Deadlines Slip By For Bosnia War Crimes Strategy

29. December 2010.00:00
Two years on, there is stll no central database for cases, trials are only inching forward and Brussels is getting increasingly impatient.

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Two years after Bosnia adopted its National Strategy for Procession War Crimes, deadlines have been missed and the judiciary cannot agree on how much has been, or remains to be, done.

A database containing the total number of war-crimes cases and suspects, which should have been completed last year, is still not finished.

Little has been done, either, to strengthen the capacity of the courts and prosecutors in the country’s two entities, or to establish special departments for war crimes or guarantee protection of witnesses.

According to a survey by the Justice Report, courts and prosecutors in Bosnia’s two entities, Brcko District and at state level completed about 300 war-crime cases over the past few years.

Some prosecutors’ offices did not raise a single war-crime indictment, even after working on such cases for years.

Comparing the number of completed cases with the deadlines imposed by strategy, it looks clear that if trials continue at this pace, the courts will have completed less than half the remaining cases in 13 years’ time.

The timetable of the strategy requires the most difficult cases to be resolved within seven years, and all other cases within 15 years.

Problems concerning the war-crimes strategy, which Bosnia adopted on December 29, 2008, have reached Brussels, causing growing concern.

The European Commission’s recent Report on the Progress of Bosnia and Herzegovina for 2010, published on November 9, described implementation of the war-crimes strategy as “minimal and seriously delayed”, saying a comprehensive approach to this problem was called for.

The Commission report said war-crimes trials in Bosnia’s entity courts were progressing slowly.
Progress was hobbled by poor capacity in prosecutors’ offices, “inadequate facilities and lack of adequate witness protection and support services,” it said.

According to the strategy, the database containing the exact number of war crimes cases conducted by all prosecutors’ offices in Bosnia and the total number of suspects was to be finished within a month of the strategy’s adoption.

Jusuf Halilagic, secretary of the Ministry of Justice and member of the Supervisory Board for Monitoring Implementation of the National Strategy, said that at their last session in November, they had learned that “about 80 per cent of the database is finished”.

Completion of the database was expected by the end of the year.

“This database will be perfect,” he predicted. “Each case will be filed, with all the actions undertaken and all witnesses who have been interrogated, and also with what remains to be done to complete the case,” Halilagic told Justice Report.

According to him, Prosecutors’ Offices in Bosnia and Herzegovina currently have about 1,400 war crimes cases on their books with approximately 9,000 registered persons.

Milorad Barasin, Bosnia’s Chief State Prosecutor, did not want to comment on the aggregate data of all the investigations led by the all prosecutors’ offices. He said only that the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina was investigating about 1,000 people.

How many cases remain?

Zdravko Knezevic, the Chief Prosecutor of the Federation BiH says the lack of the database poses a large problem for the courts in the two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska.

They need to have more of an idea of the potential number of cases that will be prosecuted before the cantonal and district courts and the Court of the Brcko District.

“At the moment, we still do not know this and it is one of the unknowns that could affect compliance with the deadlines in the National Strategy,” Knezevic said.

In addition to not knowing the total number of cases that still need to be resolved, judicial officials said that one of their biggest problems was the insufficient number of police, investigating and prosecutorial personnel.

“Overall, there is a lack of staff in most institutions that deal with war crimes and they also lack technical equipment, premises, and so forth,” Milorad Barasin said.

The National Strategy required that, within a year of its adoption, special departments for war crimes should be established in the entity courts and prosecutors’ offices “wherever there is a need for them”.

Within six months, all courts should also have adequate support for protection of witnesses.

According to data gathered by Justice Report, most entity courts still lack these departments and only a small number of judges and prosecutors is working on war crimes. Members of the entity judicial staff also say they still face problems in protecting witnesses.

Differences over where blame lies:

Zdravko Knezevic says the state needs to show much more commitment, if the overall implementation of the war-crimes strategy is not to come into question.

“There is much talk, but unfortunately little is being done to train the prosecutors’ offices, to which the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina will soon delegate authority for resolving war crimes,” he said.

Barasin takes a similar line. “I believe prosecutors’ offices and courts need to move into top gear to achieve better and more efficient results,” he said.

“The Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina should only deal with difficult and complex cases while other prosecutors’ offices deal with less complex cases,” Barasin added.

By contrast, Jusuf Halilagic is more confident that the deadlines in the strategy can be met.

“Most judges and the prosecutors are not dissatisfied with their work conditions and they cannot complain that their salaries are low and that they have no place to work,” he said. “They are now at full capacity and must remain committed and resolve the issue of war crimes,” Halilagic added.

Halilagic believes that prosecutors’ offices in Bosnia just need to be “better organized.

“They must give full consideration to the most difficult cases, which they do not do now,” he said.
Bosnia could not afford “to wait for another five or seven years to see who has done the job and who did not,” he said. “After next year’s reports on performance, we will very seriously see where the delay lies.”

Merima Husejnovic is a journalist with BIRN – Justice Report. [email protected] Justice Report is one of BIRN’s weekly online publications

Merima Hrnjica

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