Miroslav Lajcak: Bosnia Needs Justice

6. August 2007.00:00
Bosnia and Herzegovina's sixth High Representative tells Justice Report journalist that the main challenges facing the country – including police reform, constitutional changes and efforts to confront the past – can all be solved through dialogue and joint work by local and international actors.

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Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sixth High Representative tells Justice Report journalist that the main challenges facing the country – including police reform, constitutional changes and efforts to confront the past – can all be solved through dialogue and joint work by local and international actors.

“Some of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most important priorities are facing the past and the establishment of justice,” asserts Miroslav Lajcak, the new High Representative of the European Union in BiH, early on in his interview with Justice Report. “Otherwise, there will be no reconciliation or building of a new Bosnia and Herzegovina. We cannot look at the future if we forget the past.”

Whilst acknowledging that it is part of his job to ensure Bosnia’s cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, he insists that the real responsibility rests with Bosnians themselves, “to reveal the truth, to ensure implementation of justice and to ensure that full responsibility is taken for past activities.”

Lajcak, a Slovakian diplomat, took over the function of the High Representative in BiH from his predecessor Christian Schwarz-Schilling at the beginning of July. Established at the time of the Dayton Peace Agreement which brought an end to the war in Bosnia in 1995, the mandate of the Office of the High Representative is to supervise the implementation of civilian aspects of the peace deal.

Lajcak has previously been his country’s ambassador in Belgrade, Tirana and Skopje, amongst other places. Immediately before taking up his new role, he worked as an envoy in Montenegro for Javier Solana, the EU’s High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy. Amongst his responsibilities in this capacity was supervising the referendum that led to independence in 2006.

Having trained as a lawyer himself, Lajcak expressed an interest upon his arrival in BiH in getting involved in the process of judicial reform. He is particularly interested in the process of trying war crimes suspects, an issue which was the subject of some of his first decisions as High Representative.


He says that while much has been achieved since the signing of the Dayton accords, Bosnia needs to continue efforts to face up to its past – including trying war crimes suspects and finding, identifying and burying victims of the fighting – in order to truly move forward. “We should draw some conclusions from the tragic past,” he says. “The future cannot be based on hatred and accusations. We need justice to erase the hatred.”

He emphasises that this is a process that needs to behandled sensitively. “It is not helping if someone misuses the terrible tragedy for his or her narrow short-term political objectives. And there are people on all three sides who are doing this. These people and these victims do not deserve to be manipulated. Everyone should treat the issues from the tragic past with maximal responsibility.”

At the same time, he is wary of the suggestion by some legal experts and activists within the non-governmental sector that Bosnia ought to undergo a process of lustration, similar to the efforts made in Eastern European post-communist states to limit access to the government and civil service for figures associated with the old regimes. Asked whether lustration was necessary, or even possible, in BiH now, Lajcak responds that it would be avery difficult process to begin more than a decade after the social upheaval that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia.

“For many reasons it would be difficult to do it at this stage,” he says. “Firstly, it cannot be guaranteed that the archives have not been manipulated, it cannot be guaranteed that this extremely sensitive issue would be just. Secondly, it can happen that some people, who have proven to be very useful and who have done a lot of good work, have found themselves below the lustration line. Experiences show that the lustration helps ‘clean’ and ‘recover’ the atmosphere, but other experiences also show that it can be manipulated, which is not good.”

Whilst continuing to insist on the need to face up to the past, he distinguishes this from choosing to “fight the ghosts from the past when so many years have passed”.

Though he points to some instances of individuals behaving irresponsibly, overall Lajcak is broadly satisfied with the attitude of the Bosnian state towards the Hague war crimes tribunal. And he sees his own decision as High Representative to suspend 35 members of the Republika Srpska Ministry of Internal Affairs who are included on a list of individuals suspected of some kind of involvement in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre as a positive step in the quest for truth and justice.

“These people have been temporarily suspended until they are pronounced responsible or innocent,” he explains. “I expect that all judicial bodies will finish the processes as soon as possible, so that all people who did not commit crimes can go back to work.”

Asked if there will be other similar decisions in the near future, Lajcak responds simply that “the local judiciary is doing its job”.

“When they are ready to open and investigate court processes against other people, I will be there to help if they need my help.”


Having held meetings with representatives of the Bosnian judiciary soon after taking over his new role, Lajcak says they understand the tasks they face and are fulfilling their obligations. But from speaking with them, he concluded that a range of serious problems need to be addressed at both the state and international levels.

“We need full harmonisation of laws and regulations related to war crimes investigation,” he says, referring to the fact that criminal law in BiH currently operates according to four different sets of regulations – a state-level criminal code, the old Yugoslav criminal code and separate criminal codes for the two sub-state entities, the Republika Srpska and the Federation.

As well as developing a national strategy on war crimes, defining exactly who is responsible for what tasks, Lajcak says there is also a need to increase the capacity for trying such cases. “The current number of cases, according to state prosecution, is nearly 14,000, while the number of investigators dealing with these cases is totally disproportionate,” he says. “This means that it would take us more than a hundred years to process all these cases.”

He does on to emphasise that regional cooperation in the matter of arresting and processing war crimes suspects also needs to improve. “We lack international agreements and people indicted for war crimes take advantage of such a situation,” he warns. “They easily obtain citizenships of neighbouring states. There are no legal obligations to processthese cases in other countries. This is a serious omission that has to be resolved”.

Lajcak told Justice Report that a round table would be held at the start of September, where representatives of the international community and the local judiciary would have a chance to discuss these kinds of problems and the ways in which the international community might be able to help in solving them.

One example of such aid comes in the form of plans for Turkey and the Netherlands to fund further investigations into wartime events in the Srebrenica area by international experts. “Investigators from Bosnia and Herzegovina have the expertise and they know what needs to be done,” Majcak says, adding that the aim is simply to assist their efforts.

The building of a state prison is also high on the list of priorities, and is also due to be discussed at the September meeting. “We are trying to find additional financial resources. The Netherlands has pledged some resources for this activity as well. In my regular contacts with representatives of the international community, I have already asked that all countries consider how much they can help, as the state prison is very much needed.”

He added that the escape of the convicted Serb war criminal Radovan Stankovic from a prison in Foca in May had “pointed out to some serious omissions”.

Lajcak does not want to comment on the proposal made by President of BiH Court Medzida Kreso to establish “the Court’s department withing the Entity Courts”, which she submitted in writing to OHR. Nevertheless, he says it is important to establish a “pyramidal system of judicial organs”.


Lajcak says a whole range of issues need to beaddressed with respect to the structure of the Bosnian judicial system and argues that this particular issue underlines the importance of developing a new constitution, which could address such problems.

Besides constitutional reform, he cites police reform –a key condition that needs to be met if BiH is to sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU – as the other most important task facing the country today. In statements to the local media, he has said that he is confidentthis matter can be dealt with by September.

“Any agreement is a result of political will, positive approach and readiness to make compromises,” he says. “You do not need a year to demonstrate these, you need mental readiness which you can show immediately. Everything can be solved if there is such readiness. If we are not ready, we should not pretend we are. We cannot enter the negotiations wanting the otherside to give everything while we offer nothing. We should not play games.”

“Over 70 per cent of this country’s citizens want to join [the European Union], the road to Europeis something that all leading politicians speak about,” he points out. “It is therefore logical, if we all want to do it, that we should solve the existing issues. The European future of this country is more important than any technical issue. There is no doubt about which road BiH should take, but we are not sure how much time we shall misspend on this road.”

Jelena Mrkic is BIRN – Justice Report journalist. [email protected]

Jelena Mrkić-Bjelović

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