With the objective of strengthening the rule of law, quality and integrity of the judiciary in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the European Union has for many years supported processes of the transitional justice by establishing systemic preconditions for effective implementation of the National War Crimes Strategy (National Strategy). Since 2014, the previous phases of European Union assistance were implemented through the allocation of pre-accession IPA funds, amounting to 14.8 million EUR. These funds have been directed on improving a number of segments of efficiency and quality of processing war crimes cases before the courts and prosecutor’s offices.
In addition to providing expert and administrative support to Supervisory Body for Monitoring the Implementation of the National War Crimes Strategy (Supervisory Body), implemented projects financed the work for over 20 judges and prosecutors, more than 100 expert and administrative staff, as well as provided material resources to courts and prosecutors’ offices. The EU support resulted in reduction of backlog of unresolved war crimes cases for more than 50% since the start of implementation.
By implementing systemic improvement measures, complementary to continuous oversight by the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of BiH (HJPC BiH) and the Supervisory Body, the number of unresolved war crimes cases in prosecutor’s offices in BiH was significantly decreased in the previous period. Numerically – 1404 KTRZ cases against more than 4000 persons were resolved in the manner of prosecutor’s decision in the period 2014 – September 2020. Also, the activities of the HJPC BiH on the organization of professional trainings in the form of a round tables led to improvement of the practical skills and professional knowledge of over 300 judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys.
With the support of the HJPC BiH project team, the Supervisory Body initiated implementation of a number of measures aimed to improve implementation of the National Strategy objectives. Thus, support was provided in regards to activities related to establishment of centralized databases of evidences in war crimes cases in the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH, and measures have been taken to harmonize judicial practices in war crimes cases within the Panel for the Harmonization of Judicial Practices in Criminal Matters. Additionally, functioning of the regional cooperation in the processing of war crimes cases was one of priority focus points. Also, with adequate distribution, the mechanism for transferring war crimes cases between the judiciary levels in BiH has been improved as one of the strategic goals that ensures preconditions for overall efficiency. In the context of the sustainability of the European Union support, it is necessary to point out that financing of salaries for 21 judges and prosecutors, was transferred to regular budget funding in BiH, and with that an adequate domestic framework for efficient work on war crimes cases has been established.
However, despite tangible results, judicial institutions in BiH continue to register a significant number of unresolved war crimes cases, with over 4000 reported/suspected persons, while delays in functioning of regional cooperation further burden courts and prosecutors’ offices, making it more difficult to bring war crimes perpetrators to justice. Adoption of the Revised National War Crimes Strategy (Revised Strategy) stands as a positive step towards improving the framework of the national normative strategic platform for an efficient system of work on war crimes cases. As the basic strategic goal underpins the obligation to process most complex and priority cases by the end of 2023, so the judicial institutions in BiH, which are still functioning in the emergency working regimes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic face a great challenge.
Continuation of EU support – IPA 2019
Confirming its long-standing partnership in the efforts to complete transitional justice processes, the European Union allocated 4 million EUR in modality of direct support to processing of war crimes cases to courts and prosecutors’ offices within the “EU4 Transitional Justice” IPA 2019 program. Aligning the goals of support with the implementation of measures and deadlines stipulated by the Revised Strategy, the support of the European Union will be implemented during the period of 24 months (01.01.2021 – 31.12.2022) through project structure “Enhancing War Crime Case Processing in BiH” – IPA 2019. This project is fourth successive phase of European Union support, which will include 27 judicial institutions beneficiaries, out of which 16 prosecutor’s offices and 11 courts, the Ministry of Finance and Treasury of BiH, the HJPC BiH and Criminal Defense Section of the Ministry of Justice of BiH. By rational allocation, beneficiaries are provided with funds for salaries of 96 temporary engaged employees for providing expert and administrative support to judges and prosecutors working on war crimes cases (expert associates and advisors, investigators, psychologists, administrative staff, etc.).
Same as in previous phases, the HJPC BiH will have the role as coordinator of joint and complementary activities of courts and prosecutors’ offices, by monitoring the quantitative aspects of the dynamics and efficiency of work on war crimes cases. For that purpose, within the project activities, regular meetings of the Supervisory Body will be organized, as well as periodical meetings of all chief prosecutors in BiH to discuss current issues, while in the form of providing expert and administrative support, results of the judiciary will be regularly presented to the HJPC and the Supervisory Body, along with proposals of measures for improvement. Activities in regards to segment of professional education will be realized in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice of BiH in organizing expert thematic meetings for judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys in order to discuss current issues.
Through the financing of 96 positions of support (expert and administrative) staff, and additional improvement of material costs of judicial institutions, presented project structure aims to reduce the number of unresolved KTRZ cases in prosecutor’s offices for at least 65% by the end of 2022.
Expecting the continuation of the positive results achieved during the previous project phases, the European Union confirmed its long-term commitment to continue supporting BiH judiciary and partnership status in support to end transitional justice process in BiH through more efficient war crimes proceedings.