Bosnia State Prosecutor ‘Slowing’ Work on War Crimes

13. May 2011.00:00
Critics charge State Prosecutor’s office with keeping hold of low-ranking cases that should go to lower courts - slowing the work of resolving Bosnia’s top war crimes by 2015 deadline.

For more than eight months, Bosnia’s State Prosecutor has not indicted any suspects who held leading positions in the military or civil authorities in the 1992-5 war – even though this institution is responsible for prosecuting those responsible for the gravest war crimes.

The office has, meanwhile, indicted a number of people for individual acts of murder, rape and unlawful imprisonment in recent months.

But war victims’ representatives say prosecutors in the two entities are currently prosecuting cases involving more victims than is the State Prosecutor’s Office.

The State Court – The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina – meanwhile, says that failure to comprehensively assess and try war-crimes cases risks jeopardizing set deadlines according to which the most complex and highest priority cases should be completed within five years.

“All sides should urge the Prosecutor’s Office either to change the national war-crimes Strategy, or explain to the public why they’re not acting consistently with it – and why they keep on taking control of cases that should be in the jurisdiction of lower prosecutors’ offices,” Murat Tahirovic, president of the Association of Detainees, said.

Bosnia’s National Strategy for Processing War Crimes Cases, adopted in December 2008, envisaged that the most complex cases should be resolved within seven years and all remaining cases within 15 years.

The criteria envisaged that persons indicted for multiple murder, aggravated rape, torture, illegal detention, as well as suspects who had held “command responsibility” for war crimes, or political functions, or who had participated in their planning, should be prosecuted before the State Court.

The Strategy said that when deciding which court should try war crimes, the interests of victims and witnesses as well as the consequences of crime on the local community should be taken into account.

Meddzida Kreso, president of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, says the State Court should only prosecute the most sensitive, complex cases, involving multiple indictees, grave crimes and high-ranking persons.

“But it’s not always so, because we’re getting indictments against regular soldiers, in which the crime resulted in no deaths or serious bodily injuries,” she said. “Such cases should be tried at entity level,” Kreso added.

The President of the State Court noted that one obligation envisaged by the Strategy had not been respected.

This obliged all prosecutors’ offices in Bosnia to submit information on war crimes cases to the State Court, so this court can then decide which cases to keep under its own authority, and which ones to transfer to entity level.

“So, now we have a situation in which everybody is unhappy,” Judge Kreso commented.

The State Prosecutor’s Office says it cannot speak publicly about the criteria of war crime cases sensitivity, and about how and why they choose cases to work on, or whether they will be able to comply with the Strategy’s completion deadlines.

“The assessment of war-crime cases, as well as their transfer, is a matter of cooperation between the State Prosecutor’s Office and other prosecutorial and judicial institutions,” Boris Grubesic, spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said. “We believe that this correspondence shouldn’t be conducted through the media but between the relevant institutions,” he added.

In recent months, meanwhile, the State Prosecutor’s Office has filed several indictments against individual former military or police staff, charging them with individual responsibility for war crimes.

In January 2011, it indicted Pavle Gajic for killing a prisoner-of-war in the northwest Bihac area – while at the same time, the Cantonal Court in Bihac tried two persons for the killing of 15 civilians.

Earlier, in December 2010, it indicted Novica Tripkovic for killing one person and raping another in the Foca area of eastern Bosnia. A month earlier, an indictment was raised against Veli