Jezik / Language:
28 December 2012

Bosnia’s War Crimes Strategy May Finally Speed up


Three years since Bosnia adopted a war-crimes strategy, hopes grow that the prosecution of war crimes perpetrators may finally speed up, although no increase in indictments has yet occurred.

By creating a centralized database of investigations, indictments and verdicts for war crimes and by distributing unfinished war crime investigations between all of Bosnia’s prosecutors’ offices, faster work on implementing the war crimes strategy has begun over the last 12 months.

While judicial institutions admit that work in past years was too slow and laboured, they hope the process will become easier.

By distributing remaining war crime cases – so that only complex cases remain at state level while all others go to entity and Brcko District courts – it should be possible to accelerate matters.

There is also hope that with the naming of a new Chief Prosecutor, a more systematic approach will follow and war crimes will become more of a priority.

Major EU investments in the courts planned for next year, and the possibility that a new Appeal Court will be formed, also suggest that the entire process can accelerate.

On the other hand, the annual report of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council passed with many objections in Bosnia’s state parliament, many of them related to the pace of war crime prosecutions.

The chairman of the Constitutional Committee of parliament said it was inexcusable that Strategy deadlines were constantly missed.

Bosnia’s Council of Ministers adopted the war crimes strategy in December 2008. This foresaw the creation of a centralized database for all open war crimes within 30 days and their distribution among prosecutors’ offices.

Complex cases were to remain at state level and wrap up within seven years, while all others were to be distributed to other prosecutions and be completed within 15 years.

But the strategy has so far failed to make much difference, as the figures demonstrate.

In the three years before the Strategy was adopted, Bosnia’s State Court issued 21 verdicts on war crimes, while in the next four years, it issued approximately 40 verdicts.  A similar situation is evident in terms of the number of indictments.

This year, the same number of indictments for war crimes was raised as in 2007 - six less than 2008, the year when the Strategy  was adopted.

Various demands of the Strategy have also not been met to date as deadlines have come and gone. “Funds to improve the work of courts, prosecutions and police agencies in war crimes cases”, based on recommendations of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, HJPC, have yet to be raised, for example.

Achievements in 2012:

On the other hand, the State Court says that this year it completed a centralized database of indictments and verdicts in all courts in the country, and that the process of determining the complexity and distribution of war crime investigations is also almost done.

“The best indication of progress is the fact that since the Strategy was adopted, courts in the entities and Brcko district received 282 cases, 210 of which were in the last year alone,” Meddzida Kreso, the President of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said.

According to the HJPC, in the Republika Srpska, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Brcko District, more than 600 investigations are ongoing and another 658 are ongoing at state level.

Bosnia’s Justice Minister, Barisa Colak, and the HJPC president, Milorad Novkovic, told BIRN – Justice Report that they were content with the practice and pace of delegating less “complex” cases to the entity and Brcko courts, which they say has cut the burden on state level institutions and allowed for a faster resolution of cases.

“Distributing cases is the only way to implement the [war crimes] Strategy, because the State Court and Prosecution cannot prosecute all the cases,” Novkovic said.

His view is shared by the European Union delegation to Bosnia, which monitors the Strategy implementation supervisory board. Andy Mcguffie, spokesperson of the delegation, said he was happy with the results this year.

“The acceleration in redistributing the backlog after almost three years of stalemate has contributed to a faster identification of needs across the country in terms of resources necessary to the proper tackling of the investigation and resolution of cases,” he said. “For this reason, I expect even more tangible results in future.”

More staff needed:

Mcguffie notes that the European Union foresees investing around 45 million euro in the Bosnian judiciary next year, 14 million of which will be spent on war crimes.

News of EU funds to improve capacities has been welcomed by the State Court and Prosecution, as well as by the HJPC, which wants an increase in the number of prosecutors and investigators dealing with war crimes.

Boris Grubesic, spokesperson of the State Prosecution, says all prosecutors’ offices need more prosecutors.

“The cases in the State Prosecutor’s office are the most complex cases dealing with grave violations of international humanitarian law, and require more resources,” he said. This is why we expect increased capacities in prosecutors and investigators,” Grubesic added

The same opinion was expressed by Judge Kreso, President of the State Court, in an interview for BIRN – Justice Report. “Each increase in the caseload and intensified prosecution of war crimes demands an increase of court resources,” she said.

“A problem may arise if there is no willingness to answer these demands. I would say the more burning problem of capacities is evident inside prosecutions, where there aren’t enough people to work on investigations,” Kreso added.

Along with increased capacities, the State Prosecution says it aims to speed up work through “better systematization”. The new Chief Prosecutor, Goran Salihovic, has promised to prioritize war crimes prosecutions.

The EU delegation has meanwhile expressed satisfaction with the “precise work plan” developed by the State Prosecution.

Appeal Court issues:

At the same time, the Bosnian Justice Ministry this year proposed forming the Appellate Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which, according to the State Court President and international monitors, will not affect war crime prosecutions.

However, Kreso has also stated that the draft Law on the Appellate Court contains regulations that reduce the capacities and jurisdiction of the State Court, which she says could negatively affect the implementation of the war crimes strategy.

“Adopting this law will not only adversely affect the implementation of the Strategy but the entire work of the Court of BiH,” Kreso said.

The draft Law no longer contains any provisions giving the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina jurisdiction to give directions on proper applications of criminal codes in genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes cases.

Parliamentary critics:

Meanwhile, despite certain progress, there are many critics of the work of judicial institutions on war crimes.

This year’s HJPC report to parliament passed with several objections, and the Constitutional Committee last week proposed that the House of Peoples order the HJPC to submit a report on “judicial reform” in Bosnia.

“We need to take a clear position on the state of the Bosnian judiciary, as there is a lot of unhappiness, since previous reports have revealed significant problems,” Krstan Simic, chair of the Committee, said.

According to him, one of the biggest problems is the War crimes Strategy, which, according to him, is not being implemented with the dynamics it deserves.

Like Simic, victim’s representatives are also unhappy with the tempo with which war crimes cases are being resolved.

Few indictments were raised this year, they note, adding that only three years remain to deal with the most complex cases, according to the Strategy deadlines.



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