The war crimes tribunal helps the communities to start the difficult process of dealing with the past.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 15/01/13
The war crimes tribunal implemented many activities to assist local courts in strengthening them to deal with war crimes cases. [AFP]
The International Criminal Tribunal for the War Crimes in the former Yugoslavia decided in late December to close its offices in Kosovo and Croatia, transferring the work to local courts, but leaving open offices in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).
The tribunal was formed in the 1990s, amid the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia -- at a time when no local courts had either the capacity or will to conduct effective prosecutions of the perpetrated crimes, Magdalena Spalinska, tribunal chief spokesperson, told SETimes.
"The tribunal's completion strategy has been an important catalyst for the strengthening of competent national judicial systems in the former Yugoslavia, and this area of the tribunal's work remains a priority," Spalinska said.
The tribunal implemented many activities to assist local courts in strengthening their ability to deal with war crimes cases, including transfer of knowledge and material to legal professionals in the region.
"Until the end of its mandate, the tribunal will continue to support local courts, to guarantee continued processing of war crimes at the highest level, to go on beyond the completion of the tribunal's mandate. The tribunal sees national courts as its partners in our common goal -- the struggle against impunity," Spalinska added.
Betim Musliu, executive director at the Kosovo Law Institute, said the closure of the offices in Kosovo and Croatia does not mean that the fight against war crimes will cease.
"The best thing about the penal justice is that war crimes do not become old. So, they are prosecuted until finally and definitely solved," Musliu told SETimes. The tribunal will continue to provide local courts with evidence in support of domestic prosecutions.
"Closing of the offices means that local jurisdictions have to submit requests for assistance to representatives in The Hague, instead the liaison offices," Spalinska said.
In Kosovo, EULEX is still important in the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of war crimes cases. Its judges share benches with local judges and international prosecutors are working alongside local prosecutors in investigating crimes, and presenting evidence at trials.
EULEX told SETimes that the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of war crimes cases is a priority for Kosovo EULEX, and an important part of its executive mandate.
"Results so far confirm this priority, but war crimes are some of the most complex cases, and have a number of challenges," Blerim Krasniqi, EULEX spokesperson, told SETimes.
"They include, but are not limited to, war crimes investigated in Kosovo over a decade ago," Krasniqi added. "All cases require extensive forensic expertise, and the number of witnesses and evidence is usually larger than in other cases."
EULEX prosecutors are currently investigating 74 war crime cases. EULEX judges, in mixed panels, up to now have delivered 23 verdicts in war crimes cases, where 29 persons were found guilty, and 15 persons were acquitted of their charges.
Musliu said justice officials in Kosovo should closely co-operate with EULEX and strengthen its capacities in war crime cases.
According to Spalinska, the work of the war crimes tribunal also contributed to change the thinking about accountability in the former Yugoslavia, and undermined the tradition of impunity which had troubled the Balkans for a long time.
"All communities agree that committing crimes against civilians or prisoners of war is not excusable, and should be punished, from whatever ethnic group or however high in leadership the perpetrators come. This conviction was simply not there before [the tribunal] started its work," she said.
Spalinska added that in Croatia national courts dealing with war crimes cases will continue this work.
"It is now widely accepted that Croats also committed crimes during the armed conflict, and that those individuals must be held responsible," and in Kosovo, "Albanians learned about many crimes committed not only by the Serb forces, but also the Kosovo Liberation Army.”
The role of the field offices in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which will continue to operate, is similar to that of the Kosovo and Croatia offices. Their mandate is two-fold; as liaison between the tribunal and the national authorities on case related and other matters, and continues to facilitate assistance requests from the local courts.