A Call to the International Community to Save the War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina?

The War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been lauded as a model of complementarity: established in March 2005 as part of the Bosnian state Court, it is to investigate and prosecute the most serious of war crimes committed on Bosnian territory in accordance with international law and norms of criminal procedure.  The Chamber is technically a domestic institution, but it functions with the support and participation of the international community in terms of funding, resources, and personnel – which include international judges.  But this novel model is under threat: Bosnian Serb politicians are seeking to end the court through a bill debated in parliament on February 16.

Two political parties from Republika Srpska, the majority Bosnian Serb entity, have proposed that the State parliament abandon the State Court, claiming that the court is biased against Serbs in its prosecution of war crimes; one party is the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) of Radovan Karadzic (currently on trial at the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia) and the other is the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), the ruling party.  President of the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Meddzida Kreso, has urged the international community to intervene, stating that this “is in fact a hint towards a much more serious plan to abolish all other state-level institutions, such as the Justice Ministry, the Defence Ministry, and SIPA [State Information and Protection Agency].”

Should this threat be taken seriously?  Former deputy prosecutor at the ICTY and current president of the International Centre for Transitional Justice David Tolbert points out the bill as a culimination of a “sustained campaign to undermine the court’s work . . . budget cuts, the stalling of the National War Crimes Strategy – a system envisaged to complete the majority of Bosnian war crimes cases within 15 years – a relentless campaign of public attacks.”  Can the international community force a country to maintain a semi-domestic legal institution it does not want?

Article available here.

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