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Judicial institutions in Livno Canton have announced they intend to make changes to speed up the justice process but victims of the 1992-5 still doubt they will make much difference.
The Cantonal Court and Prosecution in Livno, in south-west Bosnia and Herzegovina, says the changes will involve provision of better conditions to protect witnesses and the hiring of a prosecutor to deal with war crime cases only.
But representatives of victims of the war remain skeptical. More than 15 years since the crimes took place, little has been done to try the perpetrators, they say.
The Prosecutor’s Office in Livno says it is aware of this but faces problems over collecting evidence, providing protection to witnesses and a lack of available prosecutors.
The Cantonal Court in Livno covers the Livno, Tomislavgrad, Kupres, Glamoc, Bosansko Grahovo and Drvar municipalities. During the war many locals were deported from the area and have still not returned to their homes.
Data available to the Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo suggest that about a thousand people were killed or remain “missing” in Livno Canton.
But courts in the area have so far sentenced only one person for war crimes, Croat Ivan Bakovic, sentenced in 2004 to 15 years’ prison for killing nine Bosniak civilians in Mokronoge village in Tomislavgrad municipality.
Pero Radic was tried for committing crimes in Glamoc, but was acquitted of all charges. The trials of Stipe Zulj, charged with war crime committed in Kupres, and Dragan Zjajic, charged with crimes committed in Glamoc, are due to begin. According to unconfirmed reports, Zjajic could plea guilty.
Munib Sehic, spokesperson of the Cantonal Prosecution in Livno, said the office faced problems in collecting evidence and, particularly, in the examination of witnesses and eyewitnesses in war crimes cases.
“Despite the fact that a crime was committed, many witnesses fail to respond to the summons,” Sehic explained. “When they do respond, they [often] deny the statements they previously gave to the police and also deny having been present at the crime locations.”
However, Sead Delalic, President of the Association of Detainees from Livno, maintains that no former detainees have been yet invited to testify in court, and nobody had contacted him in this respect, although he spent about eight months in various detention centres.
“International officials took statements from us but this Cantonal Prosecution and the police have never done their job,” he said. “I’m sure former detainees who live here would certainly respond to the summons and appear as witnesses,” Delalic added.
Besides the problems pertaining to the collection of evidence, the Cantonal Prosecution in Livno says it has hitherto been unable to apply the Law on Protection of Endangered or Threatened Witnesses.
“The Prosecution’s offices are located on the top floor of a building and …the Court Police, Municipal Court and Cantonal Court are located on the lower floors of the same building,” Sehic noted.
“As there is no alternative exit, it is objectively impossible to protect the identity of witnesses and victims. For this reason our work is based on individual courage or the determination of witnesses or victims to testify,” Sehic continued.
Nedim Begic, President of the Cantonal Court in Livno, says no witnesses examined to date had asked for protection measures. He said that two war crime cases had been completed, while the trials of two more indictees are due to begin.
“We are aware there is no alternative entrance that protected witnesses can use [but] I must stress that we shall soon start working on building a new entrance that will fulfill the conditions for granting protection measures to witnesses,” Begic said.
The Livno Prosecution mentions the lack of prosecutors and investigators as another reason for the small number of war crime indictments.
“The Prosecutor’s Office consists of a chief prosecutor, his deputy and three prosecutors, which is not enough, given that we don’t have any investigators – who are necessary for this type of crimes,” Sehic said. “Having one prosecutor working only on war crime cases would get in the way of our work on all other cases.”
Only one investigator at the Police Station in Livno works on war crime cases. Sehic says they do not have enough material or technical equipment for more.
Despite the aforementioned problems, the Livno Prosecution says it intends to ensure a prosecutor is hired in the coming period to work exclusively on war crime cases and thus speed up war crimes processing.
The Cantonal Court in Livno expects the number of war crime cases to increase as a result – and as a result of the implementation of the State War Crimes Processing Strategy, which Bosnia adopted more than a year ago.
The Strategy stipulates, among other things, that the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina will refer all less sensitive cases to “local competent courts” for further processing. The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina already made such a decision in the case of Stipe Zulj.
Judge Begic explains they are ready to accept the new cases referred to them, adding that, in addition to three judges and the Court President, one more judge is due to be hired soon.
“I expect an inflow of cases to the Cantonal Court in Livno. I do now know how many cases there will be, but we are ready to take them over,” Begic said.
Despite this, Delalic still has doubts over whether justice will be done in Livno, noting that the former prosecutor used to maintain that “half the work has already been done”.
Delalic says he also wonders why they have waited for so long to make these changes. If the process continues at this pace, he adds, it will be a century before all the war crime cases in Livno are completed.
Erna Mackic is BIRN’s Justice Report journalist. [email protected] Justice Report is BIRN online publication.
This article is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID.) The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of Balkan investigative reporting network (BIRN) and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.