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

Brammertz Urges Balkan Politicians to Support Local Courts

Call comes at launch of programme to enhance cooperation between regional prosecution offices and the Hague tribunal.
By Simon Jennings
Chief prosecutor of the Hague tribunal Serge Brammertz has called upon politicians in the former Yugoslavia to support war crimes prosecutors in the region in bringing those suspected of committing atrocities in the Nineties wars to justice.

“Prosecutors are not functioning in a vacuum,” said Brammertz.

“They are functioning in the real world in a real political situation and we, of course, very much hope that the government, the political level, in all the countries of the region will support the judiciary and will make sure that public opinion is supportive in allowing those prosecutors to do their job.”

Brammertz was speaking at a conference for war crimes prosecutors from Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro held in Brussels this week to advance levels of cooperation between them and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

Such ongoing cooperation between the Hague court and regional war crimes courts will prevent impunity from prevailing in the former Yugoslavia once the court has closed its doors, said Brammertz.

“There will, for sure, not be a culture or period of impunity afterwards [when the ICTY has closed],” said Brammertz. He pointed out that in recent years, a transition has been taking place, with increasing numbers of trials being held in the region.

“The entire process we [have all been] involved in for the last years is there to prevent this [from] happening.”

Under its mandate from the United Nations Security Council, the tribunal is currently scheduled to close at the end of 2010.

However, its officials have made it clear that it will not complete its work until the beginning of 2012. There are still four cases yet to get under way.

“I absolutely trust in the independence, impartiality and professionalism of my colleagues here present to make sure that the due judicial process will be respected,” added Brammertz.

The two-day conference on April 2 and 3 saw the launch of a programme that will enhance cooperation between the regional prosecution offices and the ICTY.

Established in partnership with the European Commission, the project will see war crimes prosecutors from the region gain access to databases and investigatory material at the Hague court, as well as benefit from its expertise by working side by side with ICTY staff.

The conference marked a “further strengthening of cooperation between national prosecution offices and the ICTY made possible by the direct involvement of the European Union”, the regional prosecutors and the ICTY said in a joint statement.

“Prosecutors express their full commitment to continuing their work and are looking forward to all initiatives which would remove any remaining legal obstacles to the more efficient prosecution of war crimes cases in the region of the former Yugoslavia.”

European Enlargement Commissioner Ollie Rehn was at the conference and pledged the commission’s support for war crimes prosecution in the region.

“Bringing war crimes trials to completion is a tribute we owe to the victims and the people of the region,” said Rehn.

“Intensified cooperation between all prosecutors is therefore needed to close the dark chapters of the recent wars and to allow them – the countries of the region – to move towards EU integration with unified and reconciled societies.”

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.