The Embassies of the United States, Germany and the UK to Bosnia and Herzegovina, joined by the Office of the High Representative view the recent rhetoric and initiatives in the Republika Srpska (RS) as moving away from EU standards, despite the fact the RS government has stated its commitment to European integration.
“Political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina need to implement reforms that move BiH toward European standards and democratic norms. Freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and freedom of the media are fundamental elements of a healthy, functional democracy, and are essential to holding governments and leaders accountable. Opposition voices, civil society organizations, media outlets, and peaceful protests like those of the Pravda za Davida movement should not be viewed as a security threat. Legislative changes that empower authorities to censor individuals, groups, or the media, or that criminalize the free exercise of official duty, only serve to undermine democracy,” stated the international community members in a joint statement.
According to the statement, the RS MUP (Ministry of Interior) has submitted the draft Law on Public Gatherings to international community experts for a legal review and comments; it should do the same with the proposed amendments to the Law on Public Order and Peace.
“Without changes to bring them in line with international standards and best practices, both laws could be used to inappropriately limit basic freedoms. The drafts place unnecessary restrictions on public gatherings and limit the media’s ability to report on important events; they also carry excessively harsh penalties for non-compliance. We call on all levels of government in BiH to uphold and respect the obligations they undertook by signing onto specific EU and UN international conventions on human rights”, the statement reads.
OHR and the embassies strongly support the statement of the EUSR/EU Delegation, expressing concern about the draft amendments to the RS Law on Public Peace and Order. The Delegation of the European Union to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the EU Special Representative in BiH is concerned that draft amendments to the RS Law on Public Peace and Order, if adopted, would adversely affect the exercise of fundamental freedoms in Republika Srpska (RS), in particular the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
Consequently, they urge the RS authorities to reconsider the draft amendments in order to align them with EU and international standards. The EU stands ready to provide assistance in this regard.
“We take note that the RS National Assembly will consider a number of draft laws at its session on 16 April, including the draft amendments to the RS Law on Public Peace and Order. We welcome Minister Lukac’s indicated readiness to improve the draft amendments and call on the RS National Assembly to take on-board any changes that would bring the Law on Public Peace and Order closer to EU and international standards, before the draft is adopted in the second reading”, the EU Delegation has stated.
The disputed draft Law provides sentences for those who disturb police officers during their work, without however defining what “disturbance” actually means, and who is responsible to determine if a journalist or photo reporter hinders the work of the police. What’s more, the draft stipulates that it is forbidden to take photos and videos of the police officers while performing their duties./IBNA