The Supreme Court here in the United States issued a major ruling to uphold a key provision of President Obama’s signature health care reform law. Naturally, that’s sucking up most of the media attention today. But, there was an other key ruling a quarter way around the world that deserves some attention.

The UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (where I worked for a spell as an intern 10 years ago) acquitted Bosnian-Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic of one count of Genocide, but upheld 11 other counts, including one other Genocide charge.

Presiding Judge Oh-Gon Kwon said prosecutors did not provide enough evidence to “be capable of supporting a conviction of genocide in the municipalities” — a charge covering the mass killings, expulsions and persecution by Serb forces of Muslims and Croats from Bosnian towns early in the country’s 1992-95 war.

While the dismissal of one genocide charge was a setback for prosecutors, judges upheld 10 more charges, including a genocide count covering Karadzic’s alleged involvement in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

Prosecutors finished presenting their evidence in May and earlier this month Karadzic had asked judges to dismiss all 11 counts against him, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case.

This happened at the halfway point of the trial. What’s significant here is that the judges basically ruled that genocide was not happening in Bosnia in 1992-93. This is not to say that a whole lot of people did not get killed. Rather,  what distinguishes “Genocide” from “mass killing members of a specific group” is that to prove genocide you have to prove that the intent of the killing was to wipe out the group, in whole or in part. That question of intent was apparently not sufficiently proven to a sufficient degree.

So does this mean that Karadzic, who is one of the masterminds of the Bosnian genocide, will get off free of the charge? Not likely. That’s because the judges have ruled that by 1995 (the Srebrenica massacre) the intent to commit genocide was apparent. So, Karadzic and his co-conspirator General Radko Mladic could still face genocide charges stemming from crimes committed from 1995-on.

According to the judges, the joint criminal conspiracy to commit genocide (as opposed to just mass killing) probably did not commence until after 1993. This may be a minor distinction for the families of those lost killed in the conflict, but it serves as an important legal footnote to the ongoing quest for justice in the Balkans

 

 

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