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Bosnia must overhaul judiciary, end political obstruction: report

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia must overhaul its complex and opaque justice system and do more to protect the rule of law if it wants to press its case to join the European Union, legal experts said in an EU-commissioned report on Thursday.

The divided Balkan country was suffering from dysfunctional institutions at all levels, and needed to stop political interference in judicial reforms, read the report by independent legal officials published in Brussels.

“Some key actors show no determination to address or overcome dysfunctionalities through coordination and cooperation,” it said.

“Rather, they seem to do everything to obstruct any change that they consider not to be in their own interest.”

There was no immediate comment from the caretaker government, which has been caught up in months of political deadlock since elections last year.

Bosnia, along with five other Balkan nations - Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia - is trying to join the 28-nation political and trading group following the ethnic wars of the 1990s that led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

But the European Commission has said weaknesses in Bosnia’s rule of law remains a “fundamental problem”.

Its complex political structure compounded its problem and led to “institutional overkill”, according to the experts report.

Bosnia includes two autonomous regions - the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic linked via a weak central government - as well as the neutral Brcko district and 10 cantons with a total of 14 different legal jurisdictions.

The report picked out the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) - a judicial body meant to shield the judiciary from political influence - saying it had become part of the problem it was supposed to solve.

“The HJPC is often perceived by citizens and even by members of the judicial community as a center of unaccountable power in the hands of persons serving the interests of a network of political patronage and influence,” the report said.

HJPC President Milan Tegeltija told the Bosnian web portal he agreed with parts of the report and disagreed with others, but would not comment further until he had read the whole paper.

The report also said the Ombudsman’s office was “deeply politicized” and lacked independence.

The criminal justice system was failing to tackle corruption and other serious offences, while the civil system was overly complex and took too long to resolve cases, it added.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Andrew Heavens