The intention of RS Government, regarding our decision on residence in Republika Srpska, was not to deprive any ethnic group or population of any rights, but to put more order into the system and OHR can’t intervene against this decision – Željka Cvijanović, the prime minister of RS, has stated in Banja Luka today.
“This decision cannot be repealed by the High Representative. He can’t even repeal laws, let alone decisions”, Cvijanović has stated.
Republika Srpska Government’s Decision on conducting checkups of accuracy and truthfulness of data in the application of residence in Republika Srpska, has caused quite a stir in Bosnian public. It was also condemned by several representatives of the international community and the OHR characterized it as “worrying”. After this decision has been adopted, several public calls for Valentin Inzko to repeal it have also been placed. Asked about this issue, RS Prime Minister Željka Cvijanović claimed that this decision can’t be repealed by the OHR and, moreover, that there is no valid reason to take such a step.
These claims, however, are not quite grounded. First and foremost, according to powers granted to the High representative by the Dayton Peace Accords (Article V, Annex 10), the OHR does have a right to make legally binding decisions, whenever it is deemed necessary for implementation of General Framework Agreement for Peace in BiH. These powers were reaffirmed at the Bonn meeting of Peace Implementation Council in 1997.
Moreover, the “Bonn powers” have already been used several times to repeal adopted laws and legal acts in BiH. In Republika Srpska, for instance, The Law on privatisation of state owned apartments – which, just as the residency law, is of special concern to the returnees – has been suspended by the High Representative, Wolfgang Petritsch, as early as 2000. In 2004, High Representative Paddy Ashdown has repealed The Law on pardon in BiH, while the acting High Representative, Valentin Inzko, repealed the Conclusions of the Republika Srpska National Assembly in 2009.
Therefore, with the existing examples of using “the final authority in theater” by more than one High Representative in BiH, it is clear that statements of Željka Cvijanović on OHR’s inability to repeal laws and decisions, is not true.
But this is not the only disputable statement that Cvijanović has made on this topic. Aside from the false claim on OHR’s law-repealing powers, she had also stated that this decision is not in breach with anyone’s rights. However, the course of events regarding this decision’s adoption proves otherwise.
The legislative process on residency regulation came as an aftermath to RS Government’s previous activities, related primarily to the local elections in Srebrenica in 2012. After the launch of the civic initiative “I’m voting for Srebrenica” campaign, aimed to encourage the returnee citizens to use their constitutional right to vote in this municipality, the RS Ministry of internal affairs (MUP RS) started conducting residency “verifications” on returnees. These raids resulted in numerous reports being filed by RS police against the “unverified” citizens, mostly Bosniak returnees. However, the cases which have so far reached court trials have been repealed by the courts in Srebrenica and Bijeljina, and MUP RS has thus far not been able to prove that any of the “suspects” had conducted any legal offence. In 17 of these cases, MUP RS itself has stopped the court procedure, for the presumed lack of evidence, or, rather, the unlawfulness of the residency checkups as such.
Speaking of rights of returnees, safe return has been a subject of one of SNSD’s preelection promises, which was fundamentally broken when the practice of illegal police “checkups” of residency of the returnees in Republika Srpska was established.
After the court practice made it unambiguously clear that there were no legal grounds for “residency checkups”, the activities to legalize this practice were set in motion, first on the state level, and then in the RS Government and National Assembly.
The Law on Amendments to the Law on residence and abode of BiH proposal has been adopted by the Council of ministers and sent into the parliamentary procedure in July 2013. After much heated discussion in both the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH and the public, this process has come to a halt in Parliament’s House of Peoples, since Bosniak delegates expressed disagreement with the proposed law. As Halid Genjac, a delegate in the Parliament’s HoP has recently confirmed, this proposal will most probably not be put on the agenda of HoP’s next session, scheduled for April 29th.
When it became clear that this procedure will not follow through as planned, the RS Minister of internal affairs, Radislav Jovičić, proposed that this law be adopted on the entity level. The proposal law was adopted on RS Government’s 51th session, with the official statement that “the failure to adopt the Law on Residence and Abode of Citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as one of crucial legal acts which enables citizens to exercise their rights granted by the Constitution, led to uncertainty and legal insecurity”, which was given as a ground that established a need for such a law to be passed in Republika Srpska. It was also stated that the reason to further regulate the residency legislature, lays in the fact that many citizens are registering residence at non-existing addresses, or “at the BiH institutions’ or religious buildings’ addresses, behind the last street number, which leads to frequent abuses.”
The RS Government has stated that the new law would make it obligatory to submit “evidence” in order to sign up residency in RS, such as a contract for apartment purchase, contract of employment, or a (rather confusing) contract with the employer claiming that the person will be residing on a specific address.
The law proposal has been sent into the entity parliament in urgent procedure, but it was accepted as a draft law and consequently returned into the regular procedure. After that, The RS Government went ahead and adopted the Decision on residency verifications on its own.
There is little doubt that attempts to legalize the practice of returnee’s residency checkups, which has already been disputed by several courts in RS, is directly in breach of rights of returnees in Republika Srpska and Annex VII of Dayton Peace Accords. It is, therefore, clear that RS Prime Minister Cvijanović’s statement that RS Government’s Decision on conducting checkups of accuracy and truthfulness of data in the application of residence in Republika Srpska is not in breach of anyone’s rights, can also be rated as a false one.