Bosnian Serb Fury Over Foreign Court Staff Mandates

Republika Srpska premier Milorad Dodik slams move to extend terms of foreign judges and prosecutors as “legal violence”.

Bosnian Serb Fury Over Foreign Court Staff Mandates

Republika Srpska premier Milorad Dodik slams move to extend terms of foreign judges and prosecutors as “legal violence”.

Monday, 21 December, 2009
The top international envoy to Bosnia this week extended the mandate of foreign judges and prosecutors dealing with war crime cases at the Bosnian state court for another three years, despite strong opposition from the country's Serbs.



The High Representative for Bosnia and Hercegovina, Valentin Inzko, announced on December 14 that the mandate of nine foreign judges and six prosecutors - due to expire at the end of this year - had been extended until December 31, 2012.



Explaining his decision, Inzko told media in Sarajevo, “My logic is simply that not extending the [mandate] of the internationals in the department for war crimes could have serious consequences for the ongoing trials; would jeopardise cases; endanger the Hague tribunal’s exit strategy; and mean that the witnesses would have to repeat their painful testimony once again in front of the accused.



“This, of course, has been one of the most difficult decisions in my life, and I am aware that it will not please anyone. What I do hope is that it will give some relief to the victims of war crimes and ensure that this area which is essential for reconciliation is strengthened.”



However, Republika Srpska, RS, prime minister Milorad Dodik reacted with fury to the decision.



"The RS citizens should say whether they are willing to accept the legal violence that the High Representative is imposing on them,” Dodik told journalists in Banja Luka at a December 14 press conference.



“The RS government believes it has to prevent the arrival of foreigners such as the High Representative and calls on political representatives of Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs and others in Bosnia to terminate this long-lasting tyranny and legal violence imposed by the High Representative and other international officials.”



Bosnia’s High Representative has powers - bestowed on him by the international community after the end of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war - to impose laws that are of vital importance for the country.



Several months ago, Bosnia’s council of ministers voted in favour of a proposal to amend legislation to extend the mandate of international judges and prosecutors working in the war crimes section for three years.



(IWPR reported on this in August, http://www.iwpr.net/?p=tri&s=f&o=355447&apc_state=henitri200908)



However, when the proposal was submitted to the state parliament for consideration, Serb members voted against it and it was not ratified.



Many RS politicians have long opposed the extension of the mandate of foreign judges and prosecutors, arguing that the country should be left to run its own courts.



In a public statement on state TV in May 2009, Dodik said, “It is totally unacceptable that the internationals stay. That won’t happen with our support. I think that the state court and the prosecutor’s office are political institutions and not judicial.



“Internationals are controlling judicial institutions in Bosnia and the institutions are being used against Serbs and certain politicians who do not conform to them. Internationals should know that after January 1, 2010, (the original mandate deadline) will not remain in Bosnia any more.”



Following the decision this week, Dodik convened an urgent session of the RS government and threatened to hold a referendum in his entity.



However, the High Representative said he did not believe such a vote would take place.



High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy at the European Union, Catherine Ashton, and the EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn welcomed Inzko’s decision on the extension of the foreign judges and prosecutors' mandate.



In their joint statement, they said that this was "the right decision at the right moment".



The president of the Hague tribunal, Judge Patrick Robinson, also welcomed the move.



“Over the past months, the president has repeatedly called on local authorities to support these institutions by extending the mandates of international staff and securing adequate resources,” tribunal spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic told reporters in The Hague this week. “The president believes that Bosnia and Hercegovina, like any other country, has the right to comprise its courts of nationals only - but all reports indicate that the time for this is not yet right.”



Lejla Saric is an RFE reporter and IWPR contributor in Sarajevo.
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