Despite Pioneering Legal Framework, FOIA in Bosnia and Herzegovina Remains Unavailing

A blog post by Katherine Krahulik, Junior Associate.

The first step in ensuring any one freedom or right in a democratic society is legislating that right into state practice.  However, guaranteeing a right through law is only a guarantee on paper.  In the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina (“Bosnia”), the right to access public information is just that: a guarantee on paper, but not in practice.  There are a number of contributing factors to this dilemma.  Freshly freed from an oppressive communist regime, Bosnia’s incredibly complex legal structure and the corruption that has trickled down have created a legal paradox.

Bosnia earned international accolades for its inclusion of proactive disclosure measures in its Freedom of Information Laws, many of which are lacking in a vast majority of European countries.  Bosnia won the race to legislating government transparency in 2000 when it became the first country in the Balkan region to adopt the Freedom of Access to Information Act.[1]   The country is ranked 58th out of 180 countries in the latest 2020 ranking under the Reporters without Borders Freedom of the Press Index.[2]

However, accessing information that is supposed to be public remains a great difficulty in Bosnia.  There are major holes in the enforcement mechanisms.  At the core of this problem, is the fact that the country lacks a law that will establish the agency that should oversee the development of the information society across the country. [3]  Additionally, many mandated entities fail to provide the requested information in a timely fashion, often rendering the purpose of the information moot.[4]  There are also many organizations that deliver incomplete or irrelevant data. [5]  In Bosnia, most institutions do not comply with the law on free access to information.[6]  Transparency International reported that only 40% of public companies in the Republika Srpska and only 27% of those in the Federation of BiH reply on time; and in 37% of cases the procedure lasts well over a month, although the term provided by law is 15 days.[7]

Although the freedom of information law in Bosnia and Herzegovina is commendable in many ways and joins few countries in proactive legislation, there are still significant barriers to public access to information in the region. Aside from the law, practical flaws in enforcement mechanisms and pitfalls in general information spread throughout the country continue to leave the public high and dry when it comes to accessing vital public information.

[1] Transparency in the Balkans and Moldova (Balkan Investigative Reporting Network 2016), https://balkaninsight.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/transparency-in-the-balkans-and-moldova.pdf.

[2] 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders, https://rsf.org/en/ranking (last visited Mar. 14, 2021).

[3] Amila Akagic and Valentina Pellizzer, Bosnia and Herzegovina 92, 92 (Alan Finlay 2009), http://www.giswatch.org/country-report/20/bosnia.

[4] Ljupko Miseljic, Accessing information in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Freedominfo.org (March 2017), www.freedominfo.org/2017/03/accessing-information-bosnia-herzegovina/.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

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