SARAJEVO, 24 May 2010 - Urgent steps need to be taken to protect witnesses in war crimes trials from harassment and violence, found a report by the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) released in Sarajevo today.
The report, entitled Witness Protection and Support in BiH Domestic War Crimes Trials: Obstacles and recommendations a year after adoption of the National Strategy for War Crimes Processing, documents how witnesses continue to face threats, intimidation and possible re-traumatization when testifying in war crimes trials before both the Courts of BiH.
"BiH is not yet taking sufficient steps to protect witnesses from harassment and violence and to ensure their participation in war crimes trials with dignity, and has yet to meet its own targets under the National Strategy for War Crimes Processing to improve this situation," said Valery Perry, the acting OSCE Mission to BiH Programme Director.
"Witness testimony is the linchpin of successful prosecutions in war crimes cases, but not enough is being done to ensure that trials take place without violating the rights of victims. These failures are jeopardizing the right to life, security and privacy of witnesses, and can have particularly devastating effects on those who are also the victims in these cases," added Perry.
The reports recounts instances where the names of protected witnesses were knowingly released to the public; where witnesses informed the court they had been the target of threats, intimidation or bribes in relation to their testimony and the judiciary failed to respond; and where victim-witnesses testifying at the cantonal and district level received no psycho-social support in relation to their testimony.
The National Strategy for War Crimes Processing from 2008 contains a roadmap for dramatically improving the availability of witness protection and support services. To date, little progress is evident.
"The failure to improve protection and support services for witnesses and victims is the most worrying aspect of the overall slow rate of implementation of the National Strategy for War Crimes Processing," said Perry. "A society in which citizens do not have faith in the justice system is a society in which the rule of law cannot be consolidated."
At the report launch, the OSCE Mission also presented its recommendations for immediate steps that could be taken to improve the legal and systemic response to risks to the rights to life, security and privacy of witnesses in war crimes trials.
The project was supported by governments of France, Greece, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The full report and executive summary can be downloaded at