In the first five months of this year, the Bosnian state prosecution has filed only four indictments in war crimes cases, raising questions about how it will deal with the country’s huge backlog of unprosecuted offences.
From January to May this year, the Bosnian state prosecution filed just four indictments for war crimes, two fewer than in the same period in 2018.
The apparent slowdown has sparked concerns that this may cause further delays in attempts to deal with the country’s enormous backlog of war crimes cases.
Amendments to the country’s war crimes strategy, which were drafted last year, said the state prosecution has more than 550 unresolved war crimes cases in which more than 4,500 perpetrators have been identified, and as many cases again with unknown perpetrators.
The Bosnian judiciary has already failed to meet clear-up targets set in the country’s original war crimes strategy, which was adopted in 2008.
The state prosecution declined to answer BIRN’s inquiry about why so few indictments have been filed in 2019 so far.
Ruzica Jukic, the vice president of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, Bosnia’s judicial overseer, also said she did not want to comment on the number of indictments filed.
“The prosecutors are responsible for all the prosecutions and work in chambers. They see no problems, so I do not want to comment at all. Because I have really not monitored the subject that much,” Jukic said.
In January this year, the prosecution indicted eight former Bosnian Army soldiers for the murders of at least 12 Croatian Defence Council fighters and two Croat women in Krizancevo Selo.
In February, Serb former reservist policeman Milojko Kovacevic was charged with abducting and assaulting Bosniaks in the Visegrad area.
In March, the prosecution indicted former Bosnian Serb Army soldier Milenko Gojgolovic for rape in Vlasenica, and Serb former Territorial Defence fighter Lazar Mutlak for rape in Gorazde.
Former judge Vlado Adamovic, now a lawyer, said that if there were more indictments in the same period last year, it was logical to ask questions about the slowdown.
However, Adamovic said that more complex cases required more work and time.
“It would be the same as if you, as a journalist, wrote, for instance, ten articles, consisting of ten pages each, between January and June last year, but this year you wrote only two, consisting of 150 pages each. If we look at the number of pages, you did well, but if we look at the number of articles, you did badly. And actually both versions are good, depending on your point of view,” he said.
In order to assess the number of indictments filed, the seriousness of the cases, their complexity and the number of indictees involved must be considered, he added.
Sarajevo-based lawyers Vasvija Vidovic cautioned that it is hard to file complex indictments which cover a large number of incidents and participants, because they require more work, time and manpower.
“Depending on the number of acts committed, some indictments deal with many perpetrators and only one event. But if they deal with a longer period of time and more events, they are considered complex indictments and require much more time. And a group of prosecutors working on them,” Vidovic explained.
“Believe me, it is not simple. Each case should be considered individually,” he added.
Vidovic argued that the state prosecution should invest its efforts in completing as many complex indictments as it can, as soon as possible.
In 2008, the Bosnian authorities adopted their state strategy for war crimes cases, which said that most complex cases would be completed at the state level within seven years, while all other cases would be transferred to entity-level courts and completed in 15 years.
After the deadline expired in late 2015 without the completion of the most complex cases at the state level, a revised strategy was drafted, which said that all cases should be completed by 2023.
In February last year, the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council gave its consent to the revised strategy, but it has not yet been adopted, or even put on the agenda of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Council of Ministers for consideration.