27 April 2012With the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) wrapping up the last of its trials, the bulk of the war crimes cases remain in the local courts of the regional countries.
Of the 161 individuals indicted by the tribunal, none remain at large. Proceedings have been concluded for 126 accused, and are under way for the other 35, Nerma Jelasic, a spokesperson for the ICTY, told SETimes. The last two fugitives, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, were arrested and transferred to The Hague last summer.
"The trial of Mladic has been scheduled to commence on May 14th. The provisional date for the commencement of Hadzic's trial has been set for October 16th," Jelasic confirmed.
In Croatia, Vesna Terselic, the director of Documenta Centre, told SETimes that the State Attorney's Office database contains information on 490 crimes.
"In October 2011, the State Attorney's Office in Croatia had the information on perpetrators in 316 crimes. In 174 recorded crimes, the perpetrators are still unknown," Terselic said.
Out of 316 crimes in which perpetrators were identified, 103 were resolved. "From 490 recorded crimes, only 1/5 of the crimes [21%] were resolved in their entirety," she added.
According to data from the State Attorney's Office, criminal proceedings were initiated against 3,432 people and a total of 554 were sentenced.
"The majority of the total number of persons sentenced by a final verdict were sentenced in absentia," Terselic said.
She said that even if the capacities of the prosecutor's offices and courts were greater, and even if the devotion to the task of prosecuting all war crimes was higher, the chances of prosecuting all direct perpetrators and all those held accountable for crimes are very low.
The same is true in other countries.
Elma Demir, of the Association for Democratic Initiatives (ADI) in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), says that from 2005 to 2010, courts in BiH made 287 decisions on war crimes cases.
Demir told SETimes that prosecutors completed 1,936 war crimes trials from 2006 to 2010, out of 7,986 total cases.
"It takes several years to complete a case. This gives a sense of dissatisfaction to victims and citizens in general," Demir tells SETimes.
A considerable lapse of time has influenced the process: many witnesses have died, many witnesses have forgotten the events, and many of them are not ready to testify, Terselic said.
Bekim Blakaj, executive director of the Humanitarian Law Centre in Kosovo, says war crimes do not get old, but as the years pass, it becomes more and more difficult to find and gather facts and evidence.
"The problem is that by not processing war crimes in the courts, the culture of impunity is created," Blakaj told SETimes.
Terselic said that co-operation among the regional countries' judicial bodies is essential to bringing as many perpetrators to justice as possible.
She notes the results from co-operation between Croatia and Serbia. During the last several years, ten members of Serb paramilitary formations were sentenced by a final verdict in Serbia in trials in which the Croatian State Attorney's Office had forwarded evidence.
There have also been attempts to create regional bodies. Among them it the initiative on establishing a Regional Commission on Truth Telling (RECOM), launched in Podgorica in May 2008 by Natasa Kandic, of the Humanitarian Law Centre in Serbia. The project aims to establish the facts about war crimes and serious human rights violations committed in the former Yugoslavia, and is considered the major regional initiative on the issue.
Jelasic admits that even for the ICTY, co-operation with the former Yugoslav countries was particularly difficult at the beginning when it was about arresting wanted individuals.
It was easier in BiH, as the tribunal could rely on the support of international troops on the ground to arrest the indictees, she said. "In Serbia and Croatia however, it required careful negotiations and a lot of pressure from the international community to secure access to materials and fugitives."