Deadline Fades to Rate Bosnia’s ‘Sensitive’ War Crimes

2. March 2011.00:00
Over two years after national war crimes strategy obliged the State Court to classify all remaining cases as ‘sensitive’, or not, the task remains incomplete.

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More than two years after Bosnia adopted a National Strategy for Processing War Crimes Cases, in December 2008, the State Court has still not completed rating war-crime cases on the basis of their so-called “sensitivity”. If the process is not completed soon, a top judge says, it could affect the overall speed and effectiveness of war-crimes trials.The Strategy anticipated that all prosecutors’ offices in the country would submit reports on war-crimes cases within 15 days to the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The State Court would then assess their sensitivity. But only eight of Bosnia’s 17 prosecutors’ offices have so far done so, in Zenica, Gorazde, Siroki Brijeg, Travnik, Doboj, Trebinje, Istocno Sarajevo and Brcko District.

“Of the other nine, some have submitted incomplete information, some have not met all their obligations under the Strategy and some didn’t submit anything,” Meddzida Kreso, President of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, noted.

The State Court’s information office says some submitted reports ignored important information on whether protective measures for witnesses had been granted, which could significantly affect the assessment of the case.

As a result, the State Prosecutor’s Office has not yet submitted its own reports on the cases to the State Court.

Question of Sensitivity:
The idea behind the so-called sensitivity rating is to decide whether to leave certain cases in the hands of the State Court, or refer them to cantonal and district courts, or to the District Court of the Brcko District.

Decisions are made on the basis of the complexity of the case, while the interests of victims and witnesses are also taken into account.

According to the National Strategy, the State Court should handle all cases involving mass murder, multiple rape, aggravated torture and unlawful imprisonment.

It should also prosecute cases involving alleged perpetrators who held positions of command responsibility for grave crimes and those who participated in planning such crimes.

The State Court is also empowered to prosecute less complex cases under exceptional circumstances, such as cases that involve a need to ensure protection of the witnesses.

But some prosecutors and members of the Supervisory Board for Monitoring Implementation of the Strategy still question whether this information should be submitted to the State Court, though they appear unwilling to explain why.

However, the State Prosecutor’s Office’s rating of cases taken into consideration before 2003 prompted objections that the rating process proceeded so slowly that it hindered the cantonal and district Prosecutors’ Offices in their own work.

Some experts insist this has changed and that the rating process goes much faster now.

According to the National Strategy for Processing of War Crimes Cases, in all Prosecutors’ Offices in Bosnia and Herzegovina, around 1,220 cases were taken into work prior to 2003.

Uniform approach needed:
The Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina says that of the 384 war-crimes cases it reviewed so far, it deemed 134 “very sensitive”.

It returned the other 250 to prosecutor’s offices in the two entities, the mainly Serbian Republika Srpska and the mainly Bosniak [Muslim] and Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“A lot of factors can affect whether a case is sensitive or very sensitive,” Boris Grubesic, spokesman of the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina, explained.

“It does not have to be a mass [murder] crime; it’s enough if there are a lot of protected witnesses, or if the crime was committed in a specific way,” he added.

Judge Kreso says a uniform approach in assessing cases is essential. This is firstly because it allows all the courts to make the best use of the State Court, which is technically the most advanced court in the country in terms of implementing witness protection measures, security, size of courtrooms, and other matters.

No explanation for delay:One of the prosecutor

This post is also available in: Bosnian