War Crimes Chamber in Bosnia-Herzegovina
The ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) was established in May 1993 by the Security Council of the United Nations, at a time when the conflict was still raging. This tribunal came into being in response to some urgent questions, namely with respect to the re-establishment and maintenance of international peace and security. The option of an international jurisdiction was preferred because domestic judicial mechanisms could no longer fulfil their roles within the new national boundaries, since the justice system, in line with various other institutions in Bosnia and the other countries resulting from the break up of Yugoslavia, suffered from grave deficiencies.
However, in February 2002, the Office of the High Representative, responsible for overseeing and coordinating the implementation of the civilian aspects of the Dayton Accords (see Annex 10 of the Dayton Accords), and the ICTY came to the same conclusions, leading the Security Council in July 2002, to adopt a strategy which lay in transferring cases involving suspects of lower to mid-level rank to national jurisdictions. Security Council Resolutions N° 1503 (August 2003) and N° 1534 (March 2004) require the domestic courts to assist the ICTY in its mission to judge war criminals, by aiding the ICTY in its completion strategy of bringing to a close all the proceedings in its courts of first instance, before December 2008
In the case of Bosnia, around thirty donating countries decided to contribute 15.7 million Euros towards the creation of a Tribunal intended to judge locally war criminals whose deeds were perpetrated in Bosnia. The budget for operating expenses over a period of five years was estimated at 38 million Euros.
It was in these circumstances that the special War Crimes Chamber was created, and with the Organized Crime and General Crimes Chambers, operates within the overall framework of the Criminal Division of the State Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is headquartered in Sarajevo. The War Crimes Chamber officially began operations on 9 March 2005. The objectives which this Chamber was set to achieve are threefold:
- to break the logjam at the ICTY to allow it to concentrate on high ranking criminals from now until 2010;
- to participate in the reconstruction of the judicial system in Bosnia and ;
- to promote the process of reconciliation in Bosnia by bringing war criminals to justice.
During its initial period of operation, the War Crimes Chamber has incorporated an international presence. Each judicial section includes two international judges and a national judge. The overall staffing of the Tribunal is also of mixed origin. Nevertheless, the international component is set to reduce over time to disappear completely between now and 2010.
The establishment of this specialised Chamber represents the latest model of an internationalised justice mechanism since, contrary to its predecessors, the War Crimes Chamber is fully integrated into the domestic Bosnian legal system and does not operate under the aegis of the United Nations (comp. with the Special Court for Sierra Leone or the Extraordinary Chambers for Cambodia).
The mandate of the Chamber extends not only to cases referred to it by the ICTY, but also to trying the most sensitive cases brought at a national or local level. The cantonal and district courts in the two entities of the Republic of Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, remain for their part competent to judge offences considered to be less serious.
The first defendant from the ICTY to be judged by this national jurisdiction after his transfer from The Hague was Radovan Stankovic. He was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment on 14 November 2006 for arbitrary detention, and the torture, rape and murder of non-Serb civilians in the Foca region between April 1992 and February 1993.
By 31 December 2006, a total of 9 defendants had been transferred from the ICTY to the War Crimes Chamber.
Since it started operating, the War Crimes Chamber has been in full operation and it continues to play the central role in war crimes prosecutions in BiH. At the end of September 2011, 50 war crimes trials were pending before the WCC.