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Bosnia Praised for New Criminal Code, but Doubts Remain

18. September 2018.10:44
The long-awaited adoption of amendments to Bosnia’s Criminal Procedure Code should improve the country’s record on prosecuting corruption, but not all legal experts are convinced.

This post is also available in: Bosnian

Bosnian lawmakers on Monday adopted amendments to the country’s criminal code, but some experts say they are unlikely to bring about a much-needed sea change in the conduct of corruption investigations.

The long-awaited amendments – concerning the length of corruption investigations, the use of special measures such as wire-tapping and surveillance and the granting of immunity – have been welcomed by the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE.

But doubts remain in a country long dogged by graft and deep-rooted organised crime. Some experts say they still have reservations regarding provisions on immunity and the length of investigations.

“I think everything is wrong and that it was in fact a failure to harmonise (the law with international standards),” said Branko Peric, a judge with Bosnia’s State Court.

“Nothing essentially is resolved and it’s still not known when an investigation will be completed, nor is immunity defined, whether it will be immunity for the suspect, as it is now, or for a witness,” Peric told BIRN.

In early 2018, BIRN Bosnia found that a quarter of all indictments for corruption and organised crimes were sent back to local prosecutors due to a lack of detail.

The OSCE, in a report this year, highlighted a lack of prosecutorial capacity in the filing of indictments and evidence gathering, as well as the inconsistent interpretation of the law by courts.

The state-level Constitutional Court ruled in 2017 that the current Criminal Procedure Act had elements that were unconstitutional and ordered parliament to address them. After a number of missed deadlines, lawmakers adopted the new law just ahead of a general election due on October 7.

Main Bosnian Serb party absent

After much haggling between Bosnia’s rival ethnic parties, the amendments cut the duration of investigations to a maximum of one year from up to 10 years and narrow the scope for granting immunity to alleged offenders and witnesses.

The head of the OSCE mission to Bosnia, Ambassador Bruce G. Barton, told BIRN that the adoption was a “positive development” that addressed “many of the concerns” of the mission, but added in a written statement:

“While the new provisions imposing deadlines to conclude an investigation may prove challenging in the most complex cases, it is important that a constructive solution on this issue has finally been achieved.”

The European Union delegation in Bosnia said it “strongly” welcomed the adoption, saying it brought the code into line with international and European standards.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR), the main international oversight body in Bosnia since the end of the country’s 1992-95 war, issued a joint statement with the United States embassy congratulating lawmakers, but noted the absence of MPs from the party of Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNDS.

“They demonstrated that the rule of law and the fight against corruption apparently are not among their party’s priorities,” the statement read.

Srdjan Blagovcanin of the Bosnian chapter of Transparency International also said the changes were positive, but that the process had been damaging.

“The whole procedure was unnecessarily long, unnecessarily raising tensions and leaving a legal void,” he said.

Emina Dizdarević Tahmiščija

This post is also available in: Bosnian