Decision Close on Bosnia’s International Judges and Prosecutors

16. September 2009.00:00
Serbs and Bosniaks remain bitterly divided over whether presence of international judges and prosecutors is a help or a hindrance.

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By: Erna Mackic On September 16, parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina will have the last opportunity to pronounce on the proposal to extend the mandates of international judges and prosecutors in the country.

Judging by earlier media statements, the delegates from Bosnia’s two entities remain divided over whether the extension of the mandate is needed.

Those from Republika Srpska explicitly oppose any extension, while those from the Federation mainly support international staff remaining at appellate levels. Tensions over this issue have become severe.

Besides divisions among politicians, victims of the 1992-5 war also differ over extending the mandates of international judges and prosecutors, depending on whether they are from the Federation or the Bosnian Serb entity.

If parliament fails to adopt a decision on the mandates of international judges and prosecutors, the High Representative, the international community’s top official in Bosnia and Herzegovina, may make a decision on his own authority. However, the Office of the High Representative, OHR, does not wish to speculate on that possibility.

Following a meeting attended by Valentin Inzko, the High Representative, Meddzida Kreso, President of the State Court, and Milorad Barasin, the State Prosecutor, the OHR issued a statement merely saying that “the international community unanimously supports the work of international staff at the state level, particularly in the field of war crimes processing.

“I hope the State Parliament will adopt the right decision on September 16,” Inzko added.

A threat to Bosnia’s sovereignty?

The decision on the mandates comes as parliamentarians discuss changes and amendments to the Law on the Court and Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which the Council of Ministers adopted in July.

Under the mentioned changes, the mandate of the international judges would be extended until the end of 2012. However, this would apply only to judges working in the second-instance chambers with the War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The mandate of international prosecutors working with the War Crimes Section of the State Prosecution would be extended until the same date.

Judges working on war crime cases in first-instance chambers would remain in the country only until these ongoing cases were completed. They would not be assigned new cases.

The mandates of judges and prosecutors working with the Special Section for Organized Crime of the Prosecution and Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina would not be extended at all under the mentioned proposal.

Foreign prosecutors would also not be permitted to hold managerial functions with the State Prosecution after the end of this year.

Today, an international prosecutor, David Schwendiman heads the War Crimes Section with the State Prosecution, while another foreigner, Drew Engel, heads the Special Section for Organized and Economic Crime and Corruption.

Nine international judges work with the State Court and the same number of international prosecutors works with the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

There are four international prosecutors within the War Crimes Section of the State Prosecution, one of whom is Chief of the Section. A number of foreign legal experts work as advisors or perform other functions with the State Court and its Prosecution.

BIRN–Justice Report has learnt that some international judicial figures in Bosnia are already leaving because they do not want their future to depend on a decision of local politicians.

At the last session of parliament’s House of Representatives on September 2, the delegates did not pass an extension to the mandate of international personnel because the changes and amendments to the law did not get the required majority of votes from each entity.

The most conspicuous opponents to the extension of the mandate come from the Union of Independent Social-Democrats, SNSD, the Bosnian Serb party led by Milorad Dodik, Prime minister

This post is also available in: Bosnian