Munich, Germany

International Court of Justice: Alleged Crimes from the Croatian War

International Court of Justice: Alleged Crimes from the Croatian War


What constitutes genocide and what differentiates genocide from casualties of war? When the conflict in question was entangled with other bitter and bloody battles, when facts are little more than messy extractions from a chain of deeply complex historical events, it’s not easy to tell. This, however, is the task of the International Court of Justice in its investigation of the killings of Croats by Serbian forces in 1991.

The historical context is crucial. Following the disintegration of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Croatia declared its independence in 1991. Serbian paramilitary groups reacted with attacks aiming to regain territory. Thousands of Croats were killed in the process. Through the International Court of Justice, Croatia is trying to achieve financial retribution for past alleged crimes. This is possible if the judges of the court determine that Serbian forces are guilty of genocide.

Genocide has a very narrow jurisdiction. The killing must be an end in itself rather than a by-product of war or self-defence and it must target a specific population, for example an ethnic or religious group.

Judges Johannes Dietrich and Naz Midoglu are among those who must assemble the facts. They stress the importance of exploring the facts in a neutral way to come to a cool-headed conclusion. It is also crucial to think about what consequences every objection or micro-decision could have on the final ruling. If any inconsistencies are found within a judge’s voting record, this will be held against them and undermine their arguments, possibly even the result of the case itself.

The stakes are high. Should the ICJ establish that genocide occurred, this will be a permanent stain on Serbia’s reputation. Croatia is fighting for what it perceives as justice for past crimes. The pressure is on the ICJ for a fair final result.