Is the Genocode Conventition worth the paper it's written on?

On February 26th 2007 The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the highest UN court cleared Serbia of any direct responsibility for the genocide in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. However the court ruled that the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995 constituted genocide, and that Serbia failed to stop the genocide.

This news was met, perhaps with some relief, by the Serbian President, Boris Tadic, although he recognised that “The very difficult part of the verdict is that Serbia did not do all it could to prevent genocide”. The news was not met favourably by the Bosnian Muslims who were the victims of the atrocities, especially the mothers and wives of the 8,000 victims of Srebrenica.

This was the first time that an entire state had been charged of genocide, and the case was a true landmark in internal law and human rights. Although it is perhaps not surprising however that the ICJ has failed to convict Serbia, it does raise real questions about how this undermines the UN Genocide Convention and whether the impunity shown by those who commit genocide can continue.

In Article III (e) of the Genocide Convention it states that complicity in genocide should be punished. The ICJ has declared that Serbia failed to prevent or stop, i.e. was complicit, yet no punishment has been taken. Events in Bosnia and also in Rwanda in 1994 showed that the international community failing to act and failing to use the Genocide Convention to prevent and effectively punish the “crime of crimes”. This Serbia ruling and the continued impunity of Ratko Mladic, the main perpetrator of Srebrenica, adds more weight to the argument that the genocide convention is not taken seriously anymore.

If the convention is no longer taken seriously, perpetrators are still at large, and complicit states can escape conviction what is actually stopping the Janjaweed in Darfur from killing more and more? The examples of Bosnia and Rwanda show that the international community do not want to intervene and the convention is no longer an enforcing document. Sudan will now see this Serbia ruling by the ICJ as a sign that, if they continue not to prevent the Janjaweed committing atrocities in Darfur, they are unlikely to suffer any conviction.

Peter Coulson

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