The inability to address the legacy of the past has negative medium to long-term effects on a society. It not only affects confidence-building between ethnicities, but also hinders effective conflict transformation thus undermining stability in the Western Balkans. In view of the challenges that BiH faces in this regard, the HSD’s main focus of the programme in BiH is on dealing with the past (DwP).
Dealing with the Past
Switzerland supports projects in both the judicial and non-judicial spheres and is, along with the Netherlands, Great Britain, Norway and Sweden, a leading donor in this field. In addition to financial contributions, the HSD provides technical advice, support to processes and accompanies its partners in their activities.
The main focus lies on assistance to local judiciary in processing war crimes, including capacity building of the judiciary and police staff, witness support (logistical and psychological support in cooperation with local and international NGOs), as well as objective reporting from war crimes trials.
In 2008, the Government adopted the National War Crimes Strategy. Current estimates indicate that BiH still has some 1’000 cases involving up to 6’000 suspects in its backlog of war crime cases. The Court of BiH deferred over 400 war crime cases to cantonal and district courts and prosecutors’ offices in 2009-2015. To support the processing of these cases, the HSD is focusing on different aspects:
- In cooperation with the OSCE, the HSD supports the training needs of prosecutors and judges for fair and efficient processing of war crimes cases.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina still lacks structures that can financially, logistically and psychologically support witnesses throughout the proceedings, in particular the most vulnerable ones. The HSD supports the Association of Prijedor women “Izvor”, which provides short- term psychological support and logistical assistance (i.e. transportation to courthouse) to witnesses and victims of war crimes committed in the north-west of BiH. Furthermore, it ensures greater transparency of the work of judicial institutions in war crime cases by disseminating information concerning the war crimes trials, and brings the courts’ work closer to people in remote communities, where numerous war crimes were committed.
- Despite significant progress in tackling the large backlog of war crimes cases in BiH, impunity remains present. In order to reduce the culture of impunity for war crimes and to enhance the protection of victims’ rights to justice and reparations, the HSD supports the NGO TRIAL, which supports victims of war related sexual violence with free legal aid and advocates with relevant State institutions for an enhanced protection of victims’ rights.
- Since 2007, the HSD supports the NGO Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), which monitors war crimes trials and testimonies in front of the state court and local courts and widely disseminates information about the fragile process of transitional justice through TV and radio shows.
- After the war of the 1990s, almost 40’000 persons were missing. Up until now, estimated 7’000 persons still remain unaccounted for in BiH. From the area around Prijedor (Krajina region, Northern BiH), approximately 750 persons remain missing in relation with the events of 1992. The HSD supports the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), which examines and identifies the excavated remains from various grave sites. The work undertaken in the frame of this project also provides further evidence for the prosecution of war crimes cases at the ICTY and the State Court of BiH.
The war in BiH has left behind a grim legacy of mines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). The estimated size of suspected areas contaminated by mines and ERW is 1.145 km² or 2.3% of the total land surface area. Demining contributes directly to the prevention of accidents and fatalities while guaranteeing an access to and use of agricultural land. Thus, freedom of movement can be better ensured, economic development is promoted and the general quality of life of the population is significantly improved. In addition, mine clearance also contributes to DwP to the extent that clear minefields allow for the search for missing persons.
- The HSD has for many years supported the demining activities of the NGO Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) in the Bosanska Posavina and Canton Sarajevo regions, thus creating create better conditions for safe and sustainable return.