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Bosnia: Donors Must Ensure Justice for Atrocities

Bosnia: Donors Must Ensure Justice for Atrocities

New War Crimes Chamber Needs Sufficient International Funding and Support

(New York) – As the international tribunal in The Hague winds up its operations, the new War Crimes Chamber established in Sarajevo to handle remaining cases of serious war crimes will require sufficient international funding and support, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Bosnia’s donors are scheduled to meet in Brussels next month.

In March 2005, the War Crimes Chamber began operations within Bosnia’s State Court to try cases of serious war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina that could not be prosecuted within the mandate or timeframe of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The chamber will also handle serious war crimes cases initiated locally.

The internationalized chamber is the latest in a series of “hybrid” justice mechanisms operating under national law, like earlier initiatives in East Timor and Kosovo. Although there is an international component, the Sarajevo chamber is a domestic institution that will continue to handle war crimes cases after international involvement has been phased out.

The 44-page report, “Looking for Justice: The War Crimes Chamber in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” evaluates the initial phase of the chamber, identifies achievements, and makes recommendations on how to improve the chamber’s operations.

“The war crimes chamber was set up to ensure that those responsible for atrocities in Bosnia do not escape justice,” said Param-Preet Singh, counsel with Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program. “This chamber offers victims of these most serious crimes a chance for justice.”

The war in Bosnia, which lasted from 1992-1995, was characterized by mass killings, rapes, widespread destruction, and displacement of the population. It marked the first genocide in Europe since the end of the Second World War.

Although the War Crimes Chamber is a relatively new institution, its operations so far indicate that it can deliver fair trials for defendants. The ICTY has already referred two of its cases to the War Crimes Chamber for trial, and additional ICTY referrals are expected.

“Now that the chamber is operational, it must focus its energies on conducting fair and effective trials,” said Singh. “The international community cannot afford to let the War Crimes Chamber fail. More support from donors is essential.”

Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the War Crimes Chamber’s performance could be undercut because of inadequate funding. There are concerns that there are not enough prosecutors or investigators to effectively handle the current caseload. This could put the effectiveness of trials before the War Crimes Chamber at risk.

Other concerns highlighted in the report include uncertainties in the payment arrangement for court-appointed defense counsel and the absence of a provision for defense investigators. Both factors could undermine the quality of defense representation in war crimes trials before the chamber, jeopardizing an indigent defendant’s right to a fair trial.

Background on the War Crimes Chamber

The War Crimes Chamber in Sarajevo is the latest in a series of judicial undertakings that are supported by the international community and aimed at bringing to justice those responsible for the worst crimes. Other examples include the Regulation 64 panels in Kosovo and the Special Panels for Serious Crimes in East Timor.

Although the Bosnian chamber presently includes international staff to provide assistance in handling war crimes cases, the international staff will be phased out within a relatively short time frame.

In addition to a limited number of cases referred to it by the ICTY, the mandate of the chamber includes trying cases initiated locally. The War Crimes Chamber, together with the Organized Crime and General Crime Chambers, operates within the Criminal Division of the State Court of
Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Looking for Justice: The War Crimes Chamber in Bosnia and Herzegovina” is available in English at

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