The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has recently been thrust in the news in light of recent events in Ukraine, has had a productive spring. The Organization, founded in 1975 out of a conference in Helsinki, is the world’s largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization, with approximately fifteen mission offices. Almost twenty years after the close of the conflict in the Former Yugoslavia, the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Rule of Law Unit has recently released a report detailing progress the country has made in prosecuting war crimes cases involving sexual violence. In addition, the Mission recently released a groundbreaking interactive war crimes map.
The report, titled “Combating Impunity for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Progress and Challenges,” is available in both Bosnian and English. It focuses on the prosecution of wartime crimes of sexual violence committed against an estimated 20,000 women, and countless men and boys during the 1992-1995 conflict in the former Yugoslav state. The report examines the prosecution of wartime sexual violence during the period from 2005 to 2013 and provides a background on international jurisprudence on rape and sexual violence more generally. It also describes the establishment of certain forms of sexual violence as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide within the Bosnian national legal framework. Moreover, the report details the Bosnian special evidentiary rules governing sexual violence cases and examines the practice in both Bosnia’s high State Court, as well as the regional cantonal courts. The report also includes several annexes that set forth the number of sexual violence cases charged, as well as a list of completed and ongoing cases involving wartime sexual violence before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In addition to serving as a useful research tool, the report will help ensure that the lessons learned by Bosnia in prosecuting crimes of wartime sexual violence will be available to the world in our efforts to stamp out wartime sexual violence everywhere.
Spring also saw the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina releasing an innovative war crimes map, available here. Also available in both Bosnian and English, the map is an interactive tool containing information on all war crimes cases adjudicated by Bosnian courts since 2003. The map allows users to search by location of the court, or crime. The OSCE explains that the tool is targeted at a “wide audience,” including the media, civil society, academia, and the general public. Christopher Engels, Head of the Rule of Law Unit for the OSCE Mission to Bosnia, recently introduced the mapping project in an interview available here.
As tensions continue to rise in Eastern Europe, it is as important to look back as it is to look forward. National prosecution of war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina will continue, but it is important to take a moment to both appreciate and understand the progress made in the prosecution of some of the worst wartimes crimes.