As Bosnia’s state prosecutor prepares to grill low-ranking witnesses, experts say it will be hard for state institutions to hold senior officials in Republika Srpska to account for the recent banned referendum.
Legal experts say they doubt Bosnia’s state-level courts have the muscle to see through a case against Bosnian Serb leaders over the illegal referendum in the Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, on the entity’s national day.
A Banja Luka-based lawyer, Milan Petkovic, is due to appear before state prosecutors on Monday.
Petkovic confirmed to BIRN that prosecutors had called him to a hearing in Sarajevo as a suspect in a criminal investigation into Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik for failing to enforce a decision by the Constitutional Court banning the referendum.
The RS authorities, including the entity assembly and referendum commission, defied a ban by the state Constitutional Court to hold a plebiscite on the entity’s statehood day on September 25.
Petkovic told BIRN by email: “I suspect that I was invited because of my involvement in the commission for carrying out the referendum.”
He said he was certain he held no criminal liability, noting that he was appointed to the referendum commission as a non-partisan member to help make decisions “pertaining to the organization and carrying out of the referendum”.
Petkovic added: “I do not feel guilty, and I believe the commission, as a technical body, did not have the authority to carry out the [constitutional] court’s decisions, and is therefore not responsible for the failure to carry out any decisions.”
Dodik has reportedly been summoned twice to attend hearings with state prosecutors but has responded that he will not be “humiliated” by the “spectacle” of going to answer questions in Sarajevo in the Federation entity, where he says he is not safe.
He has offered to be questioned in Republika Srpska.
Experts in international law said that by calling low-ranking suspects and witnesses, the state prosecutor was going through the motions of pursuing the case – but would face serious problems if it tried to hold any key actors in the referendum process to account.
Bodo Weber, a Balkans analyst specializing in the rule of law, said the state prosecutor’s office has been weakened ever since the decision in 2009 not to extend the role of international prosecutors in organized crime and corruption cases in Bosnia.
Constitutional Court rulings have been repeatedly ignored since then, said Weber, who believed chief prosecutor Goran Salihovic – now suspended due to an investigation against him – had only acted now because the challenge to the Court’s authority was so obvious and public.
“We now have the state prosecution acting on the issue in an environment in which, for almost a decade, it has learned not to act in highly sensitive cases,” said Weber.
Weber said there would be many complex legal issues in this case, including how to choose who, if anybody, to indict.
“Even if somebody high level were indicted, the next question is, would the [State Investigation and Protection Agency], SIPA arrest them?” he asked.
He also recalled that last December the Republika Srpska Interior Ministry abruptly suspended cooperation with the state-level police and court.
Weber also questioned how the state prosecutor could pursue the case when the international community had offered “only words” by way of support in the matter.
“We have seen the West backing down [in recent years],” he said. “The prosecutor’s office is the absolute paradigm of this.”
Zarije Seizovic, a professor of international law at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Sarajevo, said the state prosecution would only be able to pursue the case effectively with full international backing.
“The case will fail if it lacks international community pressure … or a political deal under the international community’s patronage is brokered,” Seizovic said in a written statement.
When asked if the state prosecution was strong enough to pursue the case effectively, he said: “Not strong enough”.
Bosnia’s state prosecution office wrote to BIRN about today’s scheduled hearing saying: “We continue to investigate matters and interview suspects in the further period. We are not in position to publish details related to particular matters.”
Source: Balkan Insight