The judiciary in Bosnia and Herzegovina is “in a deep crisis” and needs to change, the Head of the EU Delegation in the country, Johann Sattler, told N1 on Wednesday, adding that one of the key priorities for the country is implementing European Court of Human Rights rulings.
Sattler spoke of a recent public debate on the rule of law in the country under the name ‘Pravo na Pravdu’ (Right to Justice) which was organised by the EU Delegation.
“We had 400 people from civil society organisations, civil activists. We had also representatives of the judicial community, the prosecutor, the head of the HJPC, all of them were there, and throughout 5 hours people were venting their anger, they were telling us stories they had encountered with justice,” Sattler said.
“For me, the clear conclusion was that the justice sector was in a deep crisis,” he said, adding that “there needs to be changed.”
“Your citizens want it, but also, for us, the EU, this is a real fundamental issue and we want to work in the next years strongly on that. I’m not going to overpromise, because what we have today is the result of two or three decades of a degrading justice system,” he said.
But Sattler argued that citizens must be involved in this push for change and that they “stand up for justice.”
The 'Pravo na Pravdu' initiative has a goal to bring together all those who want to contribute to improving the situation, but also for them to create pressure, he said, adding that “we have seen in this country that it helps a lot if the pressure comes from the bottom.”
He also spoke about a 'Report on Rule of Law issues' in Bosnia which EU rule of law expert Reinhard Priebe would publish on Thursday, saying that Priebe is “known for his independence.”
“What I can assure you, having worked with him also in Macedonia and Albania, is that he will be clear, that he will not mince words and that there will be recommendations. Now, this is a call for action, most of all to your authorities, to change,” Sattler said.
The EU representative said that the top judicial institution in the country, the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC), has become part of the problem of Bosnia’s judiciary.
Sattler explained that “there has been a draft law to change the HJPC for a couple of years now” and that there is a working group for two years already which should have worked on changing the institution but that it “never met”.
“This is totally unacceptable. We want to really move forward but your institutions need to get their act together. We are there to support. We are also happy to put the money where our mouth is,” he said.
The HJPC was created with a good intention, he said – “to defend the judiciary from political influences.”
“However, we see today that it has become part of the problem,” he said, adding that the institution “can be part of the change, but the change will happen in any case.”
Some HJPC officials have been saying that Priebe’s report has the goal to destroy the HJPC.
“The EU, unlike other superpowers, is not in the business of toppling governments. We are not in the business of toppling institutions. This is not our approach,” Sattler said.
“There is so much discontent. Look at the opinion polls, your citizens are clearly dissatisfied with the judiciary,” he added.
What citizens want to see in the judiciary is integrity, he said, arguing that “there are many good judges and prosecutors,” but that it “has to go to the very top.”
They also want that court processes are finished within a reasonable timeframe, Sattler stressed, adding that “it’s unacceptable that people have to wait for 10 or 15 years to get a final court decision.”
The third thing they want is to eliminate corruption in the institution, he said.
He also spoke about implementing the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rulings, specifically the latest one regarding elections in the city of Mostar.
A local politician, Irma Baralija, sued the state because no elections took place in Mostar since 2008. The court ruled in her favour and urged the state to amend legislation within six months at the latest to ensure elections in the city.
Sattler said implementing such rulings is one of the priorities for countries which aspire to join the EU.
“If you look at all of our communications, this is number one. That’s why whenever somebody opens negotiations with the EU, chapters 23 and 24 (of the EU acquis) is what you start with,” Sattler explained.
He mentioned a set of recommendations the European Commission in its opinion on whether the country should get EU candidate status.
“A big part is exactly on the implementation of these rulings. It’s not an excuse that they are so difficult that they cannot start. There are things which can be done,” he said.
“Next year is the chance to close the chapter shame and the unbelievable situation in which you have 12 years without the local election,” he said of the issue in Mostar adding that it is “the only city in Europe with such a situation.”
According to the EU representative, the leaders of the main Bosniak and main Bosniak Croat parties, Bakir Izetbegovic and Dragan Covic, respectively, promised him in a recent meeting that an election will take place in the city next year.
“We take them by their word,” he said.
“We will be also involved if necessary, but there needs to be a real effort from the two parties, which are the main parties in Mostar, to get to a solution,” he added.