Impact of participatory monitoring and assessment of the BiH Justice Sector Reform Strategy 2014-2018 (JSRS) on policy making processes

Overall objective

Overall objective of the project is to influence the policy making process within the justice sector in BiH, thereby ensuring a more efficient and sustainable implementation of the Justice Sector Reform Strategy 2014 – 2018 (JSRS).

Project goal(s)

In order to achieve the overall objective, Vasa prava BiH expects to achieve the following goals:

Goal 1:            To establish a platform of civil society organizations for systematic monitoring and assessment of the implementation of the JSRS and a policy dialogue with the key justice sector stakeholders on the reform measures and activities;

Goal 2:            To assess the effectiveness of cooperation and coordination between the executive branch of the government, the judiciary and the civil society organizations in the decision making process.

Project rationale: 

As an important step on the European integration path, the justice sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is undergoing structural reforms intended to further enhance the rule of law. The first comprehensive Justice Sector Reform Strategy (JSRS) 2009 – 2013 aimed to create a framework to reform the justice sector institutions in BiH through agreed priorities for their future development and realistic reform actions. However, aggravated political and economic situation in BiH, insufficient human and financial resources in combination with inefficient horizontal and vertical coordination of the sector, meant that the timely and consistent implementation of the JSRS was not achieved. Only programmes and activities considered less politically sensitive received attention, resulting in very limited overall progress monitored by 6 civil society organizations.

After the first JSRS expired in 2013, the key justice stakeholders started the process of drafting a new strategy within the framework of the Structured Dialogue on Justice. The new JSRS was to cover the period 2014 – 2018 and include reform measures aimed at, amongst others, harmonizing the criminal justice system, strengthening the efficiency, independence, accountability and professionalism of the judiciary, guaranteeing access to justice and fostering economic growth in BiH. However, the adoption process of the new Strategy was stalled due to general lack of consensus between the different government layers. At the core of the problem were diametrically opposed stances of political office holders in BiH over the status, organization, structure, jurisdiction and sustainability of justice sector institutions. This open political resistance put all envisaged crucial reforms on hold, redirecting attention to exhaustive debates with the representative from Republika Srpska whose goal was to undo many previous reforms and return to the previous state of affairs.

Thus, with a delay of almost 2 years, the new JSRS was finally adopted in September 2015. Following the belated adoption of the JSRS, the competent authorities were immediately faced with another problem – the accompanying Action Plan with concrete activities linked to the reform measures from the Strategy had a timeline that ran for five (5) years while the actual implementation timespan was reduced to three (3) years. In 2016, the BiH Ministry of Justice initiated amendments to the timeline with the BiH Council of Ministers that failed to gather support without prior approval of the entity ministries of justice.

This has, for the time being, left the BiH justice sector without a comprehensive set of concrete actions with clear indicators and responsible institutions needed to achieve tangible results. In this interbellum, the implementation tempo of the reform measures from the JSRS leaves a lot to be wished for. Additionally, unlike with the previous JSRS that was monitored by a group of civil society organizations, including Vasa prava BiH, there is no participatory oversight mechanism in place to monitor the level and the sustainability of the achievements. There is no unbiased participatory assessment of possible shortcomings as well as inconsistencies in the level of implementation of the different JSRS pillars or the overall coherence and the efficiency of the created policy framework.

As of 2016, Vasa Prava BiH has remained the only CSO still actively involved in JSRS implementation monitoring and reporting, especially under the Pillar 3 – Access to Justice. Being the leader in this field, Vasa prava BiH will use this position to gather a group of civil society organizations with a long history record of involvement with the justice sector in order to establish a similar participatory monitoring and assessment mechanism for the JSRS 2014 – 2018 and its Action Plan.