Ambassador Maureen Cormack
President Tegeltija, Director Lisak, distinguished ministers, judges and prosecutors, attorneys, donor representatives, honored guests.
Since I arrived here in Bosnia and Herzegovina one year ago, I have consistently noted that corruption is one of the biggest challenges facing BiH today. In December, the U.S. Embassy hosted a week of events around UN Global Anti-Corruption Day, and we noted that in 2016, anti-corruption efforts would be one of our primary goals.
I am therefore very pleased this morning to be here to launch the USAID-supported Diagnostic Analysis, which was prepared in a partnership among USAID, HJPC and members of the judiciary, with support of the Agency for the Prevention of and Fight against Corruption (APIK). I understand that this is the first time the justice sector has shown an interest in identifying its own weaknesses to strengthen its integrity in the eyes of the public, and this is a very positive step. This effort represents the kind of concrete, specific institutional approach that is needed to substantively transform the justice sector to put in place true rule of law.
I hope today will be a serious and informed discussion on how we can begin to reform the justice sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina and use the recommendations from this report to reduce and mitigate corruption within the justice chain. Given the self-reflection and honesty of this report — the results of which come directly from members of the judiciary — we expect a rapid adoption and implementation of the recommendations.
I have stated before many times, supporting efforts to combat government corruption in BiH must not be only a goal for the U.S. Embassy — it needs to be the top priority for the institutions within the BiH government. Corruption is, unfortunately, deeply rooted in the political system of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and combatting it will not be easy. A tremendous amount of financial support and effort has been invested over the past 20 years in reforming the judiciary in BiH and making it fully dependent. We need to ensure that this support has not been in vain; as this study shows, that goal has not yet been achieved.
In any country, the judiciary is the front and last line of defense against lawlessness and corruption overall. But in order for the judiciary to hold the government and society accountable, it has to be independent, impartial and ethical. The majority of judges and prosecutors are honest, honorable and respected professionals who are committed to serving justice. However, they are all paying a price for those few whose behavior is not worthy of the judicial profession. And unfortunately, it is those unworthy individuals that make the entire system appear corrupt and inefficient. Instead of profiting from the system, we need prosecutors who will work with investigative journalists, civil society and police to investigate corruption to ensure that different sources of information are used and findings are triangulated; and we need judges who represent the highest level of integrity in deciding cases.
The reforms proposed, among over 100 recommendations, include:
- revamping the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and disciplining prosecutors and judges;
- stricter conflict of interest policies,
- reforming the criteria and system of judicial appointments, promotions and performance evaluation; and,
- improving coordination and institutionalizing effective cooperation between law enforcement agencies and prosecutors.
I am pleased to hear that the HJPC has, at its annual conference in December last year, adopted several of the conclusions and already announced system-wide changes in many of the areas recognized in this Diagnostic Analysis. True change can only come from the inside, and, Mr. President, I appreciate your being here this morning, as it is clear that HJPC needs to take the lead on this effort. The U.S, EU partners and the public will support this process, and look to you, Mr. President, to actually implement these changes. Bosnia and Herzegovina has too many good plans and good laws on the books that have not been implemented; we will work with you and APIK as key partners to closely monitor actual implementation of these changes.
We also recognize that the State and the entities must also assist. The judiciary lacks financial independence and the role of HJPC needs to be strengthened in the process of budget planning. The executive branch must respect the budgetary requests of courts and prosecutor offices and any necessary changes should be done in close consultations with the judiciary. Without the necessary means, the judiciary will not be able to fight corruption effectively.
I will conclude with a message to judges, prosecutors, and members of the HJPC, and especially Mr. Tegeltia and Mr. Lisak as the key leaders.
You need to show the public your determination to tackle any corrupt behavior within the justice chain, starting from police and prosecutors, who jointly carry the burden of investigating and prosecuting crimes, to defense attorneys, who may be in a position to abuse loopholes in the system to gain profit, and, finally, to judges and their staff, whose integrity and devotion to each case is crucial to achieving justice.
There is a lot of hard work ahead of you to eradicate all that is undermining your integrity and credibility. It is up to you to reclaim the dignity that you and your profession deserve. The U.S. Government and our excellent USAID team look forward to partnering with you to put in place these reforms.