The top U.N. court ruled Tuesday that neither Croatia nor Serbia committed genocide during the 1990s Balkan wars, when Croatia broke away from Yugoslavia.
According to a ruling read by Judge Peter Tomka of the International Court of Justice, many crimes had been committed by the two countries’ forces, but both sides failed to prove the other committed genocide during the conflict, which killed over 20,000 people.
“The court encourages the parties to continue their cooperation with a view to offering appropriate reparation to the victims of such violations, thus consolidating peace and stability in the region,” Tomka said at the court’s Hague headquarters.
Croatia took Serbia to the court in 1999, claiming that large numbers of Croats were killed, tortured, displaced or put in detention centers after Serb militias and Yugoslav army troops took over the city of Vukovar and surrounding areas.
In 2010, Serbia hit back with an ICJ suit of its own, claiming over 200,000 Serbs were expelled during a Croatian counteroffensive during one of the conflict’s final battles in 1995.
Both countries have said they will accept the ruling of the ICJ, which is meant to settle disputes between states. But there was concern that the ruling may spark political tensions.
On Sunday, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said the ruling “will be one of perhaps the most important events for our bilateral relations with Croatia.”
“It will probably be the end of a process that has lasted for 15-20 years (and) will put an end to both sides’ fight to prove who the worst criminal is,” he said.