Is Bosnia’s Prosecution ‘Tearing Up’ Investigations?

25. December 2014.00:00
Legal experts and judicial officials have criticised the state prosecution for raising indictments for individual war crimes, reducing complex and wide-ranging attacks to a series of more minor incidents.

This post is also available in: Bosnian

The Bosnian state prosecution enjoyed its most impressive year so far in 2014, in terms of numbers at least, charging more than 100 individuals with war crimes committed during the 1992-95 conflict.

With the prosecution still trying to deal with a huge backlog of cases dating back two decades, that sounds like good news. But the prosecution has come under fire for separating major, complex investigations into a series of smaller-scale indictments against individuals.

If a suspect is convicted of a single offence rather than involvement in a much wider-ranging crime, they could get less jail time than they might deserve.

For example, there are currently three separate indictments for an attack that left 22 people dead in the village of Trusina in 1993, and three separate indictments for crimes committed in detention camps in Bosanski Brod.

The supervisory board of the Bosnian State strategy for war crimes said that raising several individual indictments for crimes committed during a single major attack also means that the same witnesses are called in more than one case.

“We have concluded that the tearing up of investigations into incidents is not good. If a case is torn up, the same witnesses are called twice. They are harassed and re-traumatised, and the cases also loses its complexity,” the board’s president Milorad Novkovic told BIRN.

The Bosnian prosecution however denies that investigations are broken up on purpose.

But the state court has identified another problem: over the past year, the Bosnian court, it has sent more than half of the total indictments raised back to the prosecution to rework, some of them several times.

The president of the Bosnian court Meddzida Kreso said that the quality of indictments this year has been very poor, meaning that sometimes justice is not done.

“Some prosecutors do not wish to use their right to withdraw indictments, and bad indictments often mean bad verdicts. This is why sometimes the court is subject to criticism for releasing defendants,” Kreso told BIRN.

In 2014, the court handed down seven not guilty verdicts.

A platform for lies?
Bosnian prosecution spokesperson Boris Grubesic denied that investigations were being undermined.

“The mere fact that we have charged more than 100 people, and that some of the indictments are among the most complex ever, says there is no such thing,” Grubesic said.

But lawyers say that investigations are broken up, which can create procedural problems – especially in cases in which the prosecution only charges some of the suspects and not all of them.

Lawyer Vlado Adamovic said that this happened while he was defending a client called Iulian Nicolae-Vintila, who is accused of being part of a joint criminal enterprise to abuse Serb prisoners in Sarajevo in 1992.

The trial has been postponed several times because Adamovic wanted to call as a witness a man who is listed in the indictment as a member of the joint criminal enterprise responsible for the crime.

“This witness is de facto charged, even though there is no indictment against him, because he is listed as a member of this enterprise. However, I called him as a witness. As a witness he must come and must tell the truth, but as a defendant he can refuse to answer questions, or even lie,” explained Adamovic.

The situation has reached deadlock because the court cannot order the witness to incriminate himself, but also cannot order the defence to forget the witness, he said.

Adamovic claimed that the problem occurred because the state prosecution failed to follow legal procedures which oblige it to include everyone who was involved in the alleged crimes in its indictments.

The only possible solution, he said, is to charge the witness and restart the entire case.

Novakovic, the head of the supervisory board of the Bosnian state strategy for war crimes, said such situations sometimes arise because prosecutors are trying to meet targets set for the numbers of indictments they mus

Denis Džidić

This post is also available in: Bosnian