News 24 Dec 15

Serbia Govt Criticised for ‘Politicising’ Prosecutors’ Jobs

Belgrade-based rights groups accused Serbian Justice Minister Nikola Selakovic of using political criteria to select shortlists for prosecutors’ positions.

Ivana Nikolic
Justice Minister Selakovic (centre). Photo: Beta.

Five Serbian rights organisations on Wednesday accused Selakovic of using “unconstitutional and unlawful political criteria” when selecting candidates for prosecutors’ positions.

The rights groups complained after Selakovic said on Monday that the government could not put forward its opponents for public prosecutors’ jobs.

“I would be a complete political masochist if the people on the list were completely opposed to the government… but that does not change the fact they are the best candidates,” Selakovic said.

The rights activists said this discredited the appointment process.

“With such an action, Serbia’s minister of justice has violated the independence of the public prosecution as guaranteed by the constitution, as well as the legislative guarantees of independence in their work,” said a statement from the five NGOs, the Humanitarian Law Centre, Centre for Practical Policy, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Belgrade Centre for Human Rights and Youth Initiative for Human Rights.

But Selakovic told Tanjug news agency their claims were untrue and that his words were “taken out of context”.

The Serbian parliament on Monday elected Mladen Nenadic as the new chief prosecutor for organised crime.

But parliament failed to elect a new chief prosecutor for war crimes because none of the five candidates attracted the required majority.

It is expected that Serbian public prosecutor Zagorka Dolovac will name the acting head of the war crimes prosecutor's office by the end of the year.

During the long parliamentary session, the opposition criticised the government for what it claimed was a lack of clear criteria for the election of public prosecutors, alleging that their political suitability was the only important factor.

The five NGOs meanwhile called for the election of the prosecutors to be held again “in the accordance with constitutional and legal principles”, and said Selakovic should be sacked.

The two prosecution positions - war crimes prosecutor and prosecutor for organised crime - are considered key roles in the Serbian judicial system because both deal with high-profile and sensitive cases.

Judiciary reform is one of the main conditions for Serbia joining the EU and it is a part of chapter 23 of the negotiating process which began this month.

The European Commission stressed in its latest report on Serbia in November that the country had made some steps towards judicial reform but more progress was needed to tackle political influence.

The quality and efficiency of the judiciary and access to justice are also hampered by “an uneven distribution of workload, a burdensome case backlog and the lack of a free legal aid system”, the report said.

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