Report Criticizes Proposed FOI Amendments for Bosnia

7 June 2013

Proposed amendments to the Law on Freedom of Access to Information of Bosnia and Herzegovina would exclude large volumes of information from the right of access to information, according to the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“The poorly drafted and ill-considered amendments would shut down access to information needed for monitoring public spending and the administration of justice, would limit the work of civil society organisations, and would hamper investigations by journalists,” said Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe, who prepared the analysis, available here.

“These amendments could severely restrict access to information in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Several provisions being put forward are not in line with international standards on access to information laws,” according to a letter by OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovi? Mijatovi?.

Article 8.2 in the draft amendments would restrict access to data such as spending of public funds on healthcare and copies of court decisions, they said. One excerpt:

The proposed new Article 8.2, however, has a convoluted structure by which it exempts some information from the restriction on grounds of privacy but then sets up exceptions to this, which in effect mandatorily removes significant quantities of information from the public domain.

 In effect, the mandatory exceptions include:

– Use of public funds for social welfare, healthcare and unemployment benefits;

– Any information about performance of public office holders which does not fall under a narrow list (income, property and conflict of interest of public office holders and their relatives, as detailed under the law which deals with prevention of conflict of interest);

– All court decisions which are not included in a limited list of “cases of public interest” (“war crimes, organised crime, corruption, terrorism, tax evasion and other cases which represent cases of public interest”) as well as potentially other information about court cases while proceedings are on-going or after decisions have been reached;

– Possibly, any data about public employees which is not simply their first name, last name and title.

The information potentially excluded under this provision on the grounds that it contains personal data is all information of great public importance. Particularly broad is the exclusion of information about spending of public funds on social welfare and healthcare: this definition covers much information which is not personal data and in which there is a clear public interest.

Darbishire was a member of the Commission of Experts which drafted Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first original Law on Freedom of Access to Information in 2000.

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