By Anes Alic
After almost two years of negotiations, authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) have green-lighted the signing of a protocol on war crimes co-operation between the BiH State Prosecutor’s Office and its Serbian counterpart.
The agreement paves the way for Serbia and BiH to eliminate parallel investigations and facilitates the mutual transfer of evidence.
Under the terms of the deal, suspects can be tried in their home country for war crimes committed elsewhere. The two countries also agreed that persons indicted for war crimes will not be extradited — an issue that caused the two-year deadlock.
“A suspect would no longer be able to use existing legal means, such as a ban on extradition in their home country, to escape justice,” Jusuf Halilagic, secretary for the BiH Justice Ministry, told SETimes. “This protocol also represents a major step in reinforcing regional co-operation in dealing with war crimes cases.” Bosnian officials previously cancelled the signing of the protocol several times due to Serbia’s issuance of arrest warrants for Bosnian wartime officials.
BiH and Serbia have led parallel investigations into the Tuzla Column and Dobrovoljacka Street incidents due to inability to extradite citizens and the lack of a legal basis for co-operation.
In January, BiH dropped investigations into 14 people suspected in the Dobrovoljacka Street incident. As part of its own investigation, meanwhile, Serbian prosecutors issued warrants for several Bosnian citizens.
As a result of Serbia’s investigation, Ejup Ganic — a member of the wartime presidency of Bosnia — was arrested in the UK in 2010, and General Jovan Divjak was arrested in Austria in 2011, for their alleged roles in the Dobrovoljacka Street war crimes. The UK and Austrian courts did not extradite Ganic and Divjak to Serbia, expressing suspicions about Belgrade’s political motives.
Some NGOs and human rights groups in BiH say the protocol is not likely to resolve outstanding issues because it is not legally binding.
“Even if all the complicated questions of war crimes co-operation were addressed in the protocol to the satisfaction of both sides, there would still be room for loopholes,” Sinan Alic, president of the Bosnian Foundation of Truth, Justice and Reconciliation, told SETimes. “The sensitive issue of war crimes is being heavily abused for political purposes.”
Aleksandar Popov, co-president of Serbia-based NGO Igmanska Initiative, told SETimes that the protocol was notable for the prosecution of war crimes and the subsequent reconciliation process in the region.
“This co-operation is even more important following the latest verdicts in the [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia] ICTY, which were negatively received in Serbia,” Popov said. “The ball is in the national judiciary’s court now.”
SETimes correspondent Igor Jovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.