Female UK judge to preside over genocide action brought against Serbia and Montenegro

British QC Rosalyn Higgins, who has become the first woman president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), will hear her first case on 27 February when Bosnia and Herzegovina brings genocide proceedings against Serbia and Montenegro.

Blackstone Chambers’ Ian Brownlie QC is leading the defence of Serbia and Montenegro by contending that Bosnia has no jurisdiction to bring proceedings.

Brownlie claims that Bosnia was recognised as a state in contravention of international law, and is therefore not a party to the 1948 Genocide Convention. Serbia is also arguing that Bosnia had no territorial jurisdiction over the region where the genocide is alleged to have taken place.

The proceedings request an ICJ declaration that Serbia “has killed, murdered, wounded, raped, robbed, tortured, kidnapped, illegally detained and exterminated the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina” and ask for the payment of reparations.

Brownlie is lead counsel for Serbia, instructed by the Serbian Ministry of Defence, while French international lawyer Alain Pellet is acting for Bosnia.

The case was launched in the midst of the civil war that raged across the Balkans in the early 1990s. A fortnight after the proceedings were filed, the court made an order requesting that Serbia should immediately take all measures within its power to prevent genocide.

A succession of preliminary issues have been argued since 1993. In 2001 Serbia withdrew its 1997 counter-claim alleging that Bosnia had been responsible for genocidal acts against Serbians.

Judge Higgins was elected earlier this month. A court statement noted that she “is the first woman to have been elected president of the court.” It added that “she is moreover still the only woman ever to have been elected [as a] member of the court”, which took place in 1995. Judge Higgins became a QC in 1986 and has practised at the European Court of Justice.