EU funds to accelerate BiH war crime prosecution

06/01/2014

The EU invested more than 7 million euros in BiH's justice system to help the country deal with war crime cases more efficiently.

By Ana Lovaković for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 06/01/14

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Officials said EU funds will help courts in BiH process war crime cases more efficiently. [SETimes file photo]

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) received 7.4 million euros from the EU's Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance programme to strengthen its judicial system and capacity to deal with war crimes cases.

The funds are to be used to bolster the technical and operational capacities of courts and prosecutors who work with war crimes by adding 120 new personnel -- including judges, prosecutors and legal associates -- as well as by increasing operational cost budgets for state, entity and district courts.

"The processing of war crimes cases is crucial for reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the whole region. Commitment, support and courage will be central to take this forward," said Peter Sorensen, the head of the EU Delegation to BiH.

"The outstanding cases of war crimes are important for BiH and their resolution is essential for the country to overcome the past and move toward the future," Sorensen added. "There are about 1,300 cases that should be resolved as soon as possible. These are a burden for Bosnia and Herzegovina, a legacy not only of a very painful recent past but also a risk of continued impunity and unhealed wounds. More than 18 years after the end of the war, thousands of victims and their families have not yet known justice."

From 2004 to 2013, BiH courts completed 214 war crime cases and 235 people have been convicted. There are 1,315 outstanding cases.

The EU delegation to BiH and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will monitor the programme for the next two years. The funds will be channelled through the BiH Ministry of Finance and the treasury to the relevant authorities.

BiH Justice Minister Barisa Colak said the financial injection is necessary because currently only a few courts have the capacity to adequately prosecute war crimes.

"This is a complex topic and it is very important that each segment in the prosecution of war crimes works adequately to meet the conditions set by European justice. We will start [using the funds to provide] adequate space, witness protection, audio and video equipment and defence attorneys," Colak told SETimes.

He said the prosecution of war crimes is important and the problems must be quickly solved.

"It has been a long time. Everything that has been done so far has not achieved the results that we should have by now," Colak added.

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The country's National Strategy for War Crimes Prosecution, which was adopted in April 2013, states that priority cases need to be resolved by 2016, and all others by 2023. In order to meet these deadlines, cases must be accelerated, and the highest judicial standards and standards of human rights protection must be met.

Milorad Novković, president of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of BiH, said this is the first time the EU has funded prosecutors working on war crimes cases.

"We appreciate help in solving the problems that burden the judicial institutions, and also the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina," Novkovic told SETimes.

What other steps can BiH take to ensure that the judicial system can efficiently deal with war crimes cases? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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