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2012 | ‘Prosecuting War Crimes at Home: Lessons from the War Crimes Chamber in the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina’ by O. Martin-Ortega, International Criminal Law Review Vol. 12(4) 2012

This article studies the work of the War Crimes Chamber (WCC) in the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its accompanying Special Department for War Crimes (SDWC) of the Prosecutor’s Office. These institutions were created to provide the justice system in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the tools and capacity to conduct war-crimes trials according to international standards. Established in 2005, together they represent one of the most salient examples to date of the complementary working of national and international legal mechanisms to advance the development of an international criminal justice system.

However the WWC and SDWC did not acquire exclusive jurisdiction over war crimes in Bosnia. The domestic courts of the two political entities comprising the State (the 10 cantonal courts of the Federation of B&H, the 5 District courts of the Republika Srpska and the Basic Court of the Brcko District) retained jurisdiction and have continued to conduct war crimes trials in parallel with the WWC. Cooperation and transfer between the State and Entity levels courts have been fraught with tensions and difficulties

This article looks at the consequences of this fragmentation of jurisdiction, showing how it has hindered the harmonization of court practice, posing serious threats to the principles of fair practice and equality before the law.