A national justice system in Bosnia Herzegovina is needed to meet the challenge of prosecuting war criminals. That's the message a top U.S. official working in the Bosnian War Crimes Court is sending Tuesday as he leads a delegation of Bosnian court officials in the United States.
The War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia Herzegovina is managed by registrar Michael Johnson. He called the discussion between justice officials from the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, and Balkan experts in the United States "fruitful" and said more of such debates should take place.
"The delegation has come to Washington in order to raise the profile of the state board of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the minds of American policy makers and thinkers on the Balkans," said Mr. Johnson. "It is an incredibly important achievement that they themselves have made in a national system using international assistance to provide justice for some of the most significant, most complex cases in the world of criminal justice."
The Bosnian court visit marks the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, which brought peace to Bosnia Herzegovina.
Mr. Johnson says the national court model, launched under U.S. leadership in 2003, has been successful when compared to the U.N.'s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
"As we know the resources given to the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, the U.N. body in the Hague, are about $125 million a year, and they have three courtrooms, and a staff of over 1,100-1,200 people," he noted. "The court of Bosnia and Herzegovina has six courtrooms and will be trying twice as many cases and is receiving about six or seven million euros a year in support. So they've come to try to make it clear that this is an important experiment in international justice and national reconciliation."
The United States is the largest donor to the Bosnian justice effort, contributing approximately $12 million. Other donors include Japan, Turkey, the European Union and other European countries. A two-year backlog for trials of war crime indictees is anticipated when cases are transferred from the international tribunal to the national system.
Mr. Johnson says the war crimes court is off to a good start, but has a great deal of work ahead of it.
"It's been a great achievement, it should be an example to others, and it is certainly an important part of the reconciliation of the Balkans in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the coming years. As the Minister of Justice and the chief prosecutor said, Germany -if it's model is still prosecuting war crimes from World War II - we should expect that Bosnia will be dealing with its war crimes legacy for many decades to come. And that's why it is important to have a national system that is capable of meeting that challenge," he added.
Bosnian War Crimes Court says its plan is to avoid long-term dependence on international financing.