Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Boost for Bosnian Justice Efforts

UN links up with Bosnia government to help war crime victims use local legal system.
By Velma Šarić

A project to make Bosnia’s courts more accessible and help thousands of victims of war crimes from the 1992-95 conflict find justice has been launched with backing from the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP.



The 5.5 million US dollars, three-year project, called Access to Justice: Facing the Past and Building Confidence for the Future, was signed on June 30 in Sarajevo by Barisa Colak, Bosnia’s minister of justice, and Christine McNab, the UNDP resident representative.



It is expected to begin work in the fall and will be coordinated by Bosnia’s ministry of justice and the ministry of human rights and refugee affairs.



The new project aims to improve public access to Bosnian legal institutions and services and address remaining access to justice challenges for victims of the 1992-1995 conflict in the country.



Colak said he hoped for “a rise in the level of legal awareness in Bosnia-Hercegovina".



“We are gradually solving problems from the past through the rule of law, but we will have to work very hard if we want to be truly satisfied with the results. This project is one of the ways to establish the trust of citizens in the legal sector in Bosnia-Hercegovina," Colak told IWPR.



Saliha Djuderija, a senior official from the ministry of human rights and refugee affairs, told IWPR that the new project “is a good foundation for the establishment of equal treatment for all".



“The victims are only interested in equal treatment, equal protection… We, on the other hand, must offer an appropriate legal framework because statutes, policies, practice and strategy have so far not provided equal treatment of all victims,” Djuderija said.

John Furnari, the UNDP chief technical advisor for transitional justice, said, “The essence of this project is to awaken the Bosnian government and Bosnian civil society to the need for them to deal with the past for a peaceful future for this country.”



He said the Bosnian government had so far laid down a good foundation by working with the UNDP "to identify champions of transitional justice. Bosnian citizens from all over the country, men, women from all the regions, to bring them to centre stage, to train them for transitional justice, and then to have them tell the government what is left to be done to deal with the past.



"We understand where we were, we understand where we are now, and we really must move forward, and the government can’t do that without well-informed feedback from the communities.”



Murat Tahirovic, chairman of the Camp Detainees' Association of Bosnia, told IWPR, “Every move which yields certain results and tendencies towards justice is a move which we welcome. However, it leaves a bitter taste that the way towards transitional justice is so slow and that most victims will, unfortunately, not live to see the perpetrators of war crimes brought before justice.”



The ceremony to inaugurate the project was also used to promote the Transitional Justice Guidebook for Bosnia and Hercegovina, a reference tool produced by the UNDP that is closely connected to the new project.



"Its purpose is to serve as a tool for institutions of government, individuals and the public in general in creating future strategies and activities that will help meet requirements of justice,” said the UNDP’s McNab.



“This guidebook introduces Bosnian practitioners to decades of human endeavours toward the challenge of delivering post-conflict justice - both retributive and restorative - to the victims and survivors of conflict.



“Whether we are speaking of the Nuremberg trials commenced in 1946, or truth commissions associated with post-conflict reconstruction in South Africa or East Timor, or other mechanisms, there can be no doubt but that Bosnia must learn from the efforts of other post-conflict nations as it endeavours to deal with its own past.”



Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.