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Unresolved arguments

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 16:16 UK time, Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Can a nation be guilty of genocide? A question we looked at last night following the verdict of the International Court of Justice (the ICJ) that Serbia was not directly responsible for the massacre at Srebrenica during the Bosnian War. The Bosnian government had taken neighbouring Serbia to court to try to prove Belgrade was guilty of war crimes in the war of 1992-95.

The World Tonight
The finding of the court was finely balanced in that it did find that what happened at Bosnian Muslim-held town Srebrenica when it fell to Bosnia Serb forces in 1995 was genocide (up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys are thought to have been killed) and while ruling that Belgrade was not guilty of committing that genocide it also ruled that Serbia was guilty of not preventing genocide - so there was something for everyone in the decision.

This was reflected in the discussion on last night's World Tonight (listen here) between Anthony Dworkin (director of the Crimes of War project) and John Laughland (who wrote "Travesty: the trial of Slobodan Milosevic and the corruption of international justice," which is highly critical of the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, (ICTY) which tries individuals, rather than states as the ICJ does). They both found something to praise in the decision of the ICJ - but not the same thing.

One of the key questions that came up was whether a whole state representing a nation - such as the Serbs - can be held responsible for what happened in the past when their country was led by a undemocratic leaders? Not a new question when we think back to the Treaty of Versailles and the imposition of reparations on Germany after World War One, but it is very pertinent today as the international community struggles with what to do about Kosovo and Iraq.

In Kosovo for example, the United States and Britain argue that the Serbs have to let Kosovo go because the Serbs have lost the moral right to govern the majoriity Albanian population following the violence and repression by the government of Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s. Meanwhile in Iraq, the British and Americans argue that the international community should forgive most of the debts the country incurred under Saddam Hussein because the people of Iraq should not have to pay the price of the policies of the former dictator.

Tonight we are looking at the decision of the newly established International Criminal Court to name individuals indicted for war cirmes in Darfur - which is the other route to seeking justice for war crimes: go for the individual rather than the state.

But - as you may have anticipated - this approach is also criticised, often because in the case of ICTY some of the big fish have yet to face trial (Ratko Mladic) or have died while on trial (Slobodan Milosevic) and only the smaller fish ever get convicted. (Before you ask what about Saddam Hussein, I have omitted him here as his trial was not an international trial, but as you will remember his trial was crticised by the UN among others for not being fair).

Anyway, these are arguments that have been aired on The World Tonight among other BBC programmes and will continue to be as Darfur, Kosovo and Iraq remain unresolved.

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