(I)ncredibly (C)omplicated (J)argon - Croatia v Serbia

Like Judge Peter Tomka
Monday, February 9, 2015 - 12:21

Photo: Judge Peter Tomka making his way through the sizeable judgment

By Niklas Jakobsson

After two hours of mens rea, dolus specialis and actus reus, the International Court of Justice finally dismissed a claim and counter-claim of genocide between Serbia and Croatia. Judge Peter Tomka soldiered doggedly through the judgment which in its full printed form exceeded 700 pages. With the world able to watch the judgment unfolding live via webcast, the international justice Twitter circle spent hours going through every sentence of the decision.

As Judge Tomka wrapped up the judgment with a final sip of juice, it became clear that neither Serbs nor Croats were any nearer  closure on this delicate issue that has haunted them for the last two decades. In fact, some people argue that the court’s decision and the long process were only of benefit to a few individuals.

The decision by the judges to dismiss both cases boiled down in the end to both parties inability to prove the mental aspect of genocide. Without getting too technical, neither side proved the other party’s intent to destroy a group in full or in part. But for some people, the message from the judges was a lot simpler than that.

Picking up on the same train of thought, Andrea Oskari Rossini came to a similar conclusion 

“Serbia and Croatia are invited to "cooperate", in particular to address the issue of people still missing and to provide "adequate compensation to the victims", thus consolidating "peace and stability in the region". After 16 years, the courts returned the ball to the parties.”

International law largely relies on previous decisions in future cases. Therefore the ICJ had an opportunity to establish jurisprudence for cases to come. Instead, this decade-and-a-half long legal process seemingly taught us only one thing about the court.

But in what many called an unsurprising judgment, the devil (or the devilish surprise) was still in the detail. In an article by Janet Anderson for Justice Hub, Oliver Ribbelink at the TMC Asser Institute found the level of detail in the judgment the most surprising.

“I found it surprising that they went into so much detail on the actual events – what happened here and what happened there. Many place names and municipalities have been mentioned by the Court. And they relied very much on the Yugoslavia Tribunal jurisprudence. That tribunal has dealt with so many of these issues.”

But the thing that might be the most controversial could, according to some, be published by both countries.

At the end of the day all that seems clear that people left the court knowing roughly the same about the legal implication of genocide as they did two hours earlier.



  • Does the ICJ take too long to make a judgment?
  •  What will be the impact of the judgment on the relationship between Croatia and Serbia?
  • Isn’t the proof of acts of genocide enough to prove genocide?

Lead image: Judge Peter Tomka (Photo: UN Photo/CIJ-ICJ/Frank van Beek)

The Weekly Hubble features the most popular or controversial international justice story of the past week and reactions on social media to the news. 

David D Y Choi

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Friday, October 13, 2017 - 05:49
David D Y Choi

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Saturday, August 5, 2017 - 05:12
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Tuesday, May 17, 2016 - 04:48
David D Y Choi

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Saturday, January 23, 2016 - 01:48