The Embassies of the United Kingdom and United States of America are deeply concerned about conclusions reached by the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) on Thursday, following information submitted by the RS Center for the Investigation of War, War Crimes and the Search for Missing Persons. In particular, we are troubled by the HJPC’s call for a change to the HJPC law that would allow for the dismissal of judges and prosecutors without disciplinary proceedings.
The removal of judges without appropriate procedures contradicts key European Convention on Human Rights guarantees and undermines the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). We believe this would open the door to undue political control over members of the judiciary in BiH by allowing for their dismissal without cause or due process.
This provision significantly undermines the independence of judges and prosecutors throughout BiH. An independent and impartial judiciary is vital to the rule of law and a key democratic value. An independent judiciary needs to be able to act without the influence of politics or other outside pressures, including the media. The appearance of independence and impartiality is equally important as independence: justice must not only be done, it must also be seen to be done.
We are also concerned that the HJPC tasked prosecutor’s offices to compile a list of those indicted for war crimes based on ethnicity, as this further politicizes judicial proceedings and the processing of war crimes cases. Further, the HJPC request for information about whether the judges or prosecutors in the RS Center report were investigated puts undue pressure on these individuals specifically, and broadly on every judge and prosecutor in the country.
Ensuring the independence and impartiality of the judiciary safeguards public confidence in the judiciary. It further promotes the rule of law and ensures that the courts stand as the public’s supreme dispute settlement forum. There is a need to improve appointment and dismissal criteria for judicial officials in BiH, but any improvements need to take into account judicial independence and fundamental human rights.