Bosnian Serb leader cancels referendum on war crimes court

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[JURIST] Milorad Dodik [official profile, in Serbian], president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, Republika Srpska [official website], announced on Friday that he has cancelled a referendum on the legality of the war crimes court that was set to take place next month. The referendum would have gauged support amongst citizens of Republika Srpska for the federal judiciary as well as the international envoy [Reuters report]. Proponents of the referendum insist that the judiciary is biased against Serbs in war crimes cases. Critics of the referendum questioned its legality, arguing that it is a violation of the Dayton Accords [materials], which separated Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) into two entities—Republika Srpksa is a mostly Serbian entity, and the Bosniak-Croat Federation is composed of mostly Muslims and Croats. Opponents argued that allowing only one region to determine the validity of a national system is illegal and would lead to increased ethnic tensions [Bloomberg report]. Dodik canceled the referendum in light of assurances made by Vice President of the European Commission Catherine Ashton [official profile] that the EU would review the judiciary [BBC report].

The War Crimes Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina [official website] was established in 2005 to reduce the caseload of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website]. In March, the court confirmed the indictment of a former police officer for genocide [JURIST report] for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre [JURIST news archive]. In January, the court sentenced a Muslim commander to 10 years in prison [JURIST report], overturning a 2008 acquittal regarding his failure to prevent the deaths of four prisoners in his custody and participating in their inhumane treatment. In December, the court convicted four former Bosnian Serb policemen [JURIST report] of killing at least 150 civilians during the 1992-1995 Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archive].

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