Joint Statement on the planned Referendum in the Republika Srpska

The Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Bosnia and Herzegovina/EU Special Representative Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, joined by U.S. Ambassador Maureen Cormack, British Ambassador Edward Ferguson, French Ambassador Claire Bodonyi, German Charge d’Affaires Adrian Pollmann and a representative of the Italian Ambassador travelled to Banja Luka yesterday to emphasize their shared concerns about the proposed referendum on the State-level judicial institutions.

We recognise and agree that there are significant problems with the court and prosecutorial system in BiH at all levels, including at the State level.  But the Structured Dialogue on Justice has achieved some important results in the processing of war crimes and in paving the way for an Appellate Court at state level.  A new national strategy for reform of the justice sector in BIH offering a framework for legal reforms has been prepared and harmonised between all levels of government.  We want to work together in a spirit of partnership with the authorities in the RS, and in other parts of the country, to strengthen the judiciary throughout BiH, to guarantee its independence and impartiality, and to improve its performance and efficiency in order to restore public faith in its institutions.

At the same time, the State level judicial institutions are critical to the sovereignty and stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  We are deeply concerned that the proposed  referendum would represent an unconstitutional attempt not to reform but to undermine and weaken those authorities, and would thus pose a direct threat to the sovereignty and security of the country as a whole. This cannot be tolerated.  The last thing that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs is an unnecessary confrontation which would undermine rather than support our partnership, and the reforms which we agree are needed.

From the perspective of the European Union, the planned referendum would also seriously harm this country’s EU accession path by casting doubt over the ability of BiH to adopt binding legal agreements which will be respected throughout the country.  The EU has tried to shift the focus of political leaders onto the real social and economic problems which people in this country face on a daily basis. As well as stabilising the economy and creating new jobs, particularly for young people, the reform agenda includes measures to strengthen the rule of law and to tackle corruption. A referendum, with no legal value, on a question which challenges the principles of the BiH constitution would run counter to addressing these pressing issues, and would be a waste of money that could be used to address the real economic and social needs of the RS people.

Concerns about the justice system are real and important. They are shared by ordinary people, as well as politicians. We are impatient to work constructively with the RS authorities, and with others, to address these problems, and we therefore ask for responsibility, dialogue and cooperation.