The United Nations, the OSCE Mission, the Council of Europe and the EU Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina are dismayed that the Republika Srpska National Assembly today re-criminalized defamation.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right and a fundamental European value. This move contravenes the international human rights commitments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and is inconsistent with its European path as it is not in line with the 14 key priorities of the European Commission’s Opinion, in particular key priority 11 on an enabling environment for civil society, and key priority 12 on the freedom of expression.
Where criminal defamation laws exist, they risk being misused against journalists, human rights defenders and other civil society actors for performing their legitimate role to investigate and inform the public on issues public interest, which is fundamental for the functioning of any democratic society. The amendments represent a regrettable and undeniable major step backwards in the protection of fundamental rights and undermine the effective functioning of democracy in the RS.
We also recall the recommendations that were provided by United Nations, OSCE and Council of Europe bodies and human rights mechanisms which urged the Republika Srpska authorities not to recriminalize defamation and instead manage issues around defamation through improved media regulation and civil legislation. We also recall similar appeals made by civil society organizations, including journalists associations.
We will continue to provide our full support to any constructive and substantive discussion or process on how to further align legislation across Bosnia and Herzegovina with international human rights standards to which the country is legally bound. We will also pursue our active support to the important work of responsible and independent media actors and organizations in Republika Srpska and beyond.