Monday, February 26, 2007


Serbia has been cleared by a UN court of being directly responsible for genocide in Bosnia during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. The judges decided that only the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, in which around 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces, actually constituted an act of genocide. Although they did tell Serbia it failed in its responsibility to stop that massacre happening, their overall ruling means Bosnia won't get any compensation.

At first glance it looks like the wrong decision. Although politicians in Belgrade can't be blamed for all the actions on the ground of Bosnian Serb generals led by the (still on the run) Ratko Mladic, the idea they didn't know what was going on is nonsense. Right up to Serbia's then-President Slobodan Milosevic, the Belgrade government at the very least decided to turn a blind eye to the killing. On that basis, the court probably should have convicted Serbia.

But the judges' decision is actually pretty realistic. Raiding the Serb treasury to give money to Bosnia wouldn't do much good 12 years on. With corruption and confusion still common in the way Bosnia is run at local levels, a lot of the cash probably wouldn't get to the bereaved families anyway. Although finding Serbia guilty would have been symbolic, both Bosnia and Serbia need real progress rather than symbols. Offering both countries more hope of entry to the EU sooner rather than later is the best way to leave the dark days of the recent past behind.

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