interview 11 Jan 13

Milorad Novkovic: Prosecuting War Crimes Costs Money

The president of Bosnia’s highest judicial authority says that failure to secure resources will hold up prosecutions of alleged war criminals.

Selma Ucanbarlic

Lack of financial resources could lead to delays in the prosecution of war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, affecting the deadlines of the national strategy on war crimes cases, said Milorad Novkovic, president of the country's High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, VTSV.

Novkovic says the VSTV has submitted information to Bosnia’s two entities and cantonal governments on the resources needed to prosecute war crimes, but has not received any answers about whether funds will be secured.

He said it was already doubtful that the deadlines for processing war crimes in Bosnia would be met as the strategy envisages.

“The strategy has contributed to speeding up solving war crimes cases. But not all results were achieved as the strategy envisaged,” he said.

“We’re in a situation where is a big question whether it will be possible to comply with the deadlines set out by the strategy,” he added.

Turning to the new draft law on courts, proposed by the Ministry of Justice in 2012, Novkovic said the changes would not diminish the jurisdiction of Bosnia’s state court, as some have suggested.

Nor should it contribute to further delays in the implementation of the Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes, he added.

Bosnia’s council of ministers adopted the strategy for the prosecution of war crimes cases in December 2008.

This envisages that “complex” cases are prosecuted at state level within seven years. All other cases should be completed within 15 years in the courts of the two entities and Brcko District.

The business of allotting and distributing the cases was carried out in 2012.

Complex cases were left to prosecution by the state prosecutor’s office, while all the others were transferred to prosecutor’s offices in Republika Srpska, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Brcko District.

Novkovic noted that the court and prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina had ceded more cases to the entity judiciaries in 2012 than had been done in the previous five years.

Promises, promises:

In mid-2012, the VSTV prepared a study for all prosecutors’ offices in Bosnia, setting out what each office had to establish in order to prosecute cases as efficiently as possible.

It included a proposal to expand systematisation of the district and cantonal prosecutor’s offices and establish a complete infrastructure to follow the prosecution of war crimes in a wider scope, Novkovic recalled.

He emphasised that accurate data was provided to the entities regarding the needs of judicial institutions and the resources required to prosecute war crimes.

“Officially, we did not get confirmation from any entity and cantonal governments, except from Canton 10, that these financials means will be provided,” he noted.

“During conversations we received promises, but until today, we have not received a document guaranteeing that the funds will be provided,” Novkovic added.

Although some cantons and entities have already adopted their budgets for 2013, Novkovic says he has no information about what is going on with funds for prosecution of war crimes cases.

“If those funds are not be provided, the prosecution of war crimes will stagnate, which will directly affect the deadlines stipulated by the strategy for the prosecution of war crimes,” he said.

However, he says he still believes the funds for the prosecution of war crimes will be secured in the end, and is not expecting work on these cases to halt in 2013.

“It should not come to stagnation in 2013. Talks are taking place between the OSCE, the VTSV and prosecutor’s offices so that some funding is provided for infrastructure of the prosecutor’s offices for the year,” he said.

Novkovic recalled that funding from the IPA programme (Instrument for Pre-Accession of the European Union) is also expected in 2014, which will be “of great help for the prosecution of war crimes in the entities and at state level”.

Draft courts law unobjectionable:

Speaking about the draft law on courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, proposed in August 2012, Novkovic rejects claims that it will diminish the jurisdiction of Bosnia's state court.

The draft law does not provide for the jurisdiction of the state court over crimes defined by entity and Brcko District laws, when such acts concern endangering the sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence, national security and international subjectivity of the state, and well as when they can cause serious economic damage.

The court’s jurisdiction is also not foreseen in providing guidelines for the application of criminal law in relation to genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and violations of the laws or customs of war.

Nor does the law foresee a role for the court in resolving conflicts of jurisdiction between the entity courts.

The law also envisages the creation of a separate appellate court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which will decide on appeals on the first-instance verdicts of the state court.

Such appeals are currently resolved by the appellate division of the court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“It certainly does not detract from the jurisdiction of the court of Bosnia and Herzegovina… if appeals are taken in future by the appellate Ccurt of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Novkovic said.

He added that there was no need for adoption of the draft law to delay implementation of the national war crimes strategy either.

“How can setting up another court be a cause of delay?” he asked. “I think it should achieve more efficiency,” Novkovic concluded.

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