Countries that want to prosecute war crimes can learn from experience of Bosnia's courts, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday.
Human Rights Watch’s report highlights lessons from the involvement of international judges and prosecutors within the war crimes chamber of Bosnia’s state prosecution and court.
In the seven years since the State Court began operations, its War Crime Chamber and the Special Department for War Crimes in the Prosecutor's Office have completed more than 200 cases.
According to Human Rights Watch’s experts, while the accomplishments of the chamber and the prosecutor's office are significant, the Bosnian model of making use of international assistance has not been without flaws.
"The Bosnia experience has shed light on the value-added of international staff, but also on missed opportunities to make the most of what international judges and prosecutors have to offer," said Param-Preet Singh, senior counsel in Human Rights Watch's international justice program.
"Policymakers and donors should carefully consider Bosnia’s experience to avoid reinventing the wheel in other countries where national justice for serious international crimes is being pursued," she added.
The report states that most experts in Bosnia agree that international staff have raised public trust in the unbiased work of judicial institutions and that international prosecutors have played a vital role in investigating crimes that would otherwise have been abandoned due to their sensitive nature.
Meddzida Kreso, the president of the State Court, claims that the efforts of international judges in ensuring the rule of law and introducing international practices have been invaluable.
“This court and domestic judges are honored to have worked with their international colleagues. At a time where there was a lack of trust by the public, their presence rejected any thoughts of national bias”, she said.
The report is based on interviews with a number of Bosnian officials, international and national staff and experts working on war crime trials.
The War Crimes Chamber of Bosnia’s State Court started working in March 2005, and since its beginning, international judges and prosecutors have been working with their Bosnian counterparts in order to bolster their ability to try sensitive cases.
The tenure of the international legal experts was originally set to expire at the end of 2009, but it was extended, and they are now expected to leave at the end of 2012. The report discusses the importance of devising a realistic plan to phase out international staff.
Since 2005 the Bosnian State Court and Prosecution has worked with more than 70 international judges and prosecutors, mostly from Western Europe and the United States of America.