Bosnia and Herzegovina

Improving war crimes processing at the State level in Bosnia and Herzegovina



In 2016, a report prepared by the author of this report identified the main challenges concerning the completion of the National War Crimes Processing Strategy (NWCPS) in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This included a number of specific recommendations to, among others, the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina (POBiH) and the Court of BiH (CBiH).

In 2020, the OSCE Mission to BiH, with support from the UK government, commissioned the author to conduct a similar analysis to comprehensively review the implementation of recommendations from the 2016 Report and, if necessary, provide further recommendations. This report is the result of that analysis and should be read in conjunction with the 2016 Report.

The present report is based on more than 30 interviews with judges, prosecutors, investigators, defence counsel, representatives of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC), Supervisory Body for the Implementation of the NWCPS, the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), a victims’ organization, and others, conducted in January 2020. In addition, a large number of documents and other reports received prior to and during the interviews have also been reviewed, analyzed, and relied upon.

The report finds that while some of the recommendations from the 2016 Report have been implemented, many have not. The most urgent issues which need to be addressed include:

  • inefficient managerial practices at the POBiH; and

  • a failure at the Special Department for War Crimes (SDWC) to prioritize the most complex cases, thereby not holding accountable those most responsible for the gravest crimes.

Furthermore, the structure of the SDWC does not promote efficiency and accuracy in investigations and charging, which in turn leads to low-quality indictments. Trials are extensive in length thereby delaying justice and presenting challenges for all parties to the proceedings. The revised NWCPS, which provides more detailed guidance on case processing, has still not been adopted by the authorities. These issues, taken individually and as a whole, seriously hinder the chances that the deadline of 2023 for the completion of war crimes cases may be achieved.

To address the most urgent challenges, the report recommends the immediate introduction of managerial changes at the POBiH to allow for more efficient handling of cases, and the introduction of guidelines and controls to ensure that the most complex cases receive priority.

The report further recommends:

  • Proper restructuring of investigation teams at the POBiH to ensure clearer understanding of complex events in investigations and the most efficient use of human and material resources;

  • Improvements in the process of conducting investigations and drafting indictments;

  • Strengthened management of trials for reduced length; and

  • The adoption of the revised NWCPS.

More detail on these and other recommendations is provided throughout the report, along with a comprehensive list of all current recommendations in Appendix A.

Unless measures to resolve these and other issues are undertaken expeditiously, as already noted, the 2023 deadline for processing all cases will not be met. Given the ageing of suspects and witnesses as well as the increasing difficulty in obtaining evidence, it will soon not be possible to conduct war crimes trials at all. The responsible national authorities of BiH are called upon to most seriously consider the report’s recommendations and to take the necessary measures to ensure that justice is delivered.