Lawyers under fire

Bosnian advocates Ekrem Galijatovic and Mladen Sutej slowly count off their dead colleagues' names, making sure to remember each and every one.

In Sarajevo, their home and virtual prison for almost four years of siege, at least 20 lawyers have died. Some were killed by shell or bullet, with others dying through sickness and starvation.

No one knows the fate of most of the country's 800, mainly Muslim advocates. Communications are non existent and the Association of Advocates of Bosnia and Herzegovina is reduced to operating largely in Sarajevo, the chief location of advocates and the higher courts.

Galijatovic and Sutej suspect that many are dead. “The aggressors targeted law professors, judges and lawyers as part of the ruling elite. They were top of the death lists,” says Galijatovic, president of the Bosnian Advocates Association.

Sutej, a member of the association's main board, adds: “Three colleagues were directly killed by Chetniks, one by sniper and two by shelling. Many judges and prosecutors were killed as well.”

Galijatovic and Sutej were in London last week with association colleague Salih Karabdic to attend the Union Internationale des Advocates. All in their 60s, they came the hard way, crawling through the Sarajevo tunnel and scaling Mt Igman during a lull in the NATO bombardment.

Back in Sarajevo, Galijatovic makes a daily 12-mile round trip on foot, dodging sniper fire, to provide both criminal and civil services at the court, which has been hit 100 times by shellfire. Lawyers work for free – “how do you find a client who can pay?” Judges receive a nominal 50 Deutschmarks in a city where a kilo of potatoes costs 28 DM.

Muslim lawyers, proud of their independent profession and advocacy skills, defend Serb militiamen in court martials, while struggling to maintain a degree of normality in their everyday work, he says.

Before the conflict, Galijatovic defended Dr Radovan Karadzic, now Bosnian Serb leader, in a financial fraud case. Karadzic served 11 months of a three-year prison sentence.

“As a reward for defending him, I had a Serb mortar shell my office,” says Galijatovic.

The Bosnians will seek to build a “just peace,” while handling compensation claims for years. They also want to build bridges with the UK, partly to help develop international training for lawyers. But they also have a bitter warning.

Sutej says: “Our colleagues abroad didn't show us any sympathy or material support for three and a half years. We are very angry. Now, it's too late, and is shaming on our colleagues. But we shall win.”

Galijatovic warns: “Fascism and nationalism are knocking on the doors of every single country in Europe. Other countries' lawyers could find themselves in the same situation as us. We strongly believe that others would not have survived in these circumstances.”