Genocide: gravest of war crimes is also hardest to prove
Genocide, among the charges facing Ratko Mladic over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, is the gravest crime in international humanitarian law -- and the most difficult to prove.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has indicted the wartime Bosnian Serb military leader, arrested in Serbia on Wednesday over the massacre of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb troops in Srebrenica.
He is accused alongside his former Bosnian Serb political boss, Radovan Karadzic who was arrested in Belgrade on July 21, 2008 and is on trial, being held at the tribunal's detention unit in The Hague.
The massacre at Srebrenica, a United Nations enclave and so-called safe area, is the only episode in the 1990s Balkan wars to have been ruled genocide by the ICTY.
It was also judged such by the UN's highest tribunal, the International Court of Justice, in February 2007.
Derived from the Greek word "genos," for race or tribe, and the suffix "cide" from the Latin for "to kill"; genocide is defined by the UN as an "act committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".
The word was coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew who took refuge in the United States, to describe crimes committed by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
It became a crime under international law under a 1948 UN convention.
Legal experts stress that the crime is very difficult to prove in court because of the onus on the prosecution to show that an accused had called for a genocide to happen, or approved it.
"It is hard to prove that the accused truly had the specific intent to exterminate a group," legal analyst Cedric Ryngaert told AFP.
"One says of genocide that it is the crime of crimes. Without the intention (on the part of the accused), it becomes a crime against humanity."
The world's first genocide conviction was delivered 50 years after the adoption of the UN convention when the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) sentenced a former mayor, Jean-Paul Akayesu, to life imprisonment in 1998.
The ICTY has handed down one genocide-related conviction so far, finding former Bosnian Serb general Radislav Krstic guilty in April 2004 of aiding and abetting genocide.
© 2011 AFP