Category Archives: Legislation

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Rule of Law and Access to Justice in BiH-Conference Summary

On 6 June, 2016, Vaša Prava BiH (VPBiH) and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to BiH hosted a forum on Rule of Law and Access to Justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The forum aimed to facilitate dialogue between actors across the spectrum of the justice system in BiH, as well as allow participants from outside BiH to highlight their struggles and successes in implementing effective legal aid procedures outside BiH.

The conference opened with remarks by Mr Emir Prcanović, Executive Director of VPBiH, on the concept of access to justice as a broad commitment towards having ordinary and vulnerable people having their voices heard, exercising their rights, challenging discrimination, and holding decision-makers accountable. Mr. Prcanović highlighted the importance of developing an efficient and harmonized system of legal aid within BiH.

Following Mr. Prcanović‘s opening remarks was a keynote address by Ambassador H.E. Jurriaan Kraak, Ambassador of the Netherlands to BiH. In his speech, Ambassador Kraak emphasized the importance of an effective system of access to justice in ensuring citizens the full enjoyment of their rights and freedom, and acknowledged that “Rule of Law” as a concept cannot be fully implemented unless access to justice is provided to all citizens on fair, impartial basis. Ambassador Kraak also reiterated the support of the Government of the Netherlands in supporting VPBiH’s Project “Strengthening and Promoting the Establishment of Access to Justice in BiH.” Lastly, Ms. Ružica Jukić, from the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina, outlined current practices regarding legal aid in BiH.

The first panel ­–­ Enhancing the Rule of Law and Access to Justice in BiH: Recent Developments – was meant to focus on JSRS Pillar 3 goals and achievements, as well as the draft law on legal aid in BiH. Unfortunately, representatives from the government of BiH failed to attend the conference, including those invited from the Ministry of Justice BiH, the Supreme Court of the Federation of BiH, and the Joint Committee for Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH.

Following, the conversation moved towards international and regional experience in implementing legal aid. Mr. Vladimir Petronijević, from Grupa 484, discussed access to justice and the development of legal aid in Serbia. Following was a presentation by Mr. Dusan Sabić from Open Society Foundation Serbia on access to justice as an aspect of the Sustainable Development Goals. Ms. Elena Georgievska, Macedonian Young Lawyer’s Association, discussed limitations on access to justice in Macedonia. Lastly, by teleconference, Mr. Peter can den Biggelaar, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board in the Netherlands, described the Netherlands’ mixed private-public model of legal aid, and the vital role of balance between protecting rights and providing services.

The final panel focused on how to improve access to justice and facilitate process for people in need of legal assistance.  Mr. Vehid Šehić, Citizens Forum Tuzla, decried the current lack of accountability in the justice system. Ms. Zikreta Ibrahimović, Deputy Representative of BiH before the ECtHR, discussed the role of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and its application in facilitating access to justice. Closing this panel was Mr. Nedim Kulenović, a legal expert at Vaša Prava BiH, who discussed ways with which access to justice can be improved and strengthened in BiH, including by creating a more uniform system of laws to encourage equitable access to justice.

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Analyses of labor legislation in BiH

As of November 2015, the Association “Vaša prava Bosnia and Herzegovina“ has been implementing the project “Reducing Workplace Exploitation and Improving Labour Rights Protection in Bosnia and Herzegovina“ supported by Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.

Six workshops/public discussions were held as part of the project in major cities in BiH (Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, Mostar, Bijeljina and Prijedor). The aim of these debates was to find answers to the ever more present exploitation in the workplace, ensure a more efficient mechanism of protecting the rights of employees, and create the conditions for a long-term improvement of working conditions and a higher living standard for the most disadvantaged population groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These workshops were also an opportunity to exchange experiences related to the implementation of the new legislation. The participation of employees as well as trade union representatives at these workshops/public discussions was absolutely invaluable.

Legal analyses can be downloaded from:

ANALIZA RADNOG ZAKONODAVSTVA U BIH (873)

ANALYSIS OF LABOUR LEGISLATION IN BiH (1365)

At the end of 2015, new labor laws were adopted and entered into force in both entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aside from the obvious significance of such legislation, both laws were adopted by quick legislative procedure with a notable lack of meaningful public discussion or consultations prior to the adoption of said laws. This also resulted in amendments to the law that had just been adopted, mere months after it entered into force in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Association “Vaša prava“(Your Rights) from Bosnia and Herzegovina is particularly well-suited to contribute to the discussion on the new legislation. The Association has been active for 15 years and has 9 offices in both BiH entities where it continues to provide free legal aid to socially disadvantaged groups (citizens of BiH) on issues concerning labor law. This experience is especially important when evaluating the concrete, practical implementation of labor legislation, i.e. how it plays out in the actual employment relationship. Besides the problematic provisions that will be discussed later, the new labor legislation is in many ways also an improvement on previous labour laws. However, one should be careful not to jump to the conclusion that employees now find themselves in a better position in comparison to the last sixteen years when previous labor laws were in force in both entities.  It is clear that no analysis of labor legislation is complete if it focuses solely on the formative level without reflecting on the issues of the implementation itself.

Inconsistent implementation of previous legislation was the cause of many violations of labour rights which often took the form of exploitation. This was primarily manifested in the widespread phenomenon of illegal employment (employment without an employment contract), frequently unpaid overtime work, work on days statutorily defined as non-working, work during state or religious holidays, depriving employees of their right to annual leave, irregular pay checks accompanied by the practice of the employer taking back half of the paid salary, failing to pay benefits, the employees being afraid to take sick leave, and frequent exposure to non-physical abuse in the workplace (harassment), and exposure to arbitrary punishments for alleged transgressions, i.e. violation of work rules. The low level of labour legislation and the long court procedures in cases when citizens chose to protect their rights through the court, together with the dire economic and social situation, often forced employees to consent to exploitatory working conditions since they believed there is no way out. Unfortunately, the experience of the Association “Vaša prava of Bosnia and Herzegovina“ has shown that the adoption of new labor laws in Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina has yet to bring about meaningful change to reduce or eliminate the prevalent and systematic exploitation of employees in the workplace.  In fact, some aspects of the new legislation could very well reinforce it

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Workshops and public debates on labour rights in BiH