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

Bosnia War Crimes Process Record Assessed

Judiciary seen to have made significant strides – although challenges and threats remain.
By Velma Šarić

Bosnia’s judiciary has made significant progress in tackling war crimes trial issues over the past five years, but there are still some areas in which improvement is necessary, a report by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe concludes.

The OSCE mission to Bosnia and Hercegovina, BiH, presented its new report – which considers the war crimes process between 2005 and 2010 – this week in Sarajevo.

The majority of war crimes trials undertaken by Bosnia various courts – at state, entity and district level – are efficient, fair and comply with basic national and international human rights standards, the report states.

Gary Robbins, the head of the OSCE mission in BiH, said, “In the last five years, the criminal justice system in BiH processed over 200 war crimes cases, and an additional 100 are still pending, which will help the victims attain a sense of justice.”

However, he said, the process has not been without difficulties, in particular the problem of not being able to find enough witnesses who are ready or feel safe enough to speak about war crimes; and the judiciary’s lack of both financial and human resources.

A further concern, Robbins pointed out, were the politically-motivated attacks against Bosnia’s central-state judicial institutions.

He said attempts to undermine the legitimacy and legality of the BiH state court and prosecutor’s office
“have put in question the long-term sustainability and support for reforms which BiH has achieved in recent years.

“This is of major concern as these challenges, ultimately, result in a denial of justice to victims, which, in turn, hampers post-Dayton state-building efforts.”

The chairwoman of the BiH state court, Meddzida Kreso, said it had reached 65 final verdicts in war crimes cases and that monitoring of these trials had not found anything which would put the objectivity of the judgements in doubt.

“Our aim is to improve ourselves in every way,” Kreso said, hoping that the OSCE “report would help [refute] all the unjustified attacks against the state court [that] attempt to prove that we are not objective”.

“All our work is always guided by a strong sense of, and striving for, our judicial independence,” Kreso added.

Munib Halilovic, of the state prosecutor’s office, said that prosecutors too had kept their “independence and objectivity despite harsh pressure coming recently from all sides”.

He added that “the prosecution is not there to fulfill anyone’s wishes, but to process war crimes and criminals whoever they may be”.

He also said that politicians who unfairly criticise the prosecution’s work undermine public trust in the country’s judicial institutions. Nonetheless, he said,
“We believe that during 2011 we will be able, from our side, to close the most sensitive cases currently pending.”

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.

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