Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Snuffs Serbs' Bid to Halt Raids

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- The United Nations' top court on Wednesday rejected Yugoslavia's request to halt NATO airstrikes on its territory, but it expressed concern about the legal basis for the bombing.

Judges at the World Court - formally known as the International Court of Justice - declined to impose an interim ruling to halt airstrikes by 10 NATO nations. They also raised doubts that Yugoslavia's complaints against eight of the countries fell within the international Genocide Convention.

The court completely threw out the complaints against the other two NATO members, the United States and Spain, on a legal technicality. There will be no further hearings in these cases.

But Presiding Judge Christopher Weeramantry said the court was troubled about the legal foundation for NATO's action.

"The court is profoundly concerned about the use of force in Yugoslavia. Under the present circumstances such use raises very serious issues of international law," he said.

Yugoslavia had argued the NATO air campaign that began March 24 is illegal and tantamount to genocide. It based its case, filed at the end of April, on the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions and the Genocide Convention.

With Wednesday's rulings the World Court became the second UN judicial body to cut through Kosovo diplomacy and inflict a legal setback on Yugoslavia in its argument with the West. On May 27 the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia issued an indictment charging Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four of his lieutenants with war crimes committed during the Kosovo conflict.

Hearings before the World Court last month confronted NATO countries with an aspect of their campaign they had tried to keep quiet - the shaky legal grounds for military action.

"Arguably there is no international legal justification for the bombing," said Olivier Ribbelink of the Asser Institute for International Law, noting that no single UN Security Council resolution legitimized the air campaign. He said the court's 15 permanent judges and five ad hoc judges had chosen "the safe way" in their majority ruling.

A member of the Yugoslav delegation, who declined to be identified, criticized the rulings, saying: "The whole thing is politicized."

A member of the French legal team said he was satisfied with the interim decision, adding: "After this, there is no case."

The judges decried the human effect of the conflict, which has stemmed from Western allegations of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia's province of Kosovo.

"The court is deeply concerned with the human suffering and loss of life in Kosovo that forms the background of this dispute and with the continued loss of life and human suffering in all parts of Yugoslavia," Weeramantry said.

The judge urged the states to find a peaceful solution.

Yugoslavia was suing 10 NATO states, including Britain, France, Italy and Germany. It was asking for interim rulings, known as provisional measures, to stop the bombing while the court considered Yugoslavia's complaint.

Although the court refused to issue emergency measures in the remaining eight cases, deliberations will continue with a final ruling likely to take years.

The court threw out the cases against the United States and Spain altogether because the two countries had opted out of a clause in the Genocide Convention that states disputes are to be submitted to the World Court.

World Court judgments are final and without appeal, but the court has no means to enforce them. Nations that fail to comply fall under the jurisdiction of the UN Security Council, where the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China have veto power.

Yugoslav officials have slammed the decisions of both UN courts as politically motivated. The war crimes tribunal is trying to isolate Milosevic to strengthen the West's hand, they say, while the World Court simply lacks the guts to back Belgrade.