BERLIN – The United Nations’ highest court ruled Monday that Serbia failed to prevent the massacre of Muslims during the Bosnian war but was not directly responsible for the atrocities, ending a landmark case in which an entire nation was tried for committing genocide.
The decision, closely watched by countries facing allegations of war crimes, was viewed by Serbia as a vindication for its role in the 1992-95 war. The ruling angered Bosnian leaders and ended their efforts to win reparations over the killing of about 7,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.
The court did find that the army of Bosnian Serbs had committed genocide and that Serbia had “known influence” over them. The 13-2 ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague blamed Serbia for not taking “any initiative to prevent what happened or any action on its part to avert the atrocities.”
The murders in Srebrenica were the worst massacre in Europe since World War II.
The ruling comes as Serbia is under international pressure to arrest Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb general accused of orchestrating the massacre. Mladic and former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic have been indicted for crimes against humanity but have been at large for years.
The court ordered Serbia to turn Mladic over to the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague. The judges ruled, however, that because Serbia’s government did not deliberately intend to “destroy in whole or in part” the Muslim population, Bosnia would not be entitled to billions of dollars in reparations.
The decision is likely to exacerbate tensions between Bosnia’s predominant Muslim population and the largely autonomous Serbian entity within Bosnia known as Republika Srpska. Since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia was formalized by a peace agreement in 1995, Bosnia has lingered as a patchwork of Muslim, Serb and Croat nationalist ambitions still presided over by international peacekeepers.
Haris Silajdzic, the Muslim representative on Bosnia’s three-member presidency, told Bosnian television that Serbia escaped a genocide conviction but that the country must “accept political, moral and material responsibility.”