Hague Prosecutor Calls for Urgency in Bosnia War Cases

Author : Mircea Birca | Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Posted in category Balkans, Bosnia Hertegovina
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The Hague Tribunal’s chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz told BIRN that he was disappointed with slow progress in war crimes investigations transferred from the international court for trial in Bosnia.

Brammertz said in an interview with BIRN that after visiting Sarajevo recently, he thought that Bosnian prosecutors were working too slowly on the war crimes cases transferred from the Hague Tribunal to be tried in local courts.

“Originally we transferred cases against 44 individuals, and for a number of them proceedings have been engaged and for a number there hasn’t been a lot of progress, and in a few really important cases there has been little progress,” said Brammertz.

“I have over the last few years looked at these cases and showed a lot of understanding for the difficulty of the situation. But my level of understanding is shrinking, as I found it very unfortunate that so little progress has been made in relation to the cases I am asking about every six months,” he said.

He added that he told the Bosnian prosecution that he understands they are working with limited resources in a charged political situation, but that it was finally time to speed up work on these cases.

“The point I made is that if I see so little progress in cases I am asking about every six months, than what is happening in cases nobody is asking about? I am hoping my criticism will be taken in constructive manner, because it is not only an issue of resources and equipment, it is also an issue about willingness and work,” said Brammertz.

Prosecuting sexual aggressors

The chief Hague prosecutor said he would also like to see more rape and sexual violence cases prosecuted.

“Every time I go to the region and meet victims, there is a lot of criticism. If you look at thousands and thousands of sexual violence victims, one cannot be happy with the several dozen cases that have been completed,” said Brammertz.

Brammertz said that crimes of mass rape and sexual violence were given a prominent position in the indictments against former Bosnian Serb political and military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic in The Hague.

“In 50 per cent of our indictments there is an element of sexual violence. It is an important element, but we should look at this issue in a broader sense. We have come very far in terms of jurisprudence for sexual violence-related crimes,” he said.

“I would say historically, it was rare that commanders were convicted of sexual violence crimes. It was thought they were opportunistic crimes, which were happening but which are not part of ethnic cleansing campaign or strategy. This Tribunal recognized that sexual violence crimes were foreseeable and therefore the commanders were responsible,” he added.

He expressed his satisfaction that the Hague court rejected a request by Ratko Mladic’s defence for the former Bosnian Serb military leader to be acquitted halfway through his trial, adding however that there was “still a lot of work to do during the defence evidence phase”.

Brammertz also said that the Hague prosecution was now preparing for the closing arguments in the case against Radovan Karadzic in September, and that a verdict in the Karadzic case is scheduled for sometime after the summer next year.

Contradictory legal principles

Brammertz said that he was disappointed that the Hague Tribunal’s appeals chamber turned down a request to review the final verdict against former Yugoslav Army general Momcilo Perisic, who was acquitted of crimes in Sarajevo, Srebrenica and Zagreb.

The appeals chamber acquitted Perisic because it said that he did not “directly assist” crimes by Bosnian Serb forces. However, in a different case, another appeals chamber rejected the legal principle of direct assistance.

Brammertz said that he wasn’t satisfied that the Tribunal had imposed two different legal principles on “aiding and abetting crimes”.

“Nobody can be satisfied that in two similar situations, a different legal principle was used, and one group is convicted and the other freed based on these principles. What is worse is that there is no legal remedy to deal with this issue. There is no higher court internationally to remedy this,” said Brammertz.

Brammertz meanwhile denied any suggestion that the upcoming creation of a new tribunal dealing with war crimes allegations against members of the Kosovo Liberation Army was a criticism of the Hague prosecution’s work in Kosovo-related cases.

“I see the forming of a new court as complementarity in the work of this Tribunal, rather than anything else,” he said.

Adequate evidence against former KLA fighters was not available in time to launch prosecutions before the Hague Tribunal began the process of winding down ahead of its impending closure, Brammertz suggested.

“Prior to the adoption of the completion strategy of this court, there was limited evidence available about these crimes, so indictments could not be raised, and later, once the closing strategy was adopted, it was impossible to start new investigations,” he concluded.

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