The highest judicial body in Bosnia is organizing series of workshops to train local prosecutors and judges in working with protected witnesses.
The High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, HJPC, has developed guidelines for entity level courts in the Serb dominated Republika Srpska, the Muslim and Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Brcko district, in order to prepare them for work with protected witnesses in war crime trials.
According to Bosnia’s National Strategy for Processing of War Crimes Cases, which was adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2008, entity level courts will have to deal with a large number of war crime cases, and through them, with protected witnesses, HJPC explains.
The Strategy emphasizes the need to process the most complex war crimes cases within seven years, and other war crimes cases within 15 years.
These cases will be allocated between the state judiciary and the judiciary of the entities. The most complex cases, which are the priority, will be prosecuted before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and all the others by entity level courts.
Up to date, there have been almost no cases of protected witnesses in war crime trials before entity courts.
The guidebook for working with protected witnesses, which the HJPC developed, provides rules which all prosecutors and judges will have to follow.
At workshops taking place in Sarajevo, on March 20 and 21, more than 40 prosecutors, judges and NGO representatives will have an opportunity to go through a “trial simulation” with protected witnesses.
Prosecutors and judges will familiarize themselves with the methods of questioning protected witnesses, so that their identity is keep secret from those attending the hearings.
They will also learn how to deal sensitively with vulnerable protected witnesses, such as victims of rape.
The HJPC is also currently finalizing a project, with the help of the European Union, to improve the infrastructure of ten entity courts.
These improvements include reconstruction of courtrooms, audio and video surveillance possibilities, special rooms for protected witnesses and other modern equipment.