After more than a year’s delay, Serbian and Bosnian prosecutors finally endorsed an agreement to work together to prosecute war crime cases.“From now on, for war criminals in the region, there are no borders behind which they can hide. Now we have the opportunity to efficiently protect the rights of victims,” said Vladimir Vukcevic, Serbia’s chief war crimes prosecutor.
The Belgrade and Sarajevo prosecutors met in Brussels on Thursday to sign the protocol on cooperation in the prosecution of perpetrators of war crimes suspects, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The protocol is intended to address the issue of parallel investigations in the two countries and facilitate the mutual transfer of evidence between Bosnia and Serbia. It will also regulate trials of suspects in their country of origin for war crimes committed in the other.
“Our goal is to help victims,” said Bosnia’s chief prosecutor Goran Salihovic.
“It is a fact that a number of cases are on standby and with this agreement we will move forward,” he said.
Peter Burkhard, head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s mission to Serbia, which mediated in talks about the protocol, said that it showed that Belgrade was committed to dealing with its wartime past.
“Bringing those responsible for war crimes before justice is the basis for reconciliation in the region and a crucial element for the rule of law,” Burkhard said.
The protocol was initially supposed to be signed a year earlier but was blocked in November 2011 by Bosnia and Herzegovina’s presidency, which said that the agreement didn’t have the support of war crimes victims and insisted that its prior consent was required for all international agreements.
But Bosnia’s justice and foreign ministries later managed to get around the presidency’s objections by declaring that the protocol was not an international agreement.
Serbia has issued warrants against several Bosnian nationals in the past, most notably against Ejup Ganic, a member of the wartime Bosnian presidency in 2010 and Bosnian general Jovan Divjak in 2011.
Bosnia meanwhile has issued war crimes warrants for a number of former Bosnian Serb and Serbian army fighters who are currently living in Serbia.
But some Bosnian war crimes victims fear that the protocol may not bring more convictions because they believe that Serbian courts will not treat their cases fairly.
“We are worried because we know there have been some war crime cases in Serbia that ended with minimal convictions,” said Murat Tahirovic, president of the Bosnian organisation Victims and Witnesses of Genocide.
The exact number of cases that will be exchanged under the new protocol is unknown, but experts predict that it will not be fewer than 100.
Serbian prosecutors are currently investigating 100 war crimes cases, while their Bosnian counterparts are looking into 648 cases.
According to the Serbian prosecutor, even before the new protocol was put in place, the two countries had already exchanged nine cases.