News 21 Sep 12

Improvement of Courts' Relation with Victims Needed

The Court and Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina must improve their outreach activities and be more open to victims and witnesses, a round table in Sarajevo concluded.

Denis Dzidic

More than 30 participants of a round table titled “Public outreach and legal support” in Bosnia, stated it is necessary for victims and witnesses to have full information about on-going war crimes cases and “complete psychological support before, throughout and after” testifying in trials.

The round table was organized by the Swiss organization TRIAL (Track impunity always) and University of Cambridge in order to present a two-year research done by Alex Jeffrey and Michaelina Jakala which looked into the practices and implications of the outreach program of the Bosnian State court.

Jakala said that the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina – which was formed in 2003 and deals with the most complex war crimes and organized crimes cases – is undertaking “vital work”, and that its public relations office is “working hard to widen public interest in trials”.

However, Jakala noted that the Sarajevo-based State Court should look to improve some of its practices in order to improve material and psychological support to witnesses in war crime trials.

She added that the court should strive to be as open as possible to the greater public in order to create a “an archive of testimony and transcripts”, which – in her words – would serve as a “resource for future generations”.

“There is a preception that war crime trials are yesterday’s problem, but this is not the case. NGO’s working on facing the past are struggling for funding and so we do not have a public debate concerning war crimes trials, which is vital for a society,” said Jakala.

Her view was shared by Edin Ramulic, a representative of the Association of victims from Prijedor, who said that because the State Court is often closed to the public, there is a part of the public which does not fully support war crime trials.

Ramulic highlighted that the decision in March this year to anonymizet the court’s verdicts, audio/video records of sessions and other informational content, has almost completely stopped the flow of information between the court and victims.

According to Ramulic, the directive which states that personal names of all defendants will be replaced by initials , “makes it completely impossible to report from war crime trials”.

“In this situation, it is difficult to see how people will get information about the proceedings taking place before judicial institutions”, says Ramulic.

Bakira Hasecic, president of the association “Women – Victims of war”, said that 20 years since the Bosnian war started, it is difficult to believe that victims still do not have full access to information regarding war crime trials.

“This anonymization is difficult to believe, but us victims, we will keep speaking aloud the names of those that wronged us – because that is the only way we can keep looking ourselves in the eye. We cannot understand this decision as now our grandchildren will not know who committed crimes,” said Hasecic.

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