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  Annual Report 2001


The year 2001 has been a productive one for the Human Rights Chamber. At the Chamber's 11 sessions held during the year, it issued 358 decisions of which 31 were substantive decisions on admissibility and merits and 3 were decisions on review. The cases decided related to property matters, employment discrimination, religious discrimination, length of proceedings, non-enforcement of court decisions, fair trial, expropriation, missing persons and ill-treatment in detention. Seven public hearings, at which witnesses were heard and evidence was presented, were held in 8 cases involving almost 100 applicants. Fewer applications were registered than in the previous year, but still, on average, the Chamber received 150 applications every month.

The backlog of cases has been steadily rising so that at the end of 2001, the number of registered applications had reached 8,481. That number dramatically increased during the first 4 months of 2002 so that by the end of April the number of applications stood at 10,390. On average, the Chamber issues about 35 decisions at each of its monthly week-long sessions. Unfortunately, the huge gap between applications received and decisions issued each month is not possible to bridge with current resources. But the statistics do not reflect truly the reality of the situation. Several thousands of applications are likely destined for a "standard" strike-out or inadmissibility decision either because the matter already has been resolved e.g., due to progress in the refugee return process, because the Chamber has stated the law in a lead decision addressing the same issue, because of a clear failure to exhaust effective domestic remedies or because the application is manifestly ill-founded. Rather than invest scarce resources in deciding these cases, however, the Chamber has made a conscious decision to prioritize cases alleging discrimination and other severe violations of human rights such as unlawful detention or violations of the principle of fair trial, as well as cases which can serve as a precedent or are particularly important for the promotion of the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The high number of applications to the Chamber are a consequence of several factors: domestic courts are perceived as inefficient and not impartial when dealing with cases involving persons not belonging to the majority group; the Chamber is recognised as an efficient and impartial tribunal whose orders are complied with, albeit under pressure from the international community; and no cost is involved, such as lawyers' fees and court expenses to file an application with the Chamber. The reality is that until the ongoing reform of the judiciary finally takes hold, the Chamber will continue to be perceived as the ultimate guarantor of impartial and independent adjudication of human rights violations.

The year 2001 has been particularly difficult for the judicial system of the Federation: the Constitutional Court of the Federation did not function during most of the year and the Supreme Court lost half its members during the last four months of the year. Relations between the Chamber and the Federation were particularly difficult towards the latter part of the year. The agent of the Federation was strongly critical of certain decisions of the Chamber in the media, trying thus to draw it into the domestic political arena. This kind of behavior from a part of the executive branch is very unusual in democratic societies and is another indication of the pressing need to strengthen the judicial institutions.

The international community has been largely responsible for the progress made in the authorities' compliance rate over the years as no enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance with the Chamber's decisions exists in Annex 6 to the Dayton Peace Agreement. The Federation has continued its trend towards full compliance, although some specific orders are still ignored. The Republika Srpska still executes the Chamber's decisions with great difficulty and mostly under international pressure. Compliance by the State, which was ordered to undertake positive actions in only a few cases due to its limited competence, is non-existent.

Financially, the Chamber has been able to function due mainly to contributions from the international community, as in all previous years. The State, despite its obligation under Annex 6, was unable to spare more than 100,000 KM during the whole year to support the Chamber.

The Chamber's mandate is set to expire at the end of 2003. With this in mind, the Chamber will concentrate its resources on ensuring that the remaining cases it solves will have the greatest impact on the protection of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina.