Bosnian Prosecutors Struggle to Tackle Backlog of War Cases

28. November 2019.10:25
The transfer of less serious war crimes cases from Bosnia’s state-level prosecution to lower-level prosecutors was supposed to speed up the processing of major cases - but plans to make this happen have not been fulfilled.

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One year after Bosnian chief prosecutor Gordana Tadic asked state-level prosecutors to transfer less complex war crimes cases to lower-level prosecutors’ offices, progress has been patchy and questions have been raised about whether the lower-level prosecutions have the resources and abilities to prosecute such cases.

Tadic told BIRN that around 150 cases were supposed to be transferred from the state level to district, cantonal and Brcko District prosecutions last year, but in the end, this did not happen.

“When we got onto this, we had certain problems and criticism from [war victims’] associations, and even from the media, because we started prior to the adoption of the new national War Crimes Processing Strategy. So we stopped and continued working according to the old criteria,” Tadic said.

She added that 62 cases were eventually transferred to lower-level courts and prosecutions during the course of 2018.

The old War Crimes Processing Strategy, adopted in 2008, foresaw that the most complex cases would be processed at the state level and completed within seven years, while all other cases would be transferred to the entity level and completed in 15 years, by 2023. This would have enabled the state-level institutions to focus more on the most serious crimes.

When the deadline expired without the most complex war crimes cases being completed at the national level, a revised strategy was prepared, which foresaw that a greater number of cases would be transferred to the entity level.

However, the revised strategy has yet to be adopted by Bosnia’s Council of Ministers.

The guidelines on the implementation of the revised strategy say that cases involving the deaths of up to 20 people can be transferred to lower authorities, provided they are not systemic crimes that involve command responsibility or suspects who held managerial or political positions when the crimes were committed.

But an analysis carried out by BIRN has indicated that not all lower-level prosecutions and courts are capable of taking over cases involving between 10 and 20 victims. One prosecutor’s office told BIRN that it was not ready to take over a single additional war crime case, while another office said it had never dealt with war crime cases before.

Lawyer Nina Kisic, who works on war crimes cases and has experience from the UN tribunal in The Hague, said that “in general, the problem lies in the fact that judges and prosecutors working with those courts and prosecutions are not focussed solely on war crimes. I consider that an additional training is necessary”.

Miodrag Stojanovic, a lawyer from Bijeljina, also argued that lower-level institutions cannot try serious war crimes cases that involve a large number of victims.

“I am not saying there are no experienced staff who could conduct fair and correct trials, but many judges and prosecutors lack experience in simple thievery cases, and now they would have to handle war crimes cases,” said Stojanovic.

The revised War Crimes Processing Strategy says that the state prosecution has more than 550 unresolved war crimes cases involving more than 4,500 identified perpetrators, and as many cases in which the perpetrators are unknown.

Munira Subasic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves association, which represents war victims, argued that the new strategy must be adopted to ease the current problems.

“Not even the state prosecution can handle war crime cases in a quality manner, let alone the entity prosecutions,” Subasic said.

Admir Muslimović

This post is also available in: Bosnian (Bosnian)