The public hearings in the Croatia vs. Serbia case opened today before the International Court of Justice. Croatia and Serbia have accused each other of genocide, allegedly committed in the period from 1991 to 1995. The ‘genocide and the intent to commit it are not a numbers game’ but a consequence of the campaign ‘instigated, organized, controlled and made possible’ by Serbia, Croatia has argued. The hearings will last a month

Representatives of Croatia and Serbia in the ICJRepresentatives of Croatia and Serbia in the ICJ

The hearings on the merits in the Croatia vs. Serbia case began today with the opening statement of Professor Vesna Crnic-Grotic, head of the Croatian legal team. Croatia and Serbia have accused each other of violations of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. In July 1999, Croatia filed its suit urging the worlds highest court to find Serbia guilty of genocide, allegedly perpetrated by the military, paramilitary and police forces under the direct control of the FRY and Serbia. In 2010 Serbia filed a counter-suit alleging that Croatia perpetrated genocide against Serbs during Operation Storm.

The fact that the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has not issued a single indictment for genocide in Croatia does not mean that there was no genocide there, Crnic-Grotic noted in her opening statement. This was merely a reflection of the OTP's policy. Crnic-Grotic also stressed that Croatia was aware of the judgment passed in the Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Serbia case. The judgment established that genocide was committed in Srebrenica but not in other locations in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Genocide and the intent to commit genocide is not a numbers game, said Crnic-Grotic. The rebellion in the parts of Croatia inhabited with Serbs that began in the summer of 1990 resulted in genocide, she explained. Serbia instigated, organized, controlled and made possiblethat campaign.

In the recent years Croatia has tried to settle the dispute with Serbia amicably, but its efforts have been met with denial, which is still prevalentamong the political leaders, Crnic-Grotic said. In that context Crnic-Grotic mentioned Tomislav Nikolic, Serbias president. Although the International Court of Justice has ruled genocide was committed in Srebrenica, Nikolic still refuses to acknowledge it as such. As Crnic-Grotic added, many convictions passed by the first-instance courts in Serbia have been quashed on appeal, illustrating her case with the examples of the reversed judgments for the crimes in Lovas and Vukovar. The locations are mentioned in the Croatian suit which alleges that Serbia committed genocide in Eastern and Western Slavonia, Knin and Dalmatia.

After Crnic-Grotic completed her presentation, Andreja Metelko-Zgombic from the Croatian Foreign Ministry delivered a brief presentation of the historical and political context of the events in the former Yugoslavia. Metelko-Zgombic began with the Constitution passed in 1974, and went on to describe the events that followed Titos death and the growing Serbian nationalism in the second half of 1980s, completing her recapitulation of the events with the break-up of the federal state and the ensuing war.

Helen Law, a lawyer from London, focused on the rise of Serbian extremist nationalism, the hate speechagainst Croats, and the vilificationof Croatia which was conflated with the Ustasha regime of the Independent State of Croatia. The crimes perpetrated against the Serbs in the World War II were used to justify the establishment of the Greater Serbia, Law stressed, and it was Milosevic who was its chief architect. Vojislav Seselj and Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan were hate speechchampions, and their paramilitary units committed numerous crimes against Croats and other non-Serbs. In her arguments, Law invoked the expert reports on the Serb nationalism presented at the trial of Slobodan Milosevic.

James Crawford, British professor of international law and Croatias co-counsel, spoke about the Serbization of the JNA, its false neutralityin the first stages of the conflict and its role in the effort to arm and control the various Serb forcesengaged in the genocidal campaign in Croatia.

As the hearing drew to a close, Professor Philippe Sands began his argument on the origins and evolution of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Professor Sand will complete his presentation tomorrow.

The arguments presented before the International Court of Justice today were for the most part a rehash. The Croatian representatives went through the same elements that were heard a number of times in the past two decades in the Tribunal in The Hague, at the trials of Slobodan Milosevic, Milan Martic, the three former JNA officers charged with the crimes in Vukovar, Vojislav Seselj and other people charged with the crimes that happened from 1991 to 1995 in Croatia. Unsurprisingly, there was no new information about the crimes that were the subject of several judgments at the Tribunal. In addition to the evidence in the Milosevic case, the Croatian representatives relied on the findings of the Trial Chambers in the case against the Vukovar Three and Milan Martic. It may well be that the Croatian representatives didnt want to show their hand on the first day of the public hearings and they may still have an ace up their sleeve they intend to use at a later stage of the proceedings. The public hearings will go on until 1 April 2014, with some breaks.

Tomorrow Croatia will call its first witnesses and experts. Their evidence will be made public on 1 April 2014, at the end of the public hearings. Croatia intends to call nine witnesses and three experts. The Serbian side will cross-examine four witnesses and two experts. As Croatia has decided not to cross-examine the seven Serbian witnesses and one expert before the worlds highest court for disputes between states, their evidence will be admitted into evidence directly.