Bosnia and Herzegovina’s revised Strategy for War Crimes Processing, which was approved in February last year by the country’s judicial overseer, the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, has not even made it onto the agenda of the Council of Ministers, the executive branch of the state government, BIRN has learned.
The strategy, which envisages the completion of all war crimes cases by 2023, was included, at the justice ministry’s request, on the agenda for a Council of Ministers session on July 3, 2018, but was then removed on the request of the minister for human rights and refugees, Semiha Borovac.
Justice Minister Josip Grubesa said he has never received an explanation why his colleague Borovac removed the revised strategy from the agenda.
Grubesa added that the Council of Ministers is unlikely to discuss the strategy until its new members are chosen. A new Council of Ministers should have been decided after elections last October, but has been delayed by political wrangling in the country.
“It is unlikely that the revised strategy will be put on our agenda now, although I have urged that this item be discussed on several occasions in the past period. Its adoption and possible revision of its deadlines due to the delay in its adoption will be the task of the new Council of Ministers,” Grubesa explained.
Borovac’s office told BIRN meanwhile that she will not address the subject and the question should be raised with the justice ministry.
Legal experts believe that the failure to adopt the revised strategy may lead to a slowdown in processing war crimes, as well as creation of inter-ethnic tensions. Representatives of war victims believe meanwhile that the judiciary should stick to the original strategy which has been in place since 2008.
The 2008 strategy envisaged that the most war crimes complex cases would be processed at the state level within seven years, while all the other cases would be referred to the entity-level and completed within 15 years – in other words, by 2023.
But because the initial seven-year deadline expired at the end of 2015 and the most complex cases had not been completed at the state level, the revised strategy was prepared. According to the new strategy, a larger number of cases was supposed to be transferred to the entity level.
Lack of strategy ‘slows down justice’
The revised strategy says that more than 550 unsolved war crimes cases are currently with the state prosecution, in which more than 4,500 known perpetrators are named – and as many cases again against unidentified perpetrators.
Courts in Bosnia’s two entities, the Federation and Republika Srpska, and in the Brcko District, have around 200 more unsolved cases involving known perpetrators.
The OSCE mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which monitors the work of judicial institutions, told BIRN that the revised strategy was the best way to complete all the remaining cases, “which is a precondition for achieving reconciliation”.
“The revised strategy proposes some concrete measures to improve the distribution of the remaining cases in such a way that the most complex cases will be processed at the state level, while the remaining ones will be transferred to the jurisdiction of the entities and the Brcko District of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Any delay in adoption slows down the achievement of justice,” the OSCE said.
The vice-president of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, Ruzica Jukic, said it was obvious that the Council of Ministers is not doing its job.
Jukic said it is not unclear whether it will be possible to complete the processing of war crime cases within the prescribed deadline due to the time that has been wasted and because “there are sure to be some deadlocks”.
Meanwhile Murat Tahirovic, president of the Association of Victims and Witnesses of Genocide, said he objects to the revised strategy because representatives of victims and academics were not involved in its preparation.
He said that his association’s attempts to have an input were ignored, “so we asked the Council of Ministers not to adopt the strategy”.
“As regards the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, the court and particularly the prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, they should continue working on the basis of the existing strategy and there will be no harm to victims or criminals. They should just adhere to the strategy which has been at their disposal since 2008,” Tahirovic argued.