As the last foreign judicial staff get ready to pack their bags in Bosnia, local lawyers are divided whether they did much good or not.
Lawyers in Bosnia are split over the value of the contribution to Bosnia of international judges and prosecutors whose involvement in the country ends this year.
The head of Bosnia’s State Court, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, says experienced foreign judges helped the local judiciary attain better standards and get to know international law better.
But not everyone agrees, and some lawyers say they expected much more from the involvement of international colleagues.
While these opinions differ, it is indisputable that some international prosecutors didn’t raise a single indictment.
More than 70 judges and prosecutors, mostly from Western Europe and America, have been appointed to the State Court and Prosecutor’s Office since 2003.
The mandates of the last remaining three foreign judges and prosecutors in these institutions run out by the end of this year.
“This [State] court and our local judges are privileged to have had the international judges in our ranks,” Meddzida Kreso, President of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, says.
“That privilege relates to their contribution to strengthening the rule of law and the introduction of international norms and standards in war crimes trials, where they have brought high standards,” she adds.
She believes the presence of international colleagues in the judiciary has also helped deflect the danger of national/ethnic bias in courts’ work.
Hilmo Vucinic, a State Court judge who worked with a dozen or so foreign judges, agrees.
They made a great contribution in terms of helping locals acquire knowledge of Anglo-Saxon law, become more systematic in writing verdicts and other points, he says.
“Many of these judges were from European Union states, which had the best practice of the European Court of Human Rights,” he notes.
“Some were Hague Tribunal judges with a wealth of experience in prosecuting war crimes, which was welcomed by us as we began meeting new concepts such as ‘command responsibility’ and ‘joint criminal enterprise,’” Vucinic continues.
Not all so great:
Kreso and Vucinic admit that not all of the appointed judges have achieved significant results.
“I can’t say all were good or that they all gave an equal contribution; as with domestic judges, not everyone has an equal capacity,” Kreso says.
“It is the same thing with the international ones. There were those who did not left a significant mark,” she adds.
From 2003 to 2006 it was up to the High Representative to appoint international judges and prosecutors. In 2007, the appointments system passed to Bosnia’s own High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, VSTV, where one of the conditions for appointment was eight years of experience in complex cases.
“If you look critically on their work, the two phases can be compared, Vucinic says.
“In the first phase from 2003 to 2006 it was a matter of judges being appointed by their respective governments and their mandate was much shorter.
“This proved to be a bad practice, as such a small period of time was not sufficient for them to adequately cope with all challenges.”
Meanwhile Sarajevo lawyer Senka Nozica is a lot less glowing in her verdict.
She says more was expected of the international judges and prosecutors, and their performance in general was poor.
“In terms of the prosecution, it was expected that they would help educate local prosecutors. But they were completely separated from local prosecutors and so had few possibilities to educate their colleagues,” she says.
“I’ve also heard that before their arrival, some were not prosecutors at all, so they had no grounds to educate anyone but they were learning on the job,” she adds. “It was the same with the international judges.”
While most indictments raised by foreign prosecutors working in the State Prosecutor’s Organized Crime Department against top officials generally ended in acquittals, the international war crimes prosecutors had a significantly higher number of convictions.
Philippine Prosecutor Jude Romano was one of those engaged in complex cases, raising indictments for crimes committed in the detention camps in Mostar and Dretelj and presenting them before the State Court.
Erik Larson and Kwai Hong Ip, from the US, worked on major genocide cases and other crimes connected to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
But according to data obtained from the indictments and verdicts, several prosecutors did not raise a single indictment for war crimes, nor did they represent a single case before the court.
The State Prosecutor’s Office refuses to comment on the work of those prosecutors and says the Office of the Registrar of the State Court is responsible for them.
But Senka Nozica says some international prosecutors - such as Romano - were worse than negligent.
She says some of them inflicted positive damage on the Bosnian courts, as with the case of the attack on a Yugoslav People Army’s JNA column in Dobrovoljacka Street in Sarajevo in 1992.
“Without saying whether a criminal offence took place there or who was involved in it, that prosecutor’s move was a big loss for Bosnia and Herzegovina,” she said, referring to prosecutor Jude Romano’s decision to drop probes into 14 men suspected of participating in an attack on soldiers of the Yugoslav People’s Army in May 1992.
“First he said that he’d suspended the investigation, and then two days later he said some crimes had occurred there but that other people have committed them.
“It was irresponsible, unprofessional and incompetent… and it has caused public concern”, said Nozica.
Prosecutor Romano suspended the investigation into 14 suspects on the Dobrovoljacka Street case shortly before his mandate expired.
This move outraged public opinion among Bosnian Serbs, just as when his former colleague, David Schwendiman, on the eve of his leaving Bosnia, closed an investigation into suspects for the attack on the JNA convoy in Tuzla and crimes against Serbs in Konjic.
Although she considers that the work of the foreign prosecutors generally a failure, Nozica admits some among them were brilliant.
“Jonathan Schmidt brilliantly led an investigation, showed how the procedure should be led, in the case which, unfortunately for him and me, ended with acquittal,” she recalled, referring to a former prosecutor from the United States of America, who had worked on organized crime cases.
The judges and lawyers with whom we talked agree that Bosnia’s own judiciary is now capable of working independently.
Banja Luka lawyer Krstan Simic also believes that international judges and prosecutors should not play any further part in Bosnia’s judiciary, saying their credibility is questionable when you look at their resumes.
“The impression remains that they were marginal figures who probably came here to realize someone’s political goals,” he said.
“Only those working on war crimes stayed on, but I don’t think they gave much of a contribution either. It is good for Bosnia that they go.”
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