Election of Politically Suitable Prosecutors Undermines Rule of Law
With regard to the statement made by the Minister of Justice, Nikola Selaković, that prosecutors who are politically suitable for the Government of the Republic of Serbia should be elected in the new election process, human rights organizations emphasize that such an application of political criteria without any doubt represents a violation of the constitutionality and legality of the prosecutors’ election process; and demand the dismissal of the Minister of Justice and repetition of the prosecutors’ election procedure.
According to the agenda of the December 21st, 2015 session, the Republic of Serbia National Assembly was supposed to elect 55 prosecutors, including the Prosecutor for War Crimes. A new Prosecutor for War Crimes has not been elected, because none of the six candidates won the necessary majority of votes.
|Statement by the Minister of Justice:
“I would be a complete political masochist if I permitted those who are entirely unsuitable politically for the Government to be elected. However, the principle criterion is still professional qualification for the execution of the prosecutorial duties.”
According to the Law on Public Prosecution, the State Prosecutors’ Council proposes candidates for the election of public prosecutors to the Government of the Republic of Serbia, following which the Government, which is authorized to nominate candidates, makes the final nomination of candidates to be elected as public prosecutors by the National Assembly. The Prosecutors’ Association of Serbia has criticized the profiles of the candidates nominated by the Government even before the session of the National Assembly in question was held, pointing out that the Government’s nomination criteria are unclear and that the list of nominated candidates does not necessarily include those candidates who were evaluated as the most professional, most capable, and most honourable.
|Law on Public Prosecution: „All forms of influence by the executive and the legislative authorities on the work of the public prosecution and its activity in cases, attempted by using public office, the public information media and any other means, which may threaten the independence of the work of a public prosecution, is prohibited”.|
During the Assembly session, members of the Parliament criticized the Government nominations, referring to the lack of clear criteria for the election of public prosecutors, and thus pointing to possible unlawful political impacts.
The Minister of Justice, Nikola Selaković, responded to this criticism by an explicit statement acknowledging that the Government did indeed apply unlawful political criteria when nominating candidates for election as prosecutors: “I would be a complete political masochist if I permitted those who are entirely unsuitable politically for the Government to be elected. However, the principle criterion is still professional qualification for the execution of the prosecutorial duties.”
By such actions, the Minister of Justice of the Republic of Serbia has violated the constitutional guarantees of the autonomy of the public prosecution and the guarantee of their independence in the execution of their duties.
The European Commission pointed to the violation of the autonomy and independence of the Prosecutor’s Office occurring in the process of the election of prosecutors in its 2015 Serbia Progress Report by stating: “There is scope for political interference in the recruitment and appointment of judges and prosecutors .“ The European Commission particularly pointed to the pressure on the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor: “Political pressure undermining the work of the War Crimes Prosecution Office is an issue of concern”. The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and the local expert public have already been obliged to react during 2015 regarding political attacks addressed against the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor.
The application of unconstitutional and unlawful political criteria in the election of prosecutors by the Government, and by the Minister of Justice in particular, point to the fact that the prosecutors’ election process has been seriously discredited. For this reason, human rights organizations demand that the Minister of Justice be dismissed and the election procedure for prosecutors be repeated, and conducted in accordance with constitutional and legal standards.
Humanitarian Law Center
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
Youth Initiative for Human Rights
Belgrade Centre for Human Rights
The Network of the Committees for Human Rights in Serbia
YUCOM – Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights
Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina