The conflict that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s included widespread killing, rape and torture, says the International Court of Justice in The Hague. But the court said Tuesday that the acts can't be deemed genocide, something both Croatia and Serbia have claimed in filings against each other.
In dismissing both countries' claims, the U.N.'s highest court said that several elements that make up the formal definition of genocide were not established. In its ruling, it cited a lack of a systematic or general plan to destroy a group and to prevent births from occurring within that group.
Today's ruling stems from an initial claim filed by Croatia back in 1999. Serbia then filed its own counterclaim.
"The decision came as little surprise as U.N. courts have never charged any Serbs or Croats with genocide in each other's territory," NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports. "The Croatian government alleged that Serbia committed genocide in the town of Vukovar and elsewhere in 1991. Tens of thousands of ethnic Croats were displaced, and hundreds of Croat men were detained and killed. Serbia later filed a counterclaim over the expulsion of more than 200,000 Serbs from Croatia."
In its decision, the court wrote, "What is generally called 'ethnic cleansing' does not in itself constitute a form of genocide. Genocide presupposes the intent physically to destroy, in whole or in part, a human group as such, and not merely a desire to expel it from a specific territory."