HRW cites lessons from Bosnia war crimes prosecution

HRW cites lessons from Bosnia war crimes prosecution

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[JURIST] Lessons can be learned from the successes and failures of the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) [official website] and its prosecution of war crimes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said in a report [text; press release] published Monday. Spotlighting the Special Department for War Crimes (SDWC) [official website], the report commended the nation’s commitment to prosecuting crimes from the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archives] and suggested that other nations could learn from BiH’s experiences. HRW described some of the difficulties in war crimes tribunals, including nominating judiciary. In BiH’s case, non-Bosnian prosecutors and judges were brought in temporarily from the beginning of the SDWC, but it has been difficult phasing into local justice due to ethnic tensions. The report also looked particularly on the effects of international judges on a war crimes trial.

Overall, in any context, international judges should avoid trying to simply replicate their own national systems or the practices of international tribunals. While these systems may provide helpful insights, international judges should approach their role with an understanding of how the existing national judicial system works and be dedicated to preserving and enhancing functional parts of the system. This is important as an expression of respect for the national system and the experience of national colleagues. It can also help avoid inefficiencies.

The report ultimately recommended that other nations create a coordinated effort to try war crimes using highly structured national courts aided by international advisers. It also highlighted the importance of responding to the public’s desire for justice or closure after a conflict such as the Bosnian civil war.

In January the Court of BiH [official website] upheld the conviction [JURIST reports] and 31-year sentence of Radomir Vukovic for his part in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre [JURIST news archive] during the Bosnian civil war. While Vukoic’s appeal was denied, Zoran Tomic won his appeal on a lack of evidence. Earlier that month convicted Serbian war criminal Radovan Stankovic [JURIST report] was arrested in BiH after being on the run since May 2007 when he escaped from a Bosnian prison. Stankovic was convicted of multiple war crimes [JURIST report] in 2006, including rape, enslavement and torture. In December the US extradited Rasema Handanovic [JURIST report], a woman accused of killing Bosnian Croat civilians during the Bosnian Civil War. A number of cases have been opened in relation to the Bosnian Civil War. The Court of BiH confirmed the indictment [JURIST report] of former police officer Bozidar Kuvelja in March for his role in a 1995 massacre. In February, French authorities arrested Milorad Momic [JURIST report] under an international arrest warrant for his suspected involvement in war crimes. Last August, Spanish officials extradited accused Montenegrin war criminal [JURIST report] Veselin Vlahovic, known as the “monster of Grbavica,” to Sarajevo.