agree. Let’s have this issue placed in front of the court of history and the court of justice. For this purpose, we shall provide them with the opportunity to respond to Serbia’s lawsuit regarding the war crimes and the ethnic cleansing committed in Croatia in 1995,” Jeremić stressed.
“We will do all in our power to have our case appropriately presented to the court. We will review all developments in the 20th century, World War II and the NDH [fascist ‘Independent State of Croatia’]. We will turn to history to find out the truth for the sake of our common future,” the foreign minister announced.
Speaking about the two states’ future relations, Jeremić said that Serbia wants the best relations with her neighbors, but that the truth about the genocide Croat state has committed during the WWII and in the 1990s, during the so-called “Operation Storm” must be fully revealed.
The Court is Available Whenever Serbia is the Sued Party
He explained that the lawsuit will be filed with the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which today ruled itself competent to take on Croatia’s lawsuit against Serbia. Its decision was announced by the Court President Rosalyn Higgins. The ICJ panel of judges rejected Serbia’s argument that the case was outside the UN Court’s purview because the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the time the lawsuit was filed, in July 1999, was not a UN member, and therefore not a signatory of the Convention on Genocide.
7 judges voted for the Serbian motion, while 10 voted against, thus deciding the Court was competent to hear the case. By this decision, the Court had confirmed the darkest suspicions of Tibor Varadi, head of Serbia’s legal team representing the state in front of ICJ, who said it was “rather curious the Court has no jurisdiction when Serbia sues, but it gains one as soon as Serbia is sued.”
Indeed, this the third time ICJ was determining its jurisdiction in regards to former Yugoslavia. The first time it was deciding in 1996 whether the Bosnia-Herzegovina’s lawsuit against Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is within its purview and it has decided it is, later on ruling in Serbia’s favor, assessing Serbian state is not responsible for the Bosnia-Herzegovina civil war.
In 2004, however, the same Court decided that Serbia’s lawsuit against the NATO states for aggression and the war crimes NATO had committed during the bombardment of Serbia in 1999, is not within its jurisdiction and that, therefore, that lawsuit cannot be heard. At the time, the ICJ reminded that Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (of which Serbia was a part) only became a member of the United Nations on November 1, 2000, and had signed the Convention on Genocide only a year later, asserting that is why its lawsuit against the NATO states can’t be accepted.
This same argument was used by Serbia’s legal team against the Court accepting Croatia’s current lawsuit against FRY, but the judges decided by a narrow majority to reject it in this instance.
“Operation Storm”, a Textbook Example of a State-Sponsored Genocide
Serbian parliamentary parties requested the state files a counter lawsuit against Croatia even before the foreign minister announced it.
The leader of New Serbia, Velimir Ilić said Serbia must use this opportunity to seek justice without hesitation.
“We were not aggressors, and we have nothing to fear”, Ilić told Vecernje Novosti.
A member of the G17 Plus leadership, Željko Ivanji said that Serbian diplomacy has formed its position and should turn to future.
“Croatia is burdened with many internal problems and it feels it needs to redirect the attention of its public to the war crimes. Well, the [Croat] ‘Storm’ is a textbook example of a war crime,” Ivanji said.
“We, the Serbs expelled from Croatia — and there’s two thirds of us outside the Croatia — have been secretly hoping ICJ will declare itself competent to hear this case, which opens the road for Serbia to file a genocide lawsuit against Croatia and finally prove the crimes Croats were committing against the Serbs in continuity. Up until now, Croatia was using its lawsuit as a verdict and a proof that Serbia is guilty for an ‘aggression’ and ‘genocide’. For Serbs from Croatia the counter lawsuit would be the only opportunity to submit our arguments and evidence about the Serbian suffering in front of the International Court,” Savo Štrbac, Director of a Documentary Center “Veritas” said.
He argues that Serbia should file a counter lawsuit following the same methodology Croatia had used: for the killed and missing, for the ethnic cleansing, destroyed property and seized houses and apartments. Štrbac believes that the verdict of the International Court of Justice will contribute to the impartial determination of the truth, for which neither of the two states is currently capable, and thus open the road to reconciliation.