Perpetrators of war crimes who have been convicted by courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina do not necessarily have to serve their prison sentences if they pay a certain amount of money to the state and so far, at least three war criminals have used that opportunity, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), an agency specialising in monitoring and reporting on war crimes trials in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said on Wednesday.  

Cantonal courts and the Brcko District Court have so far allowed five convicts who were given prison sentences of one year or less to pay a fine instead of serving their sentences. Each was fined an average of 18,000 euros. Three such decisions have already been implemented and the implementation of another two is under way.

The fine is based on a calculation of the average cost of one day in prison, which amounts to some EUR 50.

The crimes for which three of those persons were convicted are rape and the torture of civilian prisoners.

The laws in force in Bosnia and Herzegovina allow for the possibility that all persons who are given prison sentences of shorter duration can "buy" their freedom if they pay a fine, however, the question arises if this is moral and tolerable in the gravest cases such as war crimes.

An additional problem is that legal regulations are not harmonised across the country. In the Croat-Muslim entity, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is possible to exchange a prison sentence for a fine if the duration of the prison sentence is up to one year, while in the Serb entity of Republika Srpska the limit is six months. This is probably the reason why in that entity there have been no cases of war crimes convicts exchanging their sentences for a fine.

Local court officials have different views on this practice.

Senaid Ibrahimefendic, head of the Eastern Sarajevo District Court, said it was questionable if such a procedure served the purpose of punishment but that it helped free the prison accommodation capacity.

Bojan Stevic, head of the Trebinje District Court, said that war crimes were a special category of crimes and could not be treated as, for example, traffic offences.

"For me, paying a fine for a war crime is disgusting. It is a travesty. A war crime is grave in itself regardless of the sentence delivered... because it can be lenient for I don't know how many extenuating circumstances, but a war crime cannot be treated as speeding," said Stevic.

Redzo Delic, head of the Zenica-Doboj Cantonal Department for War Crimes and White-Collar Crime, has a similar opinion. "Exchanging a prison sentence for a 100 mark fine is inappropriate. However, lawmakers have put us here before a done deal, they should have specified the cases where exchanging a prison sentence for a fine is not possible."

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