The role of Structured Dialogue on Justice and other issues of the rule of law

europaBA_2013071410185231_bigAuthor: Alem Sinanović, Vesta Tuzla

The Structured Dialogue on Justice and other issues of the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a newly-established mechanism of the European Commission, introduced with the aim of enhancing the structured relations of the rule of law with potential EU membership candidate countries.

Structured dialogue was launched by commissioner Füle and the first meeting on Structured Dialogue between EU and BiH was held on June 6 and 7 2011 in Banja Luka. Seven Structured Dialogues have been held so far, the last one taking place in Sarajevo on May 13 and 14, 2014.

Why is it important for Bosnia and Herzegovina?!

Structured dialogue should help Bosnia and Herzegovina in establishing an independent, efficient, unbiased and responsible justice system on the entire territory of the country that would benefit all its citizens. It was introduced with the aim of supporting justice system reforms and bringing the country a step closer to the EU. The dialogue provides a framework for discussing the reforms necessary for aligning the justice system of BiH with the legal framework and standards of the EU.

The dialogue can bring results only if proposals and decisions are adopted in the appropriate manner. It is the most convenient platform for channeling fears, discussing the proposed changes, identifying problems and shortcomings and coming up with solutions. The dialogue aims to ensure autonomy, expertness and responsibility of the justice system by strengthening the institutions of the justice system on all levels. This is work of a technical nature, based on the idea of depoliticizing the debate on justice in order to ensure permanent autonomy of the justice system. The dialogue also includes Plenary meetings open for participation of relevant experts from the field and high-level government bodies. Each meeting ends with the European Commission giving a set of technical recommendations. These recommendations are based on the attitudes and conclusions that have been agreed upon by the 27 EU member countries prior to the meeting, as well as on the results of discussions on plenary working sessions.

The accession process has confirmed the importance of the justice system, and beyond that, the importance of all issues related to the rule of law. Plenary meetings organized as part of the Structured Dialogue are open to participation of high ranked participants, unlike other technical meetings organized as part of the stabilization and accession process. Local authorities identify relevant participants in the dialogue in a systematic manner.

Plenary sessions are held approximately two times per year. The EU Delegation and the Office of the High Representative in Sarajevo constantly work on this issue by collecting relevant information and monitoring the implementation of recommendations from the Commission. To this end, periodic meetings are held with institutions, government bodies and local administrations to which the recommendations apply, as well as international organizations and civil society representatives.

The monitoring process focuses on issues related to the rule of law and the judiciary and results in the adoption of a yearly Progress Report for the country.  Consultations with civil society organizations both in our country and in Brussels form the very basis of the Structured Dialogue. The aim is to have decision makers in the EU acknowledge the voice of civil society.

Structured Dialogue extended to other issues of the rule of law

Having in mind the most recent conclusions on Bosnia and Herzegovina, adopted by the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg on April 14 2014, the support for the extended program of the EU and its involvement in the affairs of BiH, a decision was made to extend the Structured Dialogue on Justice to other issues of the rule of law which include new priorities mutually determined by representatives of local authorities and the civil society such as fighting corruption and discrimination, preventing a conflict of interests, undertaking measures to increase the integrity, responsibility and efficiency of the police force within the existing legal framework.

In its recommendations from the 7th Plenary meeting on Structured Dialogue between the EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina concerning the revision of the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination and ways of strengthening preventive measures as well as the collection and exchange of relevant information and statistical data, the European Commission welcomed the initiative of the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees (MHRR) to establish an informal working group that would be tasked with drafting the amendments to the 2009 Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination. The Commission also stated it expects the MHRR to consider adopting significant amendments in order to align this Law with the EU acquis, especially when it comes to defining invalidity and old age as grounds for discrimination, as well as defining sexual orientation and gender identity in accordance with internationally adopted terminology.     Furthermore, the European Commission expects the provisions of the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination to affect the labor law as well as laws on higher education on both the state and the entity level.

Unfortunately, the newest 2014 Progress Report for Bosnia and Herzegovina enumerates a series of problems with the functioning of the institutions in this country and the failure to uphold laws and regulations.  The European Commission stated that small progress has been made in regards to judiciary reforms and emphasized that the Structured Dialogue on Justice remains an important platform for consolidating the consensus on judiciary reforms and should be extended to all issues of the rule of law. The Report also claims the legal and institutional framework for monitoring human rights protection is good, with main elements of international laws on human rights protection successfully incorporated in the legal system. Once again, the European Commission emphasized in its Report the need to ensure efficient protection and prosecution of cases involving hate speech, violence and discrimination, especially when aimed against LGBT persons. Structured Dialogue can be of great help here, especially now that it has been extended to cover other issues of the rule of law, including the fight against discrimination.

BiH political leaders are required to show greater readiness and interest in solving problems raised by the Structured Dialogue, adopting recommendations of the European Commission and finally working in the best interests of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.