PARIS — The United Nations’ highest court on Thursday denied a request by Bosnia to reopen a 2007 case that cleared Serbia of playing an active role in the genocide committed during the war in Bosnia in the 1990s.
The International Court of Justice said in a statement that it could not act on the request because it had not been approved by all three members of Bosnia’s collective presidency, which represents the Croat, Serb and Bosniak populations.
Experts familiar with the case said other paths were still open to re-examine whether genocide was committed in Bosnia not only near the end of the war in 1995 but as early as 1992.
That year, over several months, a Serbian-orchestrated ethnic-cleansing campaign drove the non-Serb population from large areas of territory amid a wave of killings and other atrocities.
For the International Court of Justice, based in The Hague, Bosnia’s suit against Serbia for genocide was the first such case involving large-scale deaths and displacements. More commonly, the court deals with treaty or border violations and other disputes between nations.
In 2007, the court ruled that while a massacre in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb forces killed nearly 8,000 men and boys in 1995, was genocide, it did not find proof that Serbia was responsible for the killings.
But the court’s ruling did say that Serbia violated the Genocide Convention because it should have prevented the genocide and punished the military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic. It did not describe the killings of 1992 as genocide.
Two weeks ago, just before the 10-year window to ask for a review of the case expired, Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak member of the tripartite presidency, directed a team of lawyers to file a request for the court to revise the 2007 ruling. A revision is the only available option because the court does not allow appeals.
The request argued that since 2007, a great deal of evidence had become available in other trials that would demonstrate the active role of the Serbian state, and the scale of its involvement, during the Bosnian war.
Mr. Izetbegovic was the only member of the collective presidency to make the request. He contended that further consent was not needed because the revision involved a continuation of Bosnia’s earlier case.
But the Serbian member of the presidency, Mladen Ivanic, demanded that the court dismiss the case, calling the request illegitimate.
David Scheffer, a professor of law at Northwestern University in Chicago who helped prepare the revision request, said the court had, erroneously, simply accepted the Serb argument and cast aside a genocide case on a technicality.
“Genocide is too serious a crime to be dealt with in this manner,” Professor Scheffer said. “It’s so distressing, the way the court conducted itself. It did not honor its own rules and statute, and it offered no legal arguments.”
Other options to pursue the case will be considered, he said.
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