THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Serbia denied it was guilty of genocide during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia on Monday, opening its defense before the U.N.’s highest court against Croatian allegations of ethnic cleansing.
Croatia is seeking reparations from Serbia and Montenegro at the International Court of Justice in The Hague for the murder and torture of its citizens, as well as destruction of property, during the war in which at least 100,000 people were killed.
Presenting their opening arguments, Serbia’s lawyers said the court had no jurisdiction in the case, because the country was not a member of the United Nations at the time the suit was filed and was not subject to the genocide convention.
They also denied that genocide had taken place.
“This is a case in which there was no genocide,” said Tibor Varady, representing Serbia.
Croatia’s opening arguments will begin on Tuesday in public hearings scheduled to last until Friday.
Two years ago, the court heard a similar case brought by Bosnia, which relied heavily on the argument that the massacre of 8,000 Muslims by Bosnian Serbs in the U.N. safe zone of Srebrenica amounted to genocide by Serbia.
The court cleared Serbia last year, saying the massacre was genocide but Serbia was guilty only of failing to prevent it and punish perpetrators.
Three-quarters of those killed during the war where Muslims and Croats. Bosnian Serbs, backed by Serbia, swept swaths of land clean of non-Serbs, culminating in the Srebrenica massacre.
Croatia, which filed the suit in 1999, argues that Serbia and Montenegro should be held liable for ethnic cleansing, murder, torture and destruction of property.
“All of these actions were specifically and purposefully undertaken with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, national, ethnic, or racial group,” Croatia argued in its suit.
Croatia broke away from Yugoslavia in a process that began in 1991, and tried to quell the rebelling Serb minority. The rebel Serbs, later backed by the Yugoslav army, tried to conquer as much of the country as it could to redraw its borders.
The hearings at the court, set up after World War Two to mediate in disputes between states, are due to run until May 30 and a judgment is expected later in the year.