Civil society organisations to the Ministry of Justice of BiH: Withdraw the Preliminary Draft Law on Freedom of Access to Information for revision

Civil society organisations call on the Ministry of Justice of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Ministry) to withdraw the Preliminary Draft Law on Freedom of Access to Information for revision because it is not in line with international standards and best practices. In some parts, the Preliminary Draft jeopardizes the acquired rights and achievements from the existing Law. The very long list of exceptions or potential restrictions on access to information kept by public authorities, as well as the possibility of extending the deadline (15 days) for acting upon requests for access to information to another 15 days, are also cause for concern.

The Preliminary Draft envisages the Appeals Chamber with the Council of Ministers as the second-instance body in the procedures for exercising the right to access information, which cannot be considered an independent institution with a human rights mandate. The undersigned organisations are also concerned that the Institution of Human Rights Ombudsman has been almost entirely left out of the Preliminary Draft, although it is the only independent institution that has so far monitored the implementation of the Law on Freedom of Access to Information. The Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents in Article 9 stipulates that states should educate public institutions about their responsibilities regarding access to information, as well as teach them how to properly apply the law. In no place does the Preliminary Draft provide for the education of officials and institutions.

Civil society organisations applaud the Ministry’s decision to send the Preliminary Draft for consultations, inviting all participants to provide input at an early stage of drafting regulations, as well as the fact that the Preliminary Draft envisages the so-called proactive transparency or the obligation of public authorities to publish a large amount of information on their official websites and central portal.

Civil society organisations demand that the Ministry consider their proposals when revising the Preliminary Draft, paying particular attention to the following issues:

  • Proactive transparency must not be an impediment to exercising the right to access information on request;
  • Provide legal framework for the education of information officers and all other institutions involved in procedures for exercising the right to access information;
  • Exceptions to information access must be precisely standardized and limited to the protection of a small circle of legitimate values (national security, privacy protection, crime prevention, etc.);
  • A public interest test to determine whether the application of an exception is justified must be elaborated and clearly defined in the Law in order to protect the public interest;
  • Deadlines for acting upon requests for access to information must be short and no further extension of the deadline may be allowed;
  • Law enforcement institutions must be independent and specialized in the area of access to information.

The Law on Freedom of Access to Information is one of the key laws to ensure media and civil freedoms. This law gives journalists, citizens, activists and organisations the ability to monitor the work of public bodies, and any amendments to this regulation must be carefully considered and harmonised with international standards.

Signatory organisations:

Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN)
Transparency International in Bosnia and Herzegovina (TI BiH)
Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIRN BiH)
Association of BH Journalists
Open Society Fund BiH
Civic Advocacy Center/CPI Foundation
Sarajevo Open Centre (SOC)
CA Why not
Foreign Policy Initiative BH (VPI)
Center for the Promotion of Civil Society (CPCD)
Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)