News 09 Sep 15

Bosnia Finally Adopts Justice Reform Strategy

After a nine-month delay, the Bosnian Council of Ministers has adopted a justice sector reform strategy, which should unblock European funds needed for war crimes investigations and prosecutions.

Denis Dzidic
BIRN
Sarajevo
Bosnian Council of Ministers. Photo by vijeceministara.gov.ba

The strategy for the next five years was adopted on Tuesday by the Council of Ministers after nine months’ delay caused by disagreements among politicians, has caused the EU to cut funding for war crimes prosecutions in frustration at the lack of progress.

The High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, which oversees parts of the country’s justice system, hailed the adoption of the strategy and urged the European Commission to unblock the funds.

“The HJPC calls on all institutions, especially the European Commission delegation, to make the funds for war crimes prosecutions operative, so that judges and prosecutors working on these cases can get salaries as soon as possible,” said the HJPC in a statement.

The European Commission granted 14.8 million euro in assistance to local courts and prosecutions for 2012 and 2013 to ensure the more efficient prosecution of war crimes. This led to the hiring of 20 prosecutors, seven judges and 115 legal advisors and associates seen as crucial to dealing with a massive case backlog.

But the second tranche of funds depended on the Bosnian authorities adopting the reform strategy, which they failed to do.

The reason for the delay was a dispute between politicians over establishing a state-level appeals court - a reflection of wider differences within the country about state-level jurisdiction.

The Serb-led Republika Srpska wants more judicial autonomy, while the country’s other entity, the Bosniak-dominated Federation, would like a more strongly centralised judiciary. After this issue was agreed in May, the document waited for adoption before the state-level council of ministers for almost four months.

Because of the funding gap, since January, some prosecutors have been working without salaries, a number of legal associates have been made redundant and there have not been funds for investigations.

Milorad Novkovic, the president of the district court in Banja Luka, told BIRN also welcomed the adoption of the strategy because he said the funding block pit strain on his institution and caused good workers to quit.

“One associate has left, and one other has applied to a different position. We had two administrative workers and they will leave because there are no salaries,” Novkovic said.

Chief Sarajevo prosecutor Dalida Burzic said meanwhile that the only way she kept hold of workers was by agreeing a temporary solution with the Sarajevo government to temporarily take over the costs.

The EU delegation’s spokesperson in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Andy McGuffie, told BIRN in May that after the Council of Ministers adopts the strategy, the funds could be released within a few weeks.

“Once the strategic framework for justice sector reform is adopted, the relevant Bosnian authorities will need to submit an assessment outlining how the relevant conditions have been met to justify the release of the second tranche [of funds],” McGuffie said.

“Upon receipt of a quality assessment, the necessary analytical and technical steps will be required which will take a few weeks. Only after such steps are taken will the funds be released to the treasury of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” he added.

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