Justice Reforms Fail to Halt Bosnian Serb Referendum

(MENAFN- The Journal Of Turkish Weekly) The ruling party in Bosnia’s Serb-led entity Republika Srpska said on Sunday that it welcomedlast week’s agreement on judicial reformbut would not abandon its plan for a controversial referendum questioning the powers of the state court and prosecution over the entity.

“We support [the fact that] ministers of justice from Bosnia and Herzegovina have reached a certain compromise but that cannot lead to the postponement of the referendum” said MP Nebojsa Radmanovic vice-president of the ruling Alliance of Independent Social Democrats SNSD.

The protocol which ministers from both state and entity levels signed last Thursday at a meeting in Brussels was a part of the so-called 'structured dialogue' aimed at overhauling Bosnia's judiciary.

The agreement - details of which have not yet been made public - reportedly opens the door for a series of reforms which will cover the Bosnian state court prosecutor’s office and the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council which oversees parts of the country’s justice system.

It came after weeks of pressure from Republika Srpska which has vowed to stage a referendum questioning the authority of Bosnia's international supervisor the Office of the High Representative as well as the state-level judiciary because of its alleged bias against Serbs especially in war crimes cases.

But the Brussels protocol came under fire from state judges and experts who warned that the proposed changes might undermine the judiciary.

The president of the Bosnian state court Meddzida Kreso told media that the agreement was “a concession by Europe to Bosnian Serb pressures”.

“According to the information I have the agreement foresees that the Bosnian court’s jurisdiction contained in section 7 of the law on the state level court is abolished. This cannot be allowed” Kreso said.

The Bosnian state court has jurisdiction over all criminal acts covered in the state-level criminal code adopted in 2003. According to section 7 of the legislation the institution can also demand that cases relating to criminal acts covered by the laws of entities be sent to state level if they undermine the sovereignty territorial integrity or national security of the country.

This ability to take over cases from the entity-level judiciaries has been strongly criticised by the Bosnian Serb leadership.

According to government officials the justice-reform package would limit the jurisdiction of the Bosnian court and prosecution to cases covered by the state-level criminal code. The reforms also foresee that the Bosnian court which currently has both a first instance and appeals section would be broken up into two separate institutions thus creating a higher court instead of the current appeals chamber.

The new higher court would be built on Republika Srpska’s territory while the Bosnian state court would remain in Sarajevo.

The Republika Srpska leadership had initially stated that the referendum - scheduled to take place in mid-November - could be cancelled if all the country’s levels of government agree to reform Bosnia’s judiciary.

After last week’s agreement in Brussels Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik and its Justice Minister Anton Kasipovic expressed satisfaction which raised hopes the deadlock could be broken.

But Radmanovic insisted on Sunday said that the referendum was still on.

International officials have warned the Republika Srpska government not to hold the referendum which would be defined as illegal because entities have no right to challenge the authority of international or state institutions.

Local and international experts are also concerned that if held the referendum could seriously destabilise the country because it would be perceived by Bosniaks as a challenge to the constitutional and territorial integrity of Bosnia.

The Bosnian Serb opposition meanwhile has criticised the Brussels agreement.

Dragan Cavic from the opposition People’s Democratic Movement said that it only strengthens the state-level judiciary.

“The proposed higher court is in essence a supreme court on a state level” Cavic told journalists in Banja Luka.

Aleksandra Pandurovic from the opposition Serb Democratic Party said that the agreement was an obvious attempt by the Republika Srpska government and the ruling SNSD party to save face while avoiding the international sanctions they would face if they hold the referendum.

“When there as a threat because they were playing around with with the referendum that their apartments and villas in Portoroz Vienna and Monte Carlo will be confiscated they ran to Brussels and signed whatever the foreigners offered handing over Republika Srpska’s judiciary on a platter” Pandurovic told a press conference on Sunday.

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