Civil society organizations, gathered in the Initiative for Monitoring the European Integration of BiH, warn of the shortcomings of the Draft Law on Freedom of Access to Information of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was adopted by the Council of Ministers of BiH at the 9th session on April 12, 2023. This proposal in some parts threatens the acquired rights and achievements from the existing Law and is not in accordance with international standards and practices.
The adopted Proposal would significantly organize access to information of public interest, given that it contains a long list of exceptions or possible restrictions on access to information held by public authorities. The proponent of this law turned the European standard of open and free access to public information into an exception, not a rule, which in practice could lead to the impossibility of accessing a large amount of information of public importance. With this, the Ministry of Justice of Bosnia and Herzegovina tried to replicate the model from the Republic of Croatia, where, unlike BiH, the independent institution of the Commissioner was established. By expanding the list of exceptions in access to public information and without additional guarantees for the application of exceptions, the application of the right to access to public information could worsen even compared to the current situation.
The decision that the Appeals Council at the Council of Ministers of BiH assumes the role of a second-level authority for all special administrative procedures of access to information at the state level is also worrying, and this decision needs to be further considered. It is common knowledge that the Council of Ministers had delays in its work and functioning, which was directly reflected in the stagnation of procedures, the violation of deadlines, and therefore the violation of human rights. At the same time, extensions of the deadlines for making a second-level decision (up to 90 days) are not acceptable in cases where it is necessary to consider the test of public interest.
The undersigned organizations are also concerned that the adopted Proposal, instead of strengthening, diminishes the role of the Institution of Human Rights Ombudsman of BiH, even though this is the only independent institution that has so far monitored the implementation of the Law on Freedom of Access to Information. On the other hand, the Proposal envisages that the Appeals Council at the Council of Ministers of BiH, in addition to the role of a second-level body, also has the mandate to propose to the institutions to take measures to improve the application of the right to access to information.
The members of the Initiative for Monitoring the European Integration of BiH note with regret that the Ministry of Justice of BiH ignored over 200 proposals and comments submitted by civil society organizations and other interested parties during the consultation on changes to the law in 2021. It is also indicative that the proponent did not accept the suggestions or opinions of the competent institutions of the European Commission and SIGMA regarding the formation of a new independent body that would perform inspection supervision over the implementation of this law and at the same time be a second instance body for appeals against decisions on access to information.
In this example, the institutions failed another test of openness to the proposals of relevant actors in order to find quality solutions. After two years of waiting, this Proposal was pulled out of the drawer and unanimously adopted by the Council of Ministers, despite earlier criticisms, with the recommendation that the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH consider this proposal by abbreviated procedure.
The members of the Initiative are preparing amendments to the adopted Draft Law in order to improve it and harmonize it with international standards. At the same time, we invite representatives and delegates in the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH, the media, the professional public and citizens to join the discussion on the Draft Law on Freedom of Access to Information and to, using their powers and expertise, contribute together to the adoption of quality solutions in accordance with the EU standards.
Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIRN BiH)
Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN)
Youth Center “KVART”
Center for Civil Society Promotion (CPCD)
Forum ZDF BiH
Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Banja Luka
Youth Initiative for Human Rights in BiH (YIHR BiH)
Kali Sara – Roma Information Center
Sarajevo Open Center (SOC)
Transparency International in BiH (TI BiH)
Association of Citizens “Sharp Zero”
Association of Citizens “Tolerance towards Diversity” (ToPeeR)
Association Network for Building Peace
Association Transitional Justice, Responsibility and Remembrance in Bosnia and Herzegovina (TPOS)
Association BH Journalists
Foreign Policy Initiative BH (VPI BH)