BRUSSELS – The European Commission has warned the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HJPC) that it could suspend further funding of judicial reform in BiH, which it is implementing through that council, Radio Free Europe (RFE) reports.
“Due to the worryingly limited results in achieving the goals of judicial reform in recent years, and especially in the area of integrity, the Commission is currently reviewing its support for the judiciary through the HJPC,” the European Commission Spokesperson’s Office in Brussels confirmed to Radio Free Europe.
In a letter to HJPC President Milan Tegeltija this week, they noted that they have been waiting too long for judicial reforms, and that “the state of the judicial system is a cause for concern”.
Special emphasis was placed on the letter of the European Commission dated 11 February 2020, in which the HJPC was called upon to take urgent steps in order to establish a special Integrity Unit within the HJPC Secretariat, which has not yet been formed. The unit should deal with checking the integrity of the holders of judicial institutions.
The President of the HJPC, Milan Tegeltija, told RFE that the establishment of the Unit was interrupted due to the pandemic.
However, the Chairman of the Temporary Commission of Inquiry of the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH for determining the situation in the judicial institutions of BiH Damir Arnaut told RFE that there is a very clear position of several European countries that BiH cannot take a single step towards the European Union until it begins to seriously address these problems in the judiciary.
The European Commission also stated that “the rule of law is a key criterion for BiH’s European path”.
“The lack of progress in this area also undermines the country’s progress. The European Commission has invested more than 30 million euros over the past 15 years to strengthen the independence, integrity and efficiency of the judiciary in BiH, especially through funds allocated through the HJPC”, it is noted in a written comment by EC for RFE.
Lack of commitment to the rule of law is a fundamental problem of BiH, said Reinhard Priebe in his special report, published in December 2019 in Brussels. This independent legal expert, a German judge who worked in Albania and North Macedonia to improve the justice system, pointed out worrying shortcomings in a 25-page document.
“The lack of trust in the judiciary is particularly expressed in the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC). Citizens, and even members of the judiciary, often see the HJPC as a center of power without responsibility in the hands of a network of political patrons and influence,” Priebe report states.
BiH judiciary close to politics, far from justice
The Chairman of the Board of Directors of Transparency International BiH Srđan Blagovčanin, says the judiciary has “become so instrumentalized that it has become an extended arm of BiH’s political elites” and as such is an obstacle to justice.
“In the process when Priebe report was prepared, we proposed a kind of vetting, i.e. a detailed review of all judicial office holders, something similar to what happened in Albania. In Albania, it showed somewhat positive results and we think that the situation in the judiciary is so bad in terms of exposure to pressure that just vetting was a good step in the right direction,” Blagovčanin said.
Judicial reform in BiH has been ongoing since 2003, and so far, according to Transparency International BiH, a number of donors, including the EU, have invested about 50 million euros.
Their analysis “Judiciary in BiH: State and Perspectives”, states that “part of the presidents of courts and chief prosecutors are not appointed because of the results achieved and undisputed competencies, but because of loyalty to the structure or under external influence”.
“They are a threat to the election of competent members for the new HJPC and the necessary reforms,” it was stated.