Serbians Can’t Pursue Genocide Claim in U.S.

     CHICAGO (CN) – Ethnic Serbs who claim a military consultant based in the United States trained and equipped Croatian forces to commit genocide during the breakup of Yugoslavia cannot sue in U.S. courts, a federal judge ruled.
     In 2010, ethnic Serbians filed a class action in the federal court in Chicago on behalf of all Serbs residing in the Krajina region of Croatia in 1995.
     MPRI, a military consulting firm run by former U.S. military officers, allegedly devised the battle plan, and trained and equipped Croatian forces for “Operation Storm,” the last major battle of the Croatian War of Independence.
     Croatian leaders clearly told MPRI, now owned by L-3 Communications, that their goal was to “drive the Serbs out of [the] country,” according to the complaint.
     Planning for the operation allegedly took place at MPRI’s Virginia headquarters as well as in Croatia.
     “Operation Storm resulted in the largest act of ethnic cleansing in Europe since World War II,” the plaintiffs say. “Thousands of innocent civilians were attacked, injured, and killed,” forcing an estimated 300,000-350,000 ethnic Serbs to flee the Krajina area, which is now a part of Croatia.
     “Whether MPRI personnel took part in the genocide is not known and not alleged here; What is known definitively is that MPRI provided the means that enabled the genocide to occur,” they continue.
     The plaintiffs sought $10.4 billion in damages, plus accrued interest since 1995.
     But U.S. District Judge John Lee said despite the “tragic and horrific” allegations, he lacked jurisdiction to hear plaintiffs’ claims.
     “Although plaintiffs allege that MPRI negotiated its contract with the Croatian leadership in Virginia and conducted some planning and development activities in Virginia, defendants’ involvement occurred ‘also within and from Croatia itself,’ culminating in ten different trips to Croatia, with MPRI ‘plac[ing] its personnel on the ground,'” the judge said. “Thus, taking plaintiffs’ allegations as true, the substantial part of MPRI’s challenged conduct occurred extraterritorially, and not in Virginia.”
     Last year in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that torture victims could not sue Shell Petroleum under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) because none of the activity underlying the suit took place in the U.S.
     Similarly, “the court finds that the focus of plaintiffs’ claims are the alleged atrocities that took place in Croatia, and MPRI’s limited domestic conduct is insufficient to overcome Kiobel‘s presumption,” the judge said.
     However, Lee upheld plaintiffs’ state civil conspiracy claims to commit trespass to land and conversion.
     Croatian forces allegedly “systematically looted and destroyed Serbian-owned homes, businesses, crops and livestock in the Krajina region, including those owned by the named plaintiffs. Many of these homes subsequently were expropriated by the Croatian military,” Lee found.

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