Serbia, Croatia prepare for genocide trial

10/12/2013

Two decades after the regional conflicts, Croatia and Serbia are asking the Hague International Court of Justice to answer the question: Who is to blame for all the suffering and destruction?

By Bojana Milovanović and Kruno Kartus for Southeast European Times in Belgrade and Osijek -- 10/12/13

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The trial is set to begin on March 3rd. [The Hague]

Despite talks between Serbia and Croatia on dropping the mutual charges of genocide during the 1990s conflict at The Hague's International Court of Justice, both sides have begun to prepare for trial.

The first hearing is scheduled for March 3rd.

Serbia Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said a trial would slow the stabilisation of relations between Serbia and Croatia, but he added that a court decision of the truth would also help put an end to all unresolved issues.

"We are prepared for this trial and we have a very solid legal team," Dacic told reporters.

Croatia has given Serbia three conditions for dropping the charges: resolving the problem of missing persons, solving various crimes and defining the Danube border.

"To even discuss withdrawing the charges certain conditions must be met, but they are not. The most important thing is to resolve the status of missing persons. There is also the question of prosecuting the persons who committed the crimes, restitution of cultural property and other," Croatia Justice Minister Orsat Miljenić told Večernji list in October.

Foreign Affairs Minister Vesna Pusic agreed.

"There are prerequisites that must be met to even begin thinking about the discussions of withdrawal," Pusic said.

Deputy Prime Minister Rasim Ljajic said that Serbia wanted to settle out of court in order to alleviate the tensions between the two states. He said that Serbia filed the countersuit 10 years after Croatia filed the suit, hoping that officials in Zagreb would drop the charges.

"Regrettably, the Croatian leaders may have been ready to drop the charges, but they lacked the courage due to the pressure of the public," said Ljajic.

Ljajic told SETimes that a trial could give the two countries a new start.

"I suppose it will probably come to the trial, I am leaving some room for hope that we will come to an agreement. However, I absolutely don't believe that it is possible for Croatia to win this trial. It is important that we come out of that process as the side that, at the very least, hasn't lost, and to build our relations with Croatia on those new foundations," Ljajic said.

But many are hoping the lawsuit will be withdrawn.

Sonja Biserko, president of the Helsinki Human Rights Committee and a civil activist from Belgrade, was cited as a witness for Croatia. She told SETimes that she has been targeted and pressured because of this.

"My name appearing on the witness list of the Croatian side in the lawsuit against Serbia for genocide is obviously a calculated move, aiming to expose me to more pressure and harassment, to scare me out of the country," Biserko said.

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She said that dropping the charges would be a sign of maturity of politicians and society on both sides, bringing them one step closer to establishing a better regional co-operation.

Maja Bobic, secretary-general of the European Movement in Serbia, said Croatia has a responsibility to foster stable regional relations since it joined the EU.

"Croatia should respect European postulates and lean toward co-operation with neighbouring countries, and be the one to initiate the final reconciliation in the region," Bobic told SETimes.

What steps can be taken to ensure the withdrawal of the genocide lawsuit in the International Court of Justice? Tell us your thoughts below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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