By Daria Sito-sucic
President of Republika Srpska (Serb Republic) Milorad Dodik waves as he attends Serb Republic national holiday, banned by the constitutional court, in East Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, January 9, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo.
SARAJEVO, June 27 (Reuters) - Lawmakers in Bosnia's autonomous Serb Republic voted on Tuesday to suspend rulings by Bosnia's constitutional court, a move described by experts as a "legal secession" that is set to deepen political divisions in the volatile Balkan country.
The region's separatist pro-Russian President Milorad Dodik, who has long criticised the court for having foreign judges on board, initiated the vote after the court last week decided to change the rules to be able to convene sessions and make decisions without Serb judges.
The Serb Republic lawmakers agreed that the decisions and acts of the constitutional court would not be implemented on their territory until a nationwide law on the court had been adopted by the national parliament.
The lawmakers also agreed that Serb representatives in state institutions would not take part in any talks on reforms needed for Bosnia's integration into the European Union until the constitutional court had been reformed and the office of an international peace overseer had been closed down.
Following its war in the 1990s, Bosnia was split into two autonomous regions, the Serb Republic and the Federation shared by Bosniaks and Croats, which are linked via a weak central government.
The 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the war established the constitutional court with exclusive jurisdiction to decide any dispute that arises between the entities, between the state and the entities or between state institutions.
Three of the nine court members are appointed by the president of the European Court of Human Rights and six by regional parliaments.
The Serb Republic parliament, which appoints two Serb judges to the court, has failed to nominate a new candidate to fill a vacancy, while Dodik and his allies have called on the remaining Serb judge to withdraw from the court, which they say has acted against Serb interests.
"This is a biased, inquisition court ... which has violated the constitution in a number of cases," Dodik told the parliament.
Dodik, who has long called for the secession of his region from Bosnia, announced that he might also seek to suspend the work of Bosnia's state court, prosecution and the state police agency SIPA in the Serb Republic.
"This is a long announced legal secession in Bosnia and Herzegovina," said Nedim Ademovic, a constitutional law expert, adding the move would trigger the "deepest crisis since the Dayton peace deal".
The envoy, German former government minister Christian Schmidt, had said the vote would represent the attack on Bosnia's constitutional order and constitute a serious violation of the Dayton agreement.
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