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When the State Prosecution announced in the middle of February that indictments would no longer be public due to a decision by the Agency for Protection of Personal Information of Bosnia and Herzegovina, it caused consternation among representatives of victims’ associations.
“I think this is a huge offense to all those who survived crimes and horrors of this war. The purpose of this decision is to prohibit sharing of information with the public,” said Miroslav Zelic, President of the Coordination of the Homeland War Associations.
Saja Coric, President of the Association of Detainees from Vojno, near Mostar, thinks this will affect witnesses negatively and it might have a harmful influence on victims’ testimonies before courts.
Bakira Hasecic, President of “Women Victims of War” Association, believes that all indictments should be available to each and every citizen, adding that she could not believe that the Agency for Protection of Personal Information even proposed such a decision and that the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina accepted it.
“When I click on the ICTY Web page, I know how many war criminals have been sentenced for war crimes, how many of them died, how many admitted guilt, and how many processes are underway. The information is always accessible to me,” Hasecic says.
The Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina says that, as per instructions from the Agency for Protection of Personal Information, “indictments can no longer be available to the public by any means”.
The Agency considers it is unacceptable to publish the full texts of indictments and that the public indictments are in contradiction with the law and practices applied in other countries.
Mindful of the importance of transparency of proceedings, the Hague Tribunal has uploaded all public decisions and evidence material dated from 1994 onwards on its website.
The public can view more than 190,000 documents, including arrest warrants, motions, evidence material, all the way to second instance (final) verdicts.
Unlike the representatives of victims’ associations, Vasvija Vidovic, defence attorney representing war crimes indictees before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, supports the decision.
“The information contained in the indictment has not been checked. Therefore, it is not fair to make such things public. In addition, the information influences the public and generates a negative attitude towards the indictees. They often lose both in the business and personal field,” Vidovic explained.
Sonja Biserko, President of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Serbia, says that indictments were considered public documents both by the Hague Tribunal and Serbia.
Biserko said that depriving the public of indictments would “affect the adequate reporting from trials as well”.
The Documenta Center for Facing the Past from Croatia is concerned that it will not be possible to follow the trials in case the indictments are no longer considered public documents. Right now, Croatian courts and prosecutions provide them with indictments which contain basic personal information.
“This constitutes a wrong implementation of the Law on Protection of Personal Information. The public needs to know when a person was indicted and who that person is. I think that, at this stage, this outweighs the need for protection of personal information,” says Milena Calic-Jelic, lawyer working with “Documenta”.
Mirela Hukovic-Hodzic, BH Radio 1 journalist and member of the Association of Court Reporters, says that journalists need to have relevant information from the right sources, or else it is not possible to write a real story or present good quality information.
“It is hard to speak about something when you lack information from relevant sources,” adds Hukovic-Hodzic.S.U.