Thursday, March 09, 2006

Posner on Bosnia v. Serbia

Over at the University of Chicago Law School Faculty Blog, Eric Posner has an excellent post questioning the efficacy and validity of the just-begun suit by Bosnia against Serbia for genocide in the International Court of Justice. Among the best passages:
The International Court of Justice never achieved the hopes of its founders. Because it is staffed by ordinary human beings with their own national loyalties, states are not always willing to trust it to produce impartial judgments based on international law, and absent that trust, they rarely allow major disputes to come before it. Most states have never appeared before the ICJ as parties; other states, including the United States and France, have withdrawn from its jurisdiction in response to its perceived shortcomings.

Even when the court does hear cases, it does so with no power to enforce its judgments-only the Security Council has this power, and it never exercises it. States thus can, and do, ignore the court, as the US did when the court held that its use of force in Nicaragua during the 1980s was illegal. The ICJ has had some success adjudicating border disputes and other small conflicts, but has accomplished little else. It is a slow and inefficient institution, which is why the Bosnia-Serbia proceeding is already 13 years old. A Bosnian legal victory is likely to lead only to a political impasse.

Nations should encourage the Serbs and Bosnians to overcome their differences, and for this purpose the traditional carrots and sticks of international relations-trade, aid, diplomatic pressure-can help. But they should not place their confidence in the ICJ. Indeed, if Bosnia were to drop the case against Serbia, this might contribute more to peace and reconciliation than its legal resolution would.

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