Bosnia Tackling Huge War Case Backlog, Chief Prosecutor Insists

6. December 2019.13:08
Bosnia’s chief state prosecutor Gordana Tadic defended the small number of war-crime indictments issued this year, insisting that her office’s work is going to plan.

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In an interview with BIRN, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s chief state prosecutor, Gordana Tadic, said the fact that the country’s 27 prosecutors filed only 12 war-crime indictments this year by the time of writing was still a good result.

“In no way have our results been devastating, but very encouraging,” she said, noting that preparing indictments for such cases takes time.

“At the end of each year, the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina prosecutes the most complex cases in all fields, including war crimes, organised and economic crime, corruption and terrorism. However, long and intense investigations are needed before filing indictments … It is planned that by the end of the year there will be about as many of them as there were last year,” Tadic said.

Last year, the state prosecution filed 24 indictments in war-crimes cases.

Asked whether around half of all the indictments will have to be filed in the second half of December in order to meet that goal – which might suggest that prosecutors are only focusing on meeting an annual quota – Tadic said this was not correct.

“They are filed when they collect sufficient evidence for them to file an indictment. In complex war-crimes cases, it sometimes takes several years to file an indictment,” she said.

Tadic explained that the state prosecution is still working on around 500 war-crimes cases involving identified perpetrators, 500 cases against unidentified perpetrators, as well as 1,500 so-called KTA (indefinable) cases, which also include exhumations.

“It becomes harder and harder to reach a final prosecutorial decision, because of the passage of time,” she observed.

“However, prosecutors act on the National War Crimes Processing Strategy and in accordance with the criteria, and we are fulfilling our conditions and are ready to continue to work,” Tadic said.

Bosnia adopted a National War Crimes Processing Strategy in 2008. This stipulated that the most complex war-crimes cases should be completed within seven years – ie. by 2015. As that deadline expired, a revised strategy was prepared by which all cases should be completed by 2023.

Under the revised strategy, which the Council of Ministers, Bosnia’s state-level government, has still not adopted, the state court and the state prosecution are supposed to deal only with most complex cases, leaving all other cases to the prosecutions in the country’s two entities and the Brcko District.

This has created disagreements. As BIRN reported in October, the state court refused to confirm three war-crime indictments this year, after determining that the cases were not complex enough to be conducted before it.

Tadic said she disputed that assessment, noting that the victims in the cases had “demanded that those cases be handled by the state prosecution and court. According to the strategy, they are classified as less complex cases, but no rape, no murder can be considered a less complex case,” she said.

“All cases classified as crimes against humanity should be solved by the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” she added.

No fear of OSCE criticism or judge’s visit
Speaking about comments made in June by the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which monitors the work of the judiciary, concerning allegedly low-quality indictments – which have led to a large number of acquittals – Tadic said this was the result of “a misunderstanding”.

“We had a minor misunderstanding,” she said, because the OSCE mission “only took one short period of the prosecution’s work and evaluated it – but the prosecution’s work can only be evaluated on an annual basis”.

She continued: “The prosecutor’s office has so far accused more than 850 people. Over 2,750 years in prison have been imposed as a result of our indictments. We are the leader [in war-crimes prosecutions] in the region.”

According to Tadic, the number of recent acquittals was not “just about the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina”. She added: “It frequently happens that first and second instance chambers have differing opinions and also that witnesses change their statements.”

Tadic was appointed acting chief prosecutor and then, at the beginning of this year, as chief prosecutor, following the dismissal of Goran Salihovic. He was removed following a critical report issued in 2016 by the OSCE Mission to Bosnia, prepared by judge Joanna Korner. She is scheduled to come to Bosnia on a new mission next year.

Tadic said this prospect did not worry her: “I am… very satisfied that judge Korner will come because… I have spent a lot of time with her. Some personal relations between the former chief prosecutor and OSCE mission representative are another issue, which we have left behind.”

Besides cooperating with Korner and with international community, Tadic says she intended to work more closely with the media to improve the image of the Bosnian prosecution.

She noted, however, that this did not mean that indictments would now be provided to the public and media, as they should still be sent to the state court alone.

More work on high-level corruption promised
Speaking about the prosecution of corruption cases, Tadic pledged that some high-ranking perpetrators would be prosecuted before the end of the year.

She stressed also that she has issued an obligatory instruction to prosecutors to perform financial investigations in accordance with new recommendations by the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, the country’s judicial overseer, adding that the classification of corruption into high, middle and low levels had been carried out for the first time.

“During my term in office, there will be no staged processes and all accusations will be done on the basis of facts and evidence,” she insisted. “In the previous period, we saw high-ranking individuals mostly being acquitted of responsibility by the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

The chief prosecutor said that work on this type of crime would be improved by the creation of one section which will deal with organised crime, economic crime, corruption and terrorism.

“According to my plan, this should happen in 2019-2020. We shall see how things develop further. The selection of a fourth deputy [chief prosecutor] is under way. At the prosecutor’s office, we have to take care of all that… This year has to be closed on the basis of such systematisation, in order to be able to express the results of the prosecution’s work,” she said.

Tadic announced that a division for combatting human trafficking should also soon be formed in this section, given the ever-increasing number of migrant trafficking cases.

Tadic said that, in the past, other systemic improvements had also been made. For example, regional teams had begun working on war-crime cases again, which was one of the recommendations made by judge Korner.

Korner also proposed regular college meetings, but Tadic refused to confirm whether this had been implemented, calling it an internal matter.

Tadic said her teams already hold college meetings, “if necessary”, adding: “I regularly receive at my office all prosecutors, associates and those who should come in order to solve certain issues. We make certain conclusions at college meetings. Therefore, we work in accordance with the rulebook. At this moment, when I have got two deputies and expect to get two more, we shall continue to work entirely in accordance with the rulebook and my programme,” she said.

Syrian camp returnees are another burden
In the coming period, the Bosnian state prosecution will also be burdened with cases related to the return of a group of Bosnian citizens who have been kept in camps in Syria following the fall of so-called Islamic State.

Data presented by Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektic suggests that around 260 Bosnian citizens remain in Syria. According to his ministry, this number includes 45 adult men. The ministry has said it expects the return of a group of 24 people soon.

“We are supposed to take over nine returnees from foreign battlefronts,” Tadic noted. “As our duty is to prosecute perpetrators of crime, warrants have been issued against some of them and we will take them over and prosecute them immediately.”

She added: “As for women and children, that is a different issue. They are not primarily under the responsibility of the Bosnian state prosecution.”

Tadic explained that the women in the camps, of whom there are around 50 in Syria, according to available data, would be checked in order to determine whether they had participated in any unlawful acts.

* BIRN’s interview with Tadic took place before the publication on Thursday of an expert report for the European Commission about the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which criticised the work of state judicial institutions. Tadic was not immediately available for comment after the publication of the report.

    Semir Mujkić

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