News 18 May 15

Bosnia Agrees Justice Reform After EU Pressure

The three justice ministries in Bosnia and Herzegovina have agreed a draft justice reform strategy after the EU cut funding for war crimes prosecutions in frustration at the lack of progress.

Denis Dzidic
BIRN
Sarajevo

The three justice ministries on the state and entity level have agreed on the draft strategy after a long delay but the EU delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina told BIRN on Monday that the funds necessary for the employment of 142 workers in the judiciary will only be released after it is adopted.

The EU delegation spokesperson in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Andy McGuffie, said that 2.9 million euros – which local prosecutors and courts need to fund salaries and investigations in war crimes cases – will only be released once entity level governments and the Bosnian council of ministers adopt the strategy.

“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.

Within its projects for 2012 and 2013, the European Commission granted 14.8 million euro in assistance to local courts and prosecutions to ensure the more efficient prosecution of war crimes. Based on this assistance, 16 prosecutors and six courts hired a total of 20 prosecutors and seven judges, and 115 legal advisors and associates.

But the second tranche of funds depended on the adoption of the reform strategy, which the Bosnian authorities 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.

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.

McGuffie said that the adoption of the justice reform strategy was of “great importance for both ongoing and possible future EU financial assistance to such a delicate strategic sector”.

He urged the authorities to adopt it as quickly as possible “since a large number of war crime cases still require investigation and processing throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

The country still has about 1,200 open war crimes investigations against known perpetrators, and even more against unknown ones.

A spokesperson for the Republika Srpska Justice Ministry told BIRN meanwhile that all issues regarding the state court and the proposed appeals court would be resolved in a future law on the Bosnian state court, and not within the strategy.

She said that the issue of appeals against the decisions of the Bosnian court would be subject to political agreement at all levels, respecting the constitutional jursidiction of the country's entities.

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