Bosnia’s constitutional court temporarily halts Republika Srpska referendum

By bne IntelliNews September 18, 2016

The constitutional court of Bosnia & Herzegovina ruled on September 17 against a request from Republika Srpska’s parliament to review its earlier decision declaring the celebration of Republic Day unconstitutional. The court and temporarily suspended the planned a referendum in the country’s smaller entity. 

A referendum on whether to make January 9 a public holiday in Republika Srpska is due to take place on September 25, seriously raising tensions within Bosnia due to the day’s connection to the entity’s secessionist ambitions. Republika Srpska’s top politicians stated that they would not respect the court’s decision and will continue preparations on the referendum.

The court’s decision further raised tensions in Bosnia and provoked many conflicting reactions.

In a joint statement, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and European Commissioner Johannes Hahn said that Bosnia should respect the court’s decision and act accordingly.

“We encourage the institutions of BiH to resolve this issue and to respect the rule of law through the established legal processes and the existing constitutional framework, and through constructive dialogue. All parties need to abstain from acts which could escalate the situation,” the statement reads.

High Representative Valentin Inzko also called on all parties to respect the constitutional court’s decision, pointing out that the authority of the court is clearly defined in Annex 4 of the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

“The High Representative calls upon the authorities in the RS to refrain from holding a referendum that has no legal basis and would directly violate the decision of the Court. This is not about RS holidays any longer but about directly challenging the State level judiciary,” the Office of the High Representative said in a statement.

It added that challenging the constitutional court’s authority by holding the referendum would constitute a direct and serious violation of the Dayton peace agreement, which will affect the stability of the country.

However, Republika Srpska’s President Milorad Dodik claimed that the referendum would not harm anybody’s interests and is not a provocation.

Dodik told media that the entity will not give up holding the referendum and called on Republika Srpska’s citizens to vote on September 25. Dodik claimed that the constitutional court cannot suspend the parliament’s decision.

“I did not even expect different behaviour from the political body that calls itself a Constitutional Court. With the constant wrong political decisions harming the Serb people, nothing is surprising,” daily Nezavisne Novine quoted Dodik as saying.

Another politician – Mladen Bosic, deputy chairman of the Serb Democratic Party – said that the decision of the constitutional court was “dangerous” and would not contribute to the lowering of tensions.

On September 22, three days ahead of the referendum, Dodik will visit Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin. Although Republika Srpska’s President has said that the visit has been planned for a long time, many analysts say it is related to the referendum. Russia did not support the Peace Implementation Council’s (PIC) August 30 declaration against the referendum.

The statement issued by ambassadors of other PIC countries says that according to the Bosnian Constitutional Act, decisions of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia are final and mandatory and entities are obliged to respect decisions of the Bosnian institutions.

January 9 is the anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic of the Serb People of Bosnia & Herzegovina in 1992, shortly before the outbreak of the Bosnian civil war. At the time Bosnian Serbs claimed their republic was part of Yugoslavia – rather than Bosnia, which had declared its independence the year before.

However, January 9 is also an also an Orthodox religious holiday, the Day of St Stephen, which is not observed by Catholic Croats or Muslim Bosniaks. Last year, Bosnia’s constitutional court decided that the celebration of Republic Day in the entity contains elements of discrimination and should not be held until it meets the criteria of international legislation for human rights.

Earlier in September, Dodik said that the entity would change its law on public holidays so that it meets constitutional requirements. The President said that the law would allow those who do not wish to celebrate a certain holiday not to celebrate it. According to Dodik, this change would make the celebration of January 9 constitutional.

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