by Branka KOLAR-MIJATOVIC
It is important to mention that this year Ombudsman's office was approached by a significantly smaller number of persons with requests relating to return of their property abandoned in the war in comparison with previous two years. According to the data provided by the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons the process of return of property is approaching its end. The Human Rights Chamber has also ceased work and the Commission for Human Rights which is officially a part of Bosnia-Hercegovina Constitutional Court has taken over its role. The CRPC commission has also stopped its work, while the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons has taken over some of its duties.
The past year, 2003, was proclaimed for the last year of implementation of property laws. At the end of the year, 97 percent of property related cases were resolved. Nevertheless, at the end of the year, some 3,000 property related requests remained unresolved, while new requests for return of private property were still being submitted, since there is no deadline for submission of that type of requests. However, it must be mentioned that although nearly all property related cases have been resolved, property return was not followed by the return of people. It is obvious that people are not returning to their pre-war homes. Instead, they are either renting or selling their property. The lack of return can be explained by the problem of "sustainable return", which specifies that, according to the European Convention [sic], returnees, besides the right to home also need other conditions for normal life. Above all, the right to jobs. Unfortunately, the whole Bosnia-Hercegovina is affected by that problem. Consequently, it makes sense that all refugees who have managed to establish themselves abroad, get jobs, send their children to universities, do not wish to return to Bosnia-Hercegovina.
At the end of the last year, the Property Control Division of the Supreme Court of Srpska had numerous unresolved property related cases, and some 6,000 families in Srpska still use the so-called alternative accommodation. Srpska and Bosnia-Hercegovina also face the problem of annulment of contracts signed during the war between refugees from Croatia (mostly Serbs) and refugees from Bosnia-Hercegovina (mostly Croats and Bosniaks). Therefore, the process of implementation of property laws hasn't been completed. Given the current situation in connection with property Srpska Ombudsman's office believes that much remains to be done to protect human rights related to property and return in the best possible manner.
Last year, violations of article 6 of the European Convention on just, fair, and timely trials committed by courts in Srpska were the biggest problem. In these cases Ombudsman could not propose general or specific measures given that the process of judicial reform is being run by the international community. However, given the number of unresolved cases in certain courts, as well as the large number of appeals, it is obvious that the judicial reform hasn't produced expected results so far.
Based on the abovementioned facts Ombudsman is not the only institution concluding that much more needs to be done in the area of protection and enjoyment of basic human rights in Srpska and the rest of Bosnia-Hercegovina.
In addition to the abovementioned, lately there have been some doubts regarding three ombudsman offices in B-H. Namely the European Commission Feasibility Study on the negotiating process between B-H and the European Union raised the issue of progress in the area of protection of basic human rights. Item five in that document mentions taking full responsibility for the state ombudsman office and progress in merging of the entity and state ombudsman offices. Consequently the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia-Hercegovina formed a working group that was tasked with finding the most suitable solution. Seeking an answer with assistance of the Council of Europe we reached the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission) which on April 19 of this year offered its opinion that it is necessary to reconstruct the existing institutions in B-H, that the process of merger of institutions should be carried out in a reasonable period, during which three institutions will continue to exist, each one with one ombudsman and two deputies (to preserve the principle of multi-ethnic representation), reduce the number of employees, preserve the best practices currently in use while securing coordination and non-hierarchical relations between institutions.
Since the process of restructuring of the Ombudsman of Srpska was initiated by the decision of the Parliament of Srpska in July 2003, in November 2003 the Draft Changes and Amendments of the law were adopted, while on May 19, 2004, following the conclusions of the Venice Commission, Changes and Amendments of the Srpska Ombudsman Act were adopted in the Parliament. A day later we learned from the media that the Federation Bosnia-Hercegovina had proposed changes of the Federation Bosnia-Hercegovina Constitution that allows transfer of the Federation B-H Ombudsman office to the office of B-H Ombudsman, with assertion that this is one of priorities from the European Commission Feasibility Study for this year in the process of accession of B-H to the European Union. Further, it is emphasized that after the adoption of amendments the next steps will be a Draft law about the merger of state and entity ombudsman offices and abolishment of entity laws regulating ombudsman office. It is unclear if the Parliament of Federation B-H is aware of the OSCE views and conclusions of the Venice Commission, and if the Parliament of Federation B-H, or any other parliament for that matter, has the right to abolish laws in the Republic of Srpska, unless otherwise has been agreed.
It is absurd that Ombudsman as an apolitical institution, which abroad has a specific status and role, in this region became a political issue and that the merger of ombudsman offices became one of the most important conditions for joining the European Union. Given the current status of human rights in B-H one would think that precisely ombudsman offices should contribute to better protection of basic human rights, as is the case in the European Union. Simply unbelievable!
Original headline - "Entitetski ombudsmeni da ili ne?", Issue 63