UK lawyers take lead in Bosnia war trials

BRITISH lawyers are taking centre stage in a historic legal action which may establish the first court ruling on genocide since World War II.

The case, being heard in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, involves an action by the Bosnian government against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro).

Two Temple barristers have key roles, one in each side's international legal team. Khawar Qureshi, of Sir Patrick Neill QC's 1 Hare Court set, is counsel for Bosnia. Law professors in Cambridge, Paris and Amsterdam will also act in the case.

Qureshi, acting pro bono, said: “The Bosnian action aims to prove that the Serbian government bears responsibility for the actions and alleged atrocities committed by Bosnian Serb forces and will seek damages and reparations, if necessary enforced by Security Council sanctions.”

He said Bosnia's ICJ case could be further aided by individual convictions from a separate Hague war crimes tribunal.

Ian Brownlie QC, of Colin Ross-Munro QC's set in 2 Hare Court, is working alongside Serbian government lawyers for Belgrade. The Yugoslav embassy said he was appointed three months ago after another lawyer in Israel dropped out.

Brownlie declined to comment on the action.

Bosnia's lawyers claim all governments will have a stake in the outcome because it will be the ICJ's first opportunity to apply the Genocide Convention, adopted in 1948 and in force from 1961, to the post-holocaust political and military conditions existing today.

The court will be asked to deduce the “intent” to commit genocide in this context.

The trial is expected late next year but preparatory stages are well under way, with both legal work and research being done in London. Since Bosnia filed its evidence last year, Serbia has filed preliminary objections on 30 June. Bosnia is to file a reply by mid-November.