27 February 2007


Dear readers,

The recent verdict of the International Court of Justice about Serbia raises, I believe, an interesting question. We read the word genocide quasi every day in the press, we hear it on radio and tv, but I am not too sure that people realise what it exactly means. So the rage of Bosnian demonstrators after the verdict might be very understandable, but not very well directed. The Court was asked to tell the (international) law, and it did it remarkably well. So the question is "What is exactly genocide?" What does it cover? Who can be responsible for genocide? And obviously who can be guilty of not preventing genocide, or worse, accomplicity?

It is not as an easy question as it may seems. Genocide is a very vast word, but it has a very precise legal meaning. According to this article, the only space left to debate is about the extent. Where does genocide begin and where does "simple" massacre ends? The legal definition speaks about partial or total destruction of a group because of its religion, ethnicity, etc. So there is a jurisprudence about what constitutes a part big enough to qualify for genocide. The Tribunal for ex-Yougoslavia stated that, to qualify, a group of victims must be significant in absolute numbers, relatively to the size of the total group but also relatively to the reach of the perpetrator. And of course, the organisation (system) and intent must be proven.

In the case of Sebrenica, genocide is clear: perpetrators systematically killed all male population (effectively preventing the reproduction of the targetted group part), the part was significant in absolute value (several thousands) and relative numbers (a region is a significant part of a country). There was a very systematic effort and organisation: the perpetrators organised the deception of the population to help their murderous effort, organising convoys that would lead some to their deaths and others to exile (after systematic rape).

But what the Court showed in yesterday's decision is that Serbia as a state did not organise such an act. Serbia certainly helped, or at least did not prevent the genocide in local Sebrenica. But Serbia as a state did not organise the genocide of all Muslim and ethnic Kroatian populations. Local Bosno-Serb authorities did. No one in Belgrad had theorized ethnic cleansing. It was Radovan Karadzic who did in Bosnia. Serbia aimed at dominance over ex-Yougoslavia, not extermination. Belgrade, in few words, was guilty of non-prevention and certainly of dictatorship. But not genocide... Serbia did little worse than China or the Arab League with Sudan (relating to Darfur) or than France with Rwanda.

That doesn't tell much about China and France, does it?

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