Physical and sanitary conditions in the country’s prisons and detention facilities varied depending on location but were generally considered substandard, US Department of State said in a report.
Physical Conditions: The Ombudsman’s annual report for 2018 indicated that prison overcrowding in Sarajevo continued, with 96 inmates housed in a facility with a maximum capacity of 88.
Not all prisons had comprehensive health-care facilities with full-time health-care providers. In such instances, these institutions contracted part-time practitioners. There were no prison facilities suitable for prisoners with physical disabilities.
In a special report on the situation in police holding facilities released during the year, the Ombudsman reported that the biggest problems in all police administrations were the lack of holding facilities and the limited capacity of existing ones. Several police stations in the same police administrative district had to use the same facilities. A lack of space also made it difficult for police to separate male, female, and minor detainees in cases where a large number of detainees were accommodated. Some police stations’ detention facilities lacked natural light and had poor ventilation. The material conditions of most police detention facilities were generally below EU standards.
Administration: Units in both entities and the Brcko District did not always conduct investigations into credible allegations of prisoner or detainee mistreatment.
The prison system in the country was not fully harmonized, nor was it in full compliance with European standards. Jurisdiction for the execution of sanctions was divided between the state, entities, and Brcko District. As a consequence, in some instances different legal regulations governed the same area, often resulting in unequal treatment of convicted persons, depending on the prison establishment or the entity in which they served their sentence.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent human rights observers to visit and gave international community representatives widespread and unhindered access to detention facilities and prisoners. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), the Ombudsman, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to have access to prison and detention facilities under the jurisdiction of the ministries of justice at both the state and entity levels. In June the CPT visited prisons and detention facilities in the country for the eighth time; as of September, the CPT had not released its report on the visit.
Improvements: On August 1, the government opened the long-awaited State Prison with the capacity to hold 400 prisoners. The prison will not begin accommodating its first prisoners before mid-2020, upon completion of staff hiring and administrative procedures.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.
Police generally arrested persons based on court orders and sufficient evidence or in conformity with rules prescribed by law. The law requires authorities to inform detainees of the charges against them immediately upon their arrest and obliges police to bring suspects before a prosecutor within 24 hours of detention (72 hours for terrorism charges). During this period, police may detain individuals for investigative purposes and processing. The prosecutor has an additional 24 hours to release the person or to request a court order extending pretrial detention by court police. The court has a subsequent 24 hours to make a decision.
Court police are separate from other police agencies and fall under the Ministry of Justice; their holding facilities are within the courts. After 24 or 48 hours of detention by court police, an individual must be presented to a magistrate who decides whether the suspect shall remain in custody or be released. Suspects who remain in custody are turned over to prison staff.
The law limits the duration of interrogations to a maximum of six hours. The law also limits pretrial detention to 12 months and trial detention up to three years. There is a functioning bail system and restrictions, such as the confiscation of travel documents or house arrest, which were ordered regularly to ensure defendants appear in court.
The law allows detainees to request a lawyer of their own choosing, and if they are unable to afford a lawyer, the authorities should provide one. The law also requires the presence of a lawyer during the pretrial and trial hearings. Detainees are free to select their lawyer from a list of registered lawyers. In a 2016 report, the CPT noted that, in the vast majority of cases, authorities did not grant detainees access to a lawyer at the outset of their detention. Instead, such access occurred only when the detainee was brought before a prosecutor to give a statement or at the hearing before a judge. It was usually not possible for a detainee to consult with his or her lawyer in private prior to appearing before a prosecutor or judge. The report also noted that juveniles met by the CPT also alleged they were interviewed without a lawyer or person of trust present.
The state constitution provides the right to a fair hearing in civil and criminal matters while entity constitutions provide for an independent judiciary. Nevertheless, political parties and organized crime figures sometimes influenced the judiciary at both the state and entity levels in politically sensitive cases, especially those related to corruption. Authorities at times failed to enforce court decisions.
The law provides that defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence; the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation if necessary; the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay; and the right to be present at their trial. The law provides for the right to counsel at public expense if the prosecutor charges the defendant with a serious crime. Courts are obliged to appoint a defense attorney if the defendant is deaf or mute or detained or accused of a crime for which a long-term imprisonment may be pronounced. Authorities generally gave defense attorneys adequate time and facilities to prepare their clients’ defense. The law provides defendants the right to confront witnesses, to have a court-appointed interpreter and written translation of pertinent court documents into a language understood by the defendant, to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and to appeal verdicts. Authorities generally respected most of these rights, which extend to all defendants.