“Right to Justice!” a public debate on the Rule of Law in Bosnia and Herzegovina gathered around 350 members of civil society, representatives of authorities, judiciary, citizens from across the country as well as the representatives of the EU and the international community, on 20 November in Sarajevo at the building of the BiH Parliamentary Assembly.
The debate is a part of a wider EU initiative to discuss the way ahead towards an independent, accountable, impartial and efficient justice system for BiH to advance on its European integration path and for its citizens to fully enjoy their rights. Every citizen has the right to a justice system that guarantees that nobody is above the law, that everybody has access to equal opportunities and a chance to build a future at home. A functioning judiciary is also an essential requirement to join the European Union, as stated by the European Commission in its Opinion on BiH application for EU membership.
In an introductory video message to participants, Johannes Hahn, the outgoing Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, underlined that there can be no progress on the path towards the European Union without a strong Rule of Law. He also stressed the importance of such dialogue to support citizens’ aspirations for justice: “I invite you to find solutions towards a stronger rule of law system, based on the responsibility of the judiciary, the duty of public authorities and courage of active citizens in BiH.”
Michela Matuella, Head of Unit for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Directorate General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations of the European Commission, stressed that this was an opportunity for all citizens to raise their concerns, express views and put forward suggestions to the authorities that have the responsibility to implement changes: “Your participation is a visible sign of your desire for better justice. Difficult reforms are urgently needed. The active contribution of each of you will be fundamental in this process.”
At the end of the public debate, Ambassador Johann Sattler, Head of EU Delegation to BiH and EU Special Representative, launched the follow up initiative, a Rule of Law platform that will be focussed on active dialogue on the need to enhance the culture of rule of law and (re)building citizens’ trust in the judicial system. “I believe we have a solid basis for future joint actions departing from the key messages collected here today: Integrity and effective delivery of justice; Justice within reasonable time; Towards zero corruption; and Nobody is above the law.” stated Ambassador Sattler.
In the coming weeks, the EU will engage in active dialogue with citizens, civil society organisations and rule of law practitioners from across the country to gather valuable inputs on concrete solutions that can help improving the transparency, accessibility and quality of the justice system. The consultations shall be assessing all possible fields where concrete activities may be initiated, such as communication and outreach, education, monitoring and advocacy. In early 2020, a first public event of the Platform will take place.
The public debate took place in the presence of Reinhard Priebe, the EU independent expert leading the team of senior experts, that will look into the rule of law system of BiH within the framework of the Opinion, and give their independent assessment on what are the underlying causes of the current deficiencies. It served as a sounding board to allow the Mr. Priebe and the experts, (as well as the EU) to listen to citizens and other stakeholders concerns and recommendations and finalise accordingly the report, which is to be published in the course of December.
This debate was co-financed and co-organised by TAIEX and EU in BiH.