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Funded by the European Union, the four-million euro War Crimes Justice Project was carried out by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in partnership with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and OSCE field operations in the region. The Project aimed at enhancing the capacity of judiciaries in the region of the former Yugoslavia to process war crimes trials in an effective and fair manner, consistent with the highest international standards of due process. Implementation of the 18-month project began in May 2010.

Since its establishment in 1993, the ICTY has been the primary body responsible for trying persons indicted for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed during the armed conflicts in the region of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The Tribunal has played a pioneering role in the development of international criminal justice and has become a unique repository of institutional knowledge and specialised skills. It has also generated a massive amount of evidence and legal documentation concerning the atrocities committed in the region.

The ICTY is no longer opening new cases, and it is expected to finish its ongoing proceedings by the end of 2014. As an ad hoc judicial body, the Tribunal was never intended to prosecute all alleged to have committed atrocities during the conflicts and, since 2003, it has been implementing its completion strategy. Part of this strategy involves the transfer of cases against intermediate and lower-level accused to competent judiciaries, of countries in the region and a commitment to assist institutions in national jurisdictions in the conduct of those proceedings.

Legal institutions in the region have, in parallel, been conducting their own investigations and prosecutions of many alleged perpetrators not indicted by the ICTY. With the Tribunal winding down its activities, these jurisdictions are expected to intensify theirs.

The purpose of the War Crimes Justice Project was to support the transfer of knowledge on war crimes cases from the ICTY for assisting national authorities in strengthening the capacity of their jurisdictions to handle war crimes trials in an effective and fair manner. The project aimed to ensure that national judiciaries have access to ICTY materials in a form which will enable them to conduct these proceedings.

The War Crimes Justice Project was developed on the basis of a nine-month consultation and needs assessment process. The three project partners asked the legal practitioners from the region to define the challenges they faced in handling the war crimes caseload and the best means of bridging capacity gaps to increase the effectiveness of their work. This process culminated in the publication, in September 2009 of a final report that identified the areas where national legal systems would benefit most from assistance in dealing with an increasing number of war crimes cases.

A wide range of activities was envisaged within the framework of the Project:

Creating a comprehensive and updated international criminal law curriculum, tailored to each jurisdiction; Creating an International Humanitarian Law-based E-learning Portal allowing web-based self-learning for professionals dealing with war crimes cases; Training of trainers and general capacity building of identified training institutions; Delivering targeted training to prosecutors, judges, investigators, and court staff on war crimes-related issues;Transcribing selected ICTY case transcripts into the languages of the region; Translating into local languages (B/C/S), the ICTY’s Appeals Chamber Case Law Research Tool (ACCLRT);

  • Facilitating the development and distribution of electronic analytical, research and case management tools in local languages;
  • Enhancing vulnerable witness/victim support capacities of the non-governmental sector;
  • Delivering training to defence counsels on an array of war crimes-relevant topics;
  • Producing a manual incorporating the most effective and innovative practices utilised by members of the Association of Defence Counsel practising before the ICTY (ADC-ICTY) for use by defence counsels in the region;
  • Conducting a series of peer to peer meetings, at both the national and regional level, among prosecutors, judges, investigators, and other legal professionals;
  • Undertaking outreach and public relations activities, together with beneficiaries, to keep the public informed of significant project developments.

The Training and E-learning Portal aimed at strengthening the capacity of training institutions in the region of the former Yugoslavia for organizing comprehensive training programmes for legal practitioners on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide related prosecution and trials. It also provides access to databases containing relevant information and materials, and an e-learning course for judges and prosecutors on international criminal and humanitarian law. This Portal has been created by UNICRI within the framework of the War Crimes Justice Project.