Bosnian Serb region to form parallel legal body, West warns of violations

Milorad Dodik, Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina speaks during interview in his office in Banja Luka
Milorad Dodik, Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina speaks during an interview in his office in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina November 11, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

SARAJEVO, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Lawmakers in Bosnia's autonomous Serb Republic (RS) voted on Thursday to form a separate body to choose judges and prosecutors, effectively pulling the region out of the state's top judicial institution as part of their leaders' separatist agenda.

Western diplomats based with the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), a forum overseeing the restoration of peace in Bosnia after its war in the 1990s, said the move violated the country's constitution and legal order.

Bosnia has been going through its worst political crisis since the end of the war, with Bosnian Serbs challenging state institutions as part of their longtime bid to secede and eventually join neighbouring Serbia.

The draft law on the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) was approved with 45 votes in favour out of 63 votes cast in the 83-seat parliament, and will now be subject to comments by legal experts and institutions during a 90-day period before it is adopted.

"The implementation of the RS Law on HJPC would create an unconstitutional body, jeopardizing the fundamental legal rights of all Bosnia-Herzegovina citizens, especially those who live in the RS," the PIC said in a statement.

The Serb Republic parliament, dominated by the SNSD party of Bosnian Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik, has already passed a non-binding motion to withdraw the region from Bosnia's armed forces, judiciary and tax system. read more

The three institutions represent key pillars of joint security, rule of law and the economic system in the Balkan country. Bosnia was divided into two autonomous regions - the Serb Republic and the Federation dominated by Croats and Bosniaks - after its 1992-1995 war in which 100,000 people died.

Most opposition MPs abstained from voting, with some saying the law was campaigning by Dodik ahead of elections in October, and others casting doubt about the efficiency of a new institution and its functioning in parallel with the existing state HJPC.

Bosnia is not a member of the EU but the European Commission said the Serb vote on the separate HJPC undermined Bosnia's unity and was unacceptable, adding it will be discussed at the next meeting of European Union foreign ministers.

The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo said the Serb political leaders had taken a step that would undermine judicial transparency and accountability for corrupt actions.

"Creating a new HJPC for the RS entity will allow criminals to prosper and corruption to flourish," the Embassy said on its Twitter account. "We hope all citizens participate in the public comment period."

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Frances Kerry

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