Development of the Local Judiciaries

As the Tribunal stopped issuing new indictments and began transferring some cases to national jurisdictions, it increased its activities in the strengthening of judicial systems in the countries of the former Yugoslavia. In order to avoid impunity, it is crucial that local courts are able to prosecute war crimes suspects effectively.

Between 2002 and 2004, the UN Security Council repeatedly called on the international community and donors to assist the national judiciaries to ensure the success of war crimes trials in the region and asked the Tribunal to contribute to such capacity building efforts through its Outreach Programme.

As part of this effort, the Tribunal and the international community have contributed to the establishment of specialised organs for war crimes investigations and proceedings in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia.

The most important of these developments is the establishment of a Section for War Crimes within the State Court and the State Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They are already dealing with landmark cases the likes of which were never before tried by local courts. The Tribunal was instrumental in the formation of these organs.

In Serbia, a specialised War Crimes Chamber of the Belgrade District Court and a War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office were established in 2003 with the assistance and support of the international community. The same year in Croatia, new chambers that would deal specifically with war crimes cases were formed within the County Courts in Zagreb, Osijek, Rijeka and Split.

In Kosovo, war crimes cases are prosecuted by international prosecutors and tried by international or mixed trial panels that were set up under the administration of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

The Tribunal’s efforts have significantly improved the capability of national judicial systems to battle impunity for war crimes.
 

Developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Court of BiH was created by the High Representative with the purpose of firmly establishing the rule of law at state level across the country, composed, as it is, of two entities – the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska – as well as the District of Brčko.

The Court became operational in January 2003 and has since been at the forefront of the struggle against impunity for war crimes in the country. Moreover, the Court also deals with the cases of  organised crime, corruption and financial crime. This crucial part of the court’s work has been fortified from the outset by the involvement of international judges and prosecutors. The Court of BiH also provides redress in issues of state-level jurisdiction, such as inter-entity crime or foreign trade.

Initially, the war crimes panels each consist of two international judges and one national judge. Over a five year transition period, the composition of the panels will change to two national judges and one international judge, and finally they will be exclusively composed of national judges. Similarly, the international component will be phased out from the Section for War Crimes of the Office of the Prosecutor of BiH and the Registry.

In December 2009, the High Representative for BiH extended the mandate of international personnel for another three years. This applies to those working in the war crimes sections of the Court of BiH and Prosecutor’s Office.

In total, six cases dealing with 10 individuals have been transferred from the ICTY to the BiH Section for War Crimes. The Section has administered over 180 years of sentencing judgement in those cases, re-confirming that it has the capacity to receive and prosecute war criminals by high standards of procedure.

Website of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Website of the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Website of the Registry of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina
 

Developments in Croatia

In October 2003, the Croatian Parliament passed the “Law on the Application of the Statute of the International Criminal Court and the Prosecution of Criminal Acts against the International Law of War and International Humanitarian Law”. Among other things, the law has provided for the establishment of four new chambers within the County Courts in Zagreb, Osijek, Rijeka and Split that will deal specifically with war crimes cases.

Croatia also adopted a Law on Witness Protection in October 2003, and a Department for Support to Witnesses and Participants in War Crimes Proceedings was formed in 2005 within the Ministry of Justice. In 2004, amendments were adopted to the Penal Code.

In 2008, a witness and crime victim support program was introduced in four county courts – Zagreb, Zadar, Osijek and Vukovar. By the end of the year, this was expanded to Split, Rijeka and Sisak.  The program aims to ensure that witnesses and victims are treated humanely, which will in turn increase the quality and efficiency of testimonies. In 2008 it supported 1253 persons.   

The Croatian judiciary is undergoing a thorough reform process. A new Criminal Procedure Act is expected to enter into effect in September 2011. Investigations will now be conducted by District prosecutors in the office of the State Prosecutor rather than by investigating judges. As of 2012, Croatian judicial institutions are expected to start employing the first generation of judges and prosecutors who, after they pass the bar exam, will receive two more years of training at a state academy.

The Croatian judiciary has successfully dealt with one ICTY-transferred case. In the Ademi-Norac case, various monitors oversaw the proceedings and found them to fully observe required standards. The ICTY Office of the Prosecutor also cooperates with the Croatian County Courts by providing investigative materials for the local prosecution in other war crimes cases.

The ongoing judicial reform has been financially supported through the European Union’s CARDS programme and World Bank funds.

Website of Zagreb County Court
Website of Osijek County Court
Website of Rijeka County Court
Website of Split County Court
 

Developments in Serbia

Before July 2003, when the Serbian Assembly established the War Crimes Chamber of the Belgrade District Court and the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office, only a small number of individuals had been prosecuted and tried for war crimes in Serbia.

Since then, the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office has issued a number of indictments. These indictments include those for crimes committed in Zvornik, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, which the ICTY’s Office of the Prosecutor transferred to the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office.

Cooperation between these two offices exists in other cases being handled by the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor, including the case concerning crimes committed in Ovčara, near Vukovar, Croatia in 1991, which resulted in a number of convictions in the first trial before the War Crimes Chamber.

In addition to the establishment of active cooperation between the Tribunal and Serbia's judicial institutions trying war crimes cases, there have been several legislative and institutional developments in Serbia in this area. The Serbian Assembly passed a law to establish witness protection measures, and a witness protection unit was established within Serbia's Interior Ministry.

Website of the Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office