CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
H.R. 5139 is expected to be considered on the floor of the House on Wednesday, May 19, 2010, under a motion to suspend the rules, requiring a two-thirds vote for passage. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) on April 26, 2010. The Committee on Foreign Affairs reported the bill by voice vote on April 28, 2010.
H.R. 5139 would allow the President to extend the privileges and immunities of the International Organizations Immunities Act (IOIA), to the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia and the International Civilian Office (ICO) in Kosovo to help protect U.S. diplomats from politically motivated lawsuits. Under current law, international organizations and their employees that enjoy such privileges and immunities are exempt from paying property taxes, customs duties, and taxes on imports, and from certain judicial proceedings.
The President may freely extend IOIA protections to organizations in which the U.S. participates by treaty or Act of Congress. Because these two offices do not clearly fit those situations, this legislation would provide clear statutory authority to do so. IOIA immunity is not as extensive as the personal immunity conferred by diplomatic immunity, but will protect OHR and ICO employees from suit relating to their official acts for those offices. The President may revoke IOIA immunities at any time.
These protections have become important because of concerns about politically motivated retribution against US diplomats deployed to the OHR and ICO. For example, in order to enforce the provisions of the Dayton Accords, the OHR found it necessary to remove obstructive politicians from office and freeze certain individual bank accounts. As a result of such actions by the OHR, the Bosnian Serb entity has filed lawsuits in the U.S. against former OHR personnel.
The OHR was created under the 1995 "Dayton Peace Accords" and works with Bosnian leaders and the international community to ensure full implementation of the Accords' provisions by the Bosnian government and its constituent Bosnian-Croat and Serbian entities. The ICO was called for by Kosovo's Declaration of Independence.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the net cost effects "would be insignificant over the 2010-2020 period."