As the departure date for international judges and prosecutors working in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s state court approaches, pressure is growing on the High Representative’s Office to make a decision on whether to extend their stay.
Prime Minister of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik, and Nebojsa Radmanovic, the Serb member of the state presidency, have threatened to hold a referendum on the issue if the international envoy’s office decides to extend the mandates beyond the 14 December deadline this year.
“If the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko, extends the mandate of international judges and prosecutors in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a referendum will be organised in Republika Srpska,” Dodik said.
Radmanovic said that, as a member of the Presidency, he would not sign a decision to extend their mandate.
This is the latest stand off to hit Bosnia’s warring political parties. The Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose leader, Haris Silajdzic, is the Bosniak presidency member, has said it will once again try to put the issue of the extension of mandates of international personnel on the parliamentary, as an urgent matter. The next session of parliament is due on 16 December, two days after the expiry of the mandates.
Non-governmental human rights organisations have also requested the extension of the mandates and have asked the Office of the High Representative, OHR, to intervene to resolve the issue.
Human Rights Watch sent an open letter to Inzko, calling on him to try to solve the issue of the international personnel’s mandates, by negotiating with local authorities, or to use the powers vested in his office in order to extend the mandates.
“Time is running out. As you know, on December 14 the mandate of international judges and prosecutors will expire. It is still unclear whether the Bosnian authorities will find a solution, prior to that date, which would ensure that the work of the War Crimes Chamber is not endangered and enable effective implementation of the State War Crimes Processing Strategy,” the letter signed by Richard Dicker, Director of the International Justice Programme, and Benjamin Ward, Assistant Director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, says.
The NGO cites the “significant achievements” of the War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the processing of more than 40 cases and strengthening the capacities of local personnel, as well as the fact that “the presence of international personnel has helped strengthen the independence of this institution and its isolation from political influences”.
“However, a lot of work still has to be done. There are literally thousands of war-crimes cases, which have still not been opened. We appreciate the importance of ensuring the management of the Chamber by local staff only. (…) However, at the same time, the lack of a responsible plan for handing over final responsibility for war-crimes processing presents a risk for downgrading the work of the Chamber and its efficiency,” the NGO added.
A similar request was made by the “Truth, Justice, Reconciliation” Foundation from Tuzla. It expressed its dissatisfaction with “the High Representative’s indolent attitude towards the presence of foreign judges and prosecutors in judicial institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.
“On one hand we see the reduction of the budget for the Court and Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a main precondition for strengthening their human resources structures, while, on the other hand, we witness permanent political pressure to not extending the mandate of international personnel working in those institutions, which will further deepen the crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the announcement says.
The Foundation calls on the Bosnian authorities and the Office of the High Representative to “do all they can” in order to extend the mandates of international judges and prosecutors, which should be used for “strengthening human resources capacities in those two institutions, enabling them to be ready for the time when the foreign staff members leave”.
According to the existing plan the Court and Prosecution will consist of local staff only as of next year.
In mid September this year the Constitutional and Legal Commission of the House of Representatives of the State Parliament gave its consent to changes in the Law on the Court and Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, extending the mandates of international personnel for two more years. However, the House of Peoples failed to adopt the amendments.
Both the State Court and the Hague Tribunal support the stay of foreign judges and prosecutors. The Peace Implementation Council, PIC, the countries that sponsor Bosnia’s Dayton Peace Accord, recently called on parliamentarians to change their decision.
“The failure to solve the issue of international judges and prosecutors would have a negative effect on the entire judicial system,” the communique issued after the PIC met in Sarajevo in November stated.
Addressing the UN Security Council in December 2009, Serge Brammertz, Chief Prosecutor of the ICTY, sent the same message to the Bosnian authorities.
“Unless the issue is solved as a matter of urgency, ongoing war-crimes trials and investigations might be endangered. This will also have serious consequences for the work of the Tribunal. Urgent action is needed,” Brammertz said.