Introduction of Victim/Witness Support Services Project
Function of the project
In the period of 1992-1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was the site of a large-scale armed conflict characterised by systematic and widespread violations of international humanitarian law resulting in the loss of an estimated 100,000 lives. Acknowledging the events from the recent past, particularly by combating impunity for war crimes, is recognised as one of the basic preconditions for reconciliation and progress, both internally and externally, for the development of BiH into a democratic and stable country.
In this respect, the inequality of citizens before the law and the lack of institutional capacity to support and protect victims and witnesses from intimidation and re-victimisation at all judicial levels is of particular concern.
To date, the Court of BiH has deferred over 300 war crimes cases to cantonal/district courts and prosecutors’ offices for processing, even though these judicial institutions seriously lack the necessary infrastructural and professional resources to respond to the needs of victims and witnesses appearing in these cases.
Given the high priority that BiH citizens place on criminal justice and the precarious, potentially conflictive, situation that perpetrators and victims face by living in the same local communities, it is of crucial importance that the capacities of local criminal justice institutions be strengthened, so they can process war crimes effectively and be seen as impartial in delivering justice.
What we do
With its national partners, the project is working towards laying the foundation for integrated and sustainable witness support and protection mechanisms in district/cantonal judicial institutions, including:
- The remodelling of cantonal and district courts and prosecutors’ offices to create witness support offices with separate waiting rooms for victims/witnesses;
- Recruitment, training and employment of witness support officers (psychologists/social workers) to provide psychological, emotional and administrative support to witnesses in criminal proceedings, including war crimes, sexual violence, domestic violence, etc.;
- Professional development of judges and prosecutors on how to work with witness support offices in a manner that best corresponds to the needs of victims/witnesses;
- The development of uniform procedures for witness support offices that ensure an egalitarian approach in providing support services countrywide;
- Informing victims and witnesses of their rights and obligations with regard to participation in criminal proceedings;
- Encouraging the creation of networks of all governmental and non-governmental witness support providers as part of a referral mechanism;
- Incorporating established witness offices into the internal structures of courts and prosecutors’ offices and ensuring their sustainability through cantonal/entity financing.
Success thus far
- Establishment of six integrated witness support offices at the cantonal/district courts and prosecutors’ offices in Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Istočno Sarajevo, with full infrastructural and professional capacities to support the most vulnerable victims and witnesses appearing in a variety of criminal cases;
- Over 650 victims and witnesses in 384 criminal cases received support from witness support offices through almost 2,000 interventions. Almost 50% were children or juveniles appearing as victims and witnesses;
- Standardised procedures for witness support offices that ensure both equal treatment and approach in the provision of witness support services at all judicial levels;
- The professional capacities of judges and prosecutors in the field of witness support strengthened and the efficiency of criminal proceedings positively effected as a result;
- Responding to the vast range of victims’ and witnesses’ needs and their referral to other governmental and non-governmental institutions for long-term treatment and help has improved the perception of judicial institutions by the general public.
Goals moving forward
- Establishment of witness support offices at remaining cantonal/district prosecutors’ offices in BiH that still lack such mechanisms;
- Co-ordinated efforts from law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices to provide witness support services for traumatized witnesses in the investigation phase of criminal proceedings;
- Comprehensive approach to the provision of witness support services that includes referral mechanisms and the co-ordination of the roles of out-of-court service providers.
|Donor name||Amount contributed per year|
|Government of Japan||$45,792.00|
Delivery in the previous fiscal years