The assembly of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, has voted on Wednesday to hold a referendum on confidence in the country's state justice system and in the authority of High Representative to Bosnia.
Out of 76 deputies present, 45 voted in favor while 31 abstained. The referendum will be held in mid-September.
Voters will be asked whether they support the “anti-constitutional and unauthorized laws imposed by the High Representative of the international community, especially the laws imposed relating to the Court and the Prosecutor's office of Bosnia and Herzegovina”.
“I guarantee that the referendum will be held and conducted,” President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik said after the vote.
In his introductory speech when he proposed the decision to the assembly, he explained the importance of the referendum for the entity.
“This is about whether we are going to go the way of preserving the constitution and defending our international right, or the way of degrading Republika Srpska,” Dodik said.
The Bosnian Serb President said they sought no more than “respect for the Dayton Peace Accords and the clear distinction between the constitutional authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska”.
During his assembly speech, Dodik spoke also about the cost of state institutions, saying they cost Republika Srpska millions of euro but worked against the constitutional position of Republika Srpska. He criticized the international community for its involvement in this.
Arguing that the state judiciary was against the interests of Republika Srpska, Dodik said that the department for war crimes focused mainly on trying Serbs.
Dodik said that while the state prosecution charged Serbs with genocide and crimes against humanity under the principle of command responsibility, “the few Bosniaks that have been charged with war crimes have been indicted for individual actions, and not under [the principle of] command responsibility”.
He went on to say that the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina since its formation had cost 130 million marks [66 million euro] in all and had cost Republika Srpska 43 million karks [22 million euro]. "This money was used for hunting people in Republika Srpska,” he claimed.
Dodik has floated the idea of holding of a referendum on the powers of the Office of the High Representative since 2006, mostly for election purposes.
It comes after the arrest on June 10 in Switzerland on Serbia's demand of Naser Oric, the former Bosnian Army commander of Srebrenica.
Instead of being extradited to Serbia, however, the Swiss extradited him to Bosnia on the request of the Bosnian authorities who said Bosnia's state prosecution had a case against him.
The atmosphere in Bosnia has been additionally heated up in the past month by the failed attempt to put a UN resolution on Srebrenica to the Security Council - which Russia vetoed - and by the attack on Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic in the town, where stones and water bottles were thrown at him.
Dodik launched a similar initiative about the state judiciary in 2011, which EU officials prevented and negotiated a peaceful resolution by initiating judicial reform in Bosnia.
The head of the EU delegation to Bosnia, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, and diplomats from the US, the UK, France, Germany and Italy traveled to Banja Luka on Monday to emphasize their shared opposition to the referendum.
“We recognize and agree that there are significant problems with the court and prosecutorial system in BiH at all levels, including at the state level,” the joint statement said.
“We are deeply concerned that the proposed referendum would represent an unconstitutional attempt not to reform but to undermine and weaken those authorities, and would thus pose a direct threat to the sovereignty and security of the country as a whole. This cannot be tolerated,” they added.
The Peace Implementation Council, PIC, which comprises ambassadors of several foreign countries, also said the announced referendum would represent a fundamental violation of the 1995 peace deal that ended the war in Bosnia.
Vukota Govedarica, an opposition MP in Republika Srpska, said Dodik's decision to hold a referendum was paradoxical as he took part in the adoption of laws establishing the state judicial institutions back in the time when he wished to be a partner of the international community.