SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia formally submitted on Thursday its request for a revision of a U.N. court ruling that cleared Serbia of blame for genocide, prompting an angry response from Bosnian Serbs who said the move imperilled the country’s postwar settlement.
The ambassadors of major powers, including Russia and the United States, issued a rare joint statement urging all parties in Bosnia to pursue dialogue and avoid any unilateral actions that could exacerbate inter-ethnic tensions.
The 2007 judgement by the International Court of Justice exonerated Serbia of direct responsibility for killings, rapes and “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, though it said Serbia had failed to prevent genocide.
The ICJ ruling concluded that genocide had occurred only at Srebrenica, where about 8,000 Muslims were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces, and not in other parts of Bosnia.
The Muslim Bosniak member of Bosnia’s three-man presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, defended the decision to deliver the request at The Hague against strong opposition from his Serb and Croatian colleagues.
“The request is being submitted at this very moment,” he told a news conference after walking out of a session of the three-man presidency where he had refused to take part in a vote on the issue.
“I think that I am on the path of truth and justice.”
But the Bosnian Serb chair of the presidency, Mladen Ivanic, condemned the move, saying it was now uncertain how the three-member presidency representing Bosnia’s three main ethnic groups could continue to function in the future.
“I fear that we have entered a very serious crisis,” he told reporters after the session.
Bosnian Serb politicians have threatened to block the work of the federal parliament in Sarajevo if the request is filed in The Hague. [L8N1G52UU] This would halt reforms Bosnia needs to draw closer to the European Union and to win a new tranche under a loan deal with the International Monetary Fund.
The Bosnian Serbs have accused Izetbegovic of violating the Constitution and the 1995 Dayton agreement that ended the war.
But he says he is merely supporting a bid by Bosnia’s legal agent at the ICJ, who was approved by the presidency in 2002 to run all proceedings related to the lawsuit.
The Bosnian Muslims hope that a revision may shed more light on crimes committed during the war, in which more than 100,000 people were killed. Bosnian Serbs see the legal move as directed against them and the reconciliation.
The ambassadors from countries involved in implementing Bosnia’s peace agreement met in Sarajevo on Thursday to discuss the situation.
“All political leaders should refrain from unilateral actions and return to the principles of compromise, dialogue and consensus in making decisions, as well as respecting the Bosnian constitution, institutions and the rule of law,” they said in their joint statement.
Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Gareth Jones