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Bar News - November 17, 2006

Judge Participates in State Dept. Project on Bosnian War Crimes Court




 Judge Linda Dalianis
Supreme Court Justice Linda Dalianis in her office at the Supreme Court.

“They’ve come so far, particularly in light of the monumental task that was set before them,” said Judge Linda Dalianis, speaking of the Court of Bosnian and Herzegovinan War Crimes Chambers. Dalianis, a NH Supreme Court justice, has recently returned from Bosnia, where she spent time observing procedures at the Court’s administrative offices in Sarajevo.  “Can you imagine trying hundreds of war crimes with an international panel of judges where every trial must be conducted in at least two languages: English—and either Bosnian or Croatian or Serbian?  Everything has to be done through translators and it takes at least twice as long as a single-language trial.”


In late spring 2006, Dalianis was contacted by Judge Shireen Avis Fisher, a long-time friend in the Vermont legal community and a presiding judge in the War Crimes Chamber.  Fisher knew Dalianis had had experience with both trial and appellate courts and she asked her to take part in a U.S. State Department project designed to assist the Court in making its work more efficient.   Retired Vermont Supreme Court Justice James Morse was also part of the project.


Administrative Difficulties Overwhelming


The administrative burden is so great at the Bosnian Court that the members felt that outside eyes might be able to offer a point of view those so closely involved might not have considered; Dalianis and the others spent most of their time with the Court’s administrative personnel, thinking about and discussing internal procedures.  “Many administrative staff members speak English and that made our work much easier—and amazingly, many are self-taught in English, never having lived in an English-speaking country. They are very bright young people—and were so open to our suggestions,” said Dalianis. 


NH attorney Michael Johnson has been the registrar for the Court (see sidebar), but has recently left his position, which is now filled by a Bosnian national.  This was part of a move that, it is hoped, might help to prepare the Court for the time—in about two years—when international monies will run out and the Court will be dependent upon national (Bosnian) funds, Dalianis said.  This time frame makes it even more important to increase the efficiency of the Court.


“We watched what was going on for six days—and then spent the next few days making our suggestions—which were really relatively simple things that wouldn’t cost too much and were purely administrative in nature.  For instance,” Dalianis continued, “we discussed the scheduling of translators.  Since they are needed at every trial, giving them timely notice is very important.”  The Court management office followed the panel’s advice and took steps to insure that translators would be given as early notice as possible when they would be needed for hearings, trials or document translation—a matter of simply taking more care in scheduling.


Scheduling the Judges


Another administrative suggestion made by the visitors involved the schedules of the judges themselves.  Since the court is composed of 34 judges, most of whom are at present internationals, trials could sometimes be held up for weeks at a time while one or another of the members of a three-judge-panel returned to his or her own country to take care of family or state business.  Planned holidays for the whole court at one time seemed to be an answer to the time lost in this way, though the policy would continue to be flexible to account for personal or family emergencies—another easy and inexpensive solution, but one that could make a great deal of difference to the Court in the long run.


The Court has been in existence for 18 months or so.  Once it was organized, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague began to refer trials to the court in Sarajevo.  Many had felt that crimes committed in Bosnia should be tried in Bosnia; also, the cost of the proceedings at The Hague and the time that it was taking for The Hague to process the cases were factors in the decision to create the war crimes court in Bosnia. 


The Bosnian Court, led by Madame Judge Meddzida Kreso, is  concerned that there may not be enough  staff to handle all the administrative tasks, so becoming more efficient is a matter of great urgency. 


President Kreso, along with the Bosnian minister of justice and the deputy chief prosecutor of the War Crimes Office, toured courts in Manchester and Concord last December during a visit to the United States that marked the 10-year anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995.  At that time, President Kreso said, “We are being born again—and it is a slow process.”


A Haunted City


Speaking of her experiences outside the Court, Judge Dalianis remarked, “Sarajevo is a haunted place—new buildings stand beside bombed-out sites—and there are many buildings still half-reconstructed. 


The visitors were put up by the State Department—at a newly-refurbished hotel just around the corner from the place where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, the trigger for World War I.  “This country has seen so many wars—their own internal wars as well as world wars,” said Dalianis. 


She and the other visiting judges were assigned an English-speaking taxi-driver for the week.  They spent one afternoon with an English-speaking tour guide, too, a mountaineer who took them to places that were painful reminders of the death and destruction that had devastated the city and its people.  In some places there were still land mines.  When the city was under siege—when there was no electricity, no water or food or medicines—the citizens dug a half-mile-long tunnel under the airport.  The tunnel, now collapsed in some places, was the city’s only lifeline to food and water and medicines.       


“When I saw those places, I began to understand with greater clarity what it must have been like for those people,” said Dalianis.  “It’s shocking to realize that after 44 months of siege, NATO troops finally came to their rescue and the war was over in two weeks’ time.  Because of all they have suffered, emotions in Bosnia are still very close to the surface and still pretty raw.”


“I admire how well the Court has done under incredibly difficult circumstances,” concluded Dalianis, “and I was glad to be of assistance in any way that I could.”



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