The physical scars of Bosnia's devastating civil war are slowly
beginning to fade. Harder to eradicate is the deep distrust of
efforts to prosecute individuals for the ethnic violence that left
200,000 dead. Until now, a UN tribunal in The Hague has handled such
prosecutions. But with the international panel under pressure to
wrap up within seven years, Bosnia's new state court is being tapped
to take over.
The short-term hope is that some of the scores of people thought
to have committed murder, torture, and rape during the war from 1992
to 1995 will be brought to account. But in the long run, many
observers hope that the court will strengthen confidence in Bosnia's
ability to handle its own problems.
Bosnia's ability to hold fair trials is "a basic prerequisite for
the rule of law and (is essential) if justice is to be seen to apply
equally and to all," says Oleg Milisic, a spokesman for Bosnia's top
international official, Paddy Ashdown. "Ultimately, the confidence
... citizens have in their own justice system, and therefore their
own state, is directly proportional to the justice system's ability
to deal fairly and properly with these most terrible crimes."
The UN tribunal has tried more than 40 people since being
established in The Hague in 1993. But its slow pace and its $120
million annual price tag have spurred the UN Security Council and
the Bush administration to ask the court to finish trials by 2008
and appeals by 2010.
The strategy is to continue to try leaders such as former
Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague, while deferring
lower-level cases to Bosnia, says Refik Hodzic, the tribunal's
Local courts have already tried some cases, but have been
criticized by human rights groups such as Amnesty International for
endless delays, and for not protecting witnesses from threats or
intimidation. Bosnians question the local courts' impartiality.
But the war-crimes chamber would be a component of the state
court that opened in January as part of Mr. Ashdown's attempt to
bring both jobs and justice to Bosnians. Ashdown has also been
purging the judiciary of corrupt and incompetent prosecutors and
judges, and has imposed tough new criminal codes.
It's a sharp contrast from the early postwar years, when Bosnia's
two entities - the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic -
had more power than the federal state, with their own high courts,
militaries, police forces, and customs agencies.
International donors have already pledged the first $18 million
of the estimated $44.5 million that the new chamber needs over five
years. The panel is supposed to be taking cases by late 2004.
But people like Jovo Janjic, a Serbs rights advocate in the
Sarajevo suburb of Ilidza, are skeptical. …