Bosnia-Herzegovina: Ashdown's proposal to abolish Human Rights Chamber leaves citizens unprotected

The proposal would be a serious blow to human rights protection in that country, the human rights organisation declared.

Amnesty International also warned that the European Court for Human Rights could become overloaded as Bosnian citizens are forced to seek redress in Europe.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'The Human Rights Chamber plays a crucial role in redressing human rights abuses in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It stands as a model internationally.

'With over 10,000 cases pending and 200 more received every week, the Chamber is acting as a last and possibly only avenue of justice in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

'It is highly questionable whether the Constitutional Court, which has not functioned for over a year due to problems in appointing judges, would offer the same level of protection as the Chamber. The whole judicial system is still undergoing comprehensive reform.'

The Chamber has issued ground-breaking decisions on cases of unresolved 'disappearances', where relatives of the 'disappeared' were denied information on their fate and whereabouts. The Chamber has also dealt with appeals concerning unfair proceedings in trials of war-related crimes and an increasing number of cases of employment discrimination.

Paddy Ashdown (High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina) will today present a proposal that would disband the Chamber on 31 December 2003. At present the Chamber consists of a panel of domestic and international jurists and has jurisdiction to address cases of human rights violations. Its decisions are binding.

If the Chamber is disbanded, thousands of Bosnians may try to find redress through the European Court for Human Rights, which will not be able to review their cases for many years if at all. The European Court is already unable to deal with its current caseload in a timely manner and the Council of Europe is in the process of implementing proposals recently adopted by the Committee of Ministers, which would cut off redress currently available to applicants.

Kate Allen added: 'This unique mandate of the Chamber has enabled it to consider issues relating to human rights violations specific to the context of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where discrimination has been widespread and access to justice minimal.'

Amnesty International urges the international community's decision makers to comply with the Dayton Peace Agreement and the Constitution which call for the international components of the Chamber to be replaced by people appointed by the President of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Background

On 12 June the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Paddy Ashdown will present a proposal expanding on the provisions of the Dayton Peace Agreement regarding the Chamber to the Peace Implementation Council (PIC).

The PIC is an intergovernmental body consisting of over 55 countries and agencies, which monitors progress in the implementation of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Dayton peace Agreement).

It is envisaged that the PIC will endorse the proposal, which reportedly provides that the Chamber will stop receiving new application by the end of July, will cease to function at the end of this year and that its caseload be transferred to the Constitutional Court.

The Human Rights Chamber was created under the Dayton Peace Agreement as part of the Human Rights Commission for Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has jurisdiction to address cases of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and violations of a range of other human rights treaties.

The Dayton Peace Agreement provided that five years after the signing of the Agreement, responsibility for the continued operation of the Commission, including the Chamber, would transfer from the parties to the Agreement to Bosnian institutions (Annex 6, Article 15).

On 5 June, the Chamber issued an Opinion, in which it challenged the proposal by the Office of the High Representative, arguing that the suggested disbanding of the Chamber and transfer of cases to the Constitutional Court would violate the Dayton Peace Agreement and the Bosnian Constitution.

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