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23 January 2008
News

ICJ Verdict Still Not Translated

BIRN BiH
Although the International Court of Justice's verdict in the case of Bosnia against Serbia was pronounced almost a year ago, state officials in BiH have still not agreed which institution should manage its translation.
By: Nadzida Cano

Almost a year has passed since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) pronounced its verdict, but it has still not been translated into the local languages in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Justice Report first broke the news about this problem in April last year. At the time, Institute for Investigation of Crimes against Humanity and International Law with the University of Sarajevo has started with translation of the document. However, since official interpretors did not do this, it will not be possible to publish the text in the Official Gazette. The existing regulations stipulate that, prior to becoming binding, each document has to undergo a certain procedure and has to be published in the Official Gazette. Only after this has been done can local institutions and courts call upon the translation of the verdict in their decision-making processes.

Just like in April, when the Justice Report story was first published, state officials still have different opinions on why the verdict has still not been translated into the official languages in BiH - and on who is actually responsible for managing such a project.

The lack of an official translation has angered BiH legal experts, who believe that the document is of interest to the state of BiH and that there should be no discussion on who is responsible for its translation.

Denying the legitimacy of the verdict

On February 26, 2007, the International Court of Justice passed a verdict saying that Serbia, as a legal successor of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), did not commit, take part in or abet genocide in BiH. However, the court decided that Serbia did not do enough to prevent or punish those responsible for the genocide and had therefore violated the Convention on Genocide Prevention and Punishment.

The case, filed before the court by the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993, was the first in which one country accused another of genocide since the term became part of the UN Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Bosnian government argued that acts of war committed on its territory during the 1992-1995 conflict constituted genocide and further claimed the authorities in Belgrade aided and abetted this genocide.

The 15-member panel of judges first ruled that what occurred over the whole the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina did not constitute genocide, even though widespread and systematic atrocities undoubtedly took place. On the other hand, it found that the July 1995 massacre of almost 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in the town of Srebrenica was an act of genocide.

But it ruled that this mass murder was the work of the Bosnian Serb army and various paramilitary units. It did not find that the Belgrade authorities took part in, aided or abetted genocide in Srebrenica.

The court accepted that Belgrade gave substantial military and financial support to the Bosnian Serb military - the Army of Republika Srpska - and that there was little doubt Bosnian Serbs used this help while committing genocide in Srebrenica.

However, the court ruled that it was not proven that the Belgrade government was aware its assistance would be used to commit genocide.

Serbia was also found guilty of failing to punish acts of genocide by failing to transfer General Ratko Mladic, charged with genocide in Srebrenica, to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

To date, the state authorities in BiH have not been able to reach an agreement as to which institution is competent to initiate the translation of the IJC verdict. This is in spite of the fact that BiH, as one of the countries that ratified the status of the ICJ, should translate all decisions of concern to that country reached by that court, as these decisions are binding, and publish them in the Official Gazette.

Damir Arnaut, legal advisor in the cabinet of BiH Presidency member Haris Silajdzic, Bosniak representative, says that "the verdict must be officially translated sooner or later".

"We are aware that there are a number of unofficial translations, but we can not rely on them and the local courts cannot use them," said Arnaut.

However, he added that this "is not the first time that BiH has faced similar problems, as we know that the Dayton Peace Agreement has never been officially translated into the languages used in BiH".

"The Dayton Agreement was originally written in English and there is no official translation to any of the languages in use in BiH. The initiative for the translation of the agreement can come from the Parliament, the Council of Ministers or the Presidency. However, the responsibility for initiation of the ICJ verdict translation rests with the Presidency," Arnaut said.

Arnaut told Justice Report that the Presidency of BiH has already held consultations on the issue of translation of the verdict, but its members have still not been able to reach an agreement concerning the issue.

"When you talk about the reasons why the verdict has still not been translated, you should take into consideration that one party disputed the lawsuit before the ICJ from the very beginning. Therefore, someone's motive may be to deny the legitimacy of the verdict," Arnaut alleged.

However, officials in the cabinet of Zeljko Komsic, the Chairman of BiH Presidency, Croat representative, do not find it strange that the verdict has still not been translated.

"As you can see, such things are possible and I do not see how this can surprise anybody," Amir Ibrovic, Chief of Cabinet, told Justice Report.

"The Presidency of BiH does not have the resources for such initiatives. Therefore, the translation should be carried out by one of the Governments in BiH or the Council of Ministers," said Ibrovic.

He added that "the Presidency of BiH never discussed the implementation of the verdict, but it did discuss the issues related to its legal consequences".

Three versions of history

Djordje Latinovic, a PR advisor in the cabinet of Nebojsa Radmanovic, Serb member of the Presidency, told Justice Report that the ICJ verdict has already been translated into Serbian in Serbia, and that the translation was published in a book written by Radoslav Stojanovic, a lawyer representing Serbia at the trial before ICJ.

Latinovic said that "the translated document can be used in BiH, as Serbian is one of the official languages in BiH".

"We can do the same as other Western Balkans countries on the issue of the European integration. It is known that there are agreements between some countries on the use of many European regulations if they have been translated in other countries. We have made an agreement with Croatia to use all their translations of the European Union regulations in order to save time, as people in BiH can understand those languages," Latinovic explained.

He added that the Presidency of BiH had never discussed the translation of the ICJ's verdict and that the cabinet of Nebojsa Radmanovic had never asked for additional pieces of information concerning this issue.

"The public knows that the Serbian representatives in the Presidency of BiH, the current and the previous ones, were against the filing of the lawsuit," Latinovic added.

However, the Institute for Investigation of Crimes against Humanity and International Law with the University of Sarajevo may soon publish an unofficial Bosnian translation of the verdict.

"The institute translated the verdict, and two associates from the University in Vienna provided support in that task," said institute director Smail Cekic.

"The activities related to the publication of the Bosnian translation are nearly finished. The document is currently being proofread and edited. When this is done, the document will be prepared for printing and published.

"Once the verdict has been published, the institute will organise a broad academic debate," said Cekic.

However, Sakib Softic, a lawyer representing BiH in the lawsuit against SFRY before the ICJ, is also disappointed by the fact that the document has not been officially translated.

"Had the document been officially translated," Softic said, "there would not have been three different versions of history describing the events that happened in the period from 1992 to 1995. The verdict contains the truth about the happenings in BiH.

"Such actions show us the attitude of this country towards the verdict, which, in turn, generate an intention to implement the verdict or not. The original versions of the verdict were written in English and French, but, due to the fact that it relates to BiH in which some other languages are spoken, it should be made available and understandable to our citizens," he said.

In his conversation with Justice Report, Softic said that he was convinced that the War Crimes Section of the Prosecution of BiH had made an adequate translation of the verdict for its internal use.

However, Boris Grubesic, PR of the Prosecution of BiH, says: "The Prosecution of BiH does not have an unofficial translation".

Zdravko Grebo, Professor at the Law Faculty of the University of Sarajevo, described the lack of an official translation as "scandalous".

"Of course it is scandalous that the verdict has not been translated. Similarly, the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH has never passed the current constitution in authentic Bosnian, Croatian or Serbian languages. This indicates that we are not a proper country and that we neither pay sufficient attention to our interests nor to our sufferings," Professor Grebo told Justice Report.

"As a resigned citizen of BiH I can repeat what I have said so many times, even if I will have to suffer the consequences once again, that I am absolutely sick of the BiH authorities! It is totally irrelevant which political option they represent. However, there should be no doubts concerning the translation of this verdict, as this issue is in the interest of this country and the state authorities should therefore be responsible for it. But the state authorities should have be held accountable for not doing the translation a long time ago," Grebo concluded.

Nadjida Cano is BIRN - Justice Report journalist. [email protected]
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