The UPR: Bosnia & Herzegovina has to improve human rights situation
Late this month Bosnia and Herzegovina was reviewed in Geneva under the Universal Period Review of the UN Human Rights Council. Discrimination, situation of human rights defenders and freedom of expression, status of the national human rights institution, children and women rights, rights of sexual and national minorities, and issues of disabled, internally-displaced and missing persons are some of the issues mentioned. On all these issues, Bosnia and Herzegovina has to improve its situation.
Friday, 26 February 2010, by HRH Sarajevo / Lejla Mazlic & HRHF Geneva office / Florian Irminger
On the afternoon of 17 February 2010, the Working Group for the UPR of the Human Rights Council reviewed the human rights situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H).
In his introductory statement, Dr. Safet Halilovic, B&H Minister of Human Rights and Refugees and head of B&H’s delegation at the UPR, emphasized the full commitment of B&H to international obligations in the field of human rights. He reminded that B&H is perhaps unique because its Constitution is part of a peace treaty known as the Dayton Peace Agreement. The State was established with two asymmetrically arranged entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is extremely decentralized with ten cantons, where each has full legislative power; and another entity, called the Republic of Srpska, which is centralized and legislative powers are only at the entity level. This may be one of the reasons why the process of harmonization of laws with international conventions in B&H is occasionally a very complex one, Dr. Halilovic declared.
However, in its report to the Human Rights Council, the informal B&H coalition for the UPR raised numerous of topics of priority, assessing especially the situation of human rights defenders as alarming.
Protection of human rights defenders and journalists
In B&H there is an escalation of assaults on human rights defenders, said the NGOs in their joint report: cases of violence and death threats, intimidation and silencing attempts, and other attacks against human rights defenders are reality in B&H. The target of assaults are campaigners for the rights of members of sexual minorities as well as the activists engaged against human trafficking. The victims of assaults are also the non-governmental organizations and their activists who deal with investigation of corruption and crime, as well as journalist who are engaged in research journalism, dealing with unlawfulness of any kind. Assaults against journalists and attempts to silence journalists seriously threatens freedom of expression, bringing into question the achieved level of development of democracy. One should stress that family members of the human rights activists are often targeted, which indicates that there is an intention to create a sense of fear and to prevent any thought or act of criticism.
In its report to the UPR, the State recognised that “violation of journalistic rights and freedom of media” were a reality in B&H (in 2008, 54 cases are mentioned by the government in its report) as well as “brutal attacks on journalists” (25 cases). This being said, the government does not provide any action plan to tackle this reality and simply stats that “the issue of freedom of expression reflects all the complexity of B&H society.” Though mentioning the civil society and the will of the government to strengthen the NGO sector, no mention of the situation of human rights defenders is made in the government’s report. The floor statement of the delegation from the government and the representative of the Republic of Srpska do not even mention the threats on human rights defenders and do not give more evidence of action that would be taken by B&H to protect the freedom of media.
However, numerous of delegations raised the situation of human rights defenders and journalists. The Netherlands referred to concerns raised by NGOs on “escalation of assaults on human rights defenders,” mentioning that the “targets being campaigners for the rights of sexual minorities, activists against human trafficking, NGOs and journalists investigating on corruption and crime as well as their family members.”
On this matter, the following important recommendations were made to the government of the Republic of Srpska and the federal government: effectively investigate and prosecute violations against human rights defenders (Norway to the government of the Republic of Srpska); forcefully denounce attacks against human rights defenders and that State authorities give human rights defenders legitimacy and recognition through supportive statements (Norway); To ensure that all assaults on human rights defenders , journalists and their family members are properly investigated and that perpetrators are brought to justice (Netherlands).
Ombudsman and national institution for human rights
In their report, the NGOs recommended to provide all necessary legal and material support to B&H’s Ombudsman as a national institution for human rights. In their report, the NGOs explain that this implies the creation of human and financial preconditions to start implementing the Law on prohibition of discrimination. For the NGOs, strengthening the institution of Ombudsman, as an independent body, as impartial and competent institution will be of enormous importance to the future of human rights in B&H.
The government explained in its presentation at the UPR, previously there was a single Ombudsperson for the State, along with two more Ombuds-institutions, for the respective entities. The Ombuds-entity was abolished, and now the process of unifying these institutions into a single one at state level is in progress. No further comments were made on the ways to guarantee the independence of the Ombuds-office.
Poland and the United Kingdom made clear recommendations on this issue, respectively: provide necessary material support for the Ombudsoffice in order to ensure its effectiveness and independence, and strengthen capacity and improve effectiveness of the state -- level human rights Ombudsoffice, ensuring adherence to the Paris Principles. Slovenia recommended to undertake further activities to improve the situation of the State-level Ombudsmen.
Numerous other issues were also mentioned during the review, especially the question of national minorities, which was in the course of the dialogue mentioned 14 times by states and B&H in its replies. 7 recommendations concern the rights of minorities. The question of sexual minorities was also very often raised by other states: especially Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands raised the rights of lesbian, gays, transsexuals and bi-sexuals, and urged B&H to express a strong commitment to protect and advocate the fundamental human rights of the LGBT communities as equal citizens.
The implementation of international obligations was also a centrepiece of the UPR of B&H, as suggested by the NGOs in their report, adding the necessity to sensitise the people of B&H to human rights. Mexico made a recommendation in that direction, saying that B&H should carry out a standing information campaign to disseminate international obligations regarding international human rights law and international humanitarian law and to intensify the training of law enforcement officials, in order that they be aware of their obligation to apply in practice the principles of these international instruments.
A number of States also used the opportunity to encourage Bosnia and Herzegovina to seek financial and technical assistance from international organizations and other States, to help with efforts at reconstruction and poverty elimination.
HRH Sarajevo / Lejla Mazlic & HRHF Geneva office / Florian Irminger
Full report of the Working Group for UPR of B&H (in English).
The National Report for the UPR of B&H (in English).
The report made by OHCHR (in English).
The report made by OHCHR (in English).
B&H NGO report for UPR (in Bosnian and English).
UPR Report of the Ombudsman's Office for Human Rights in B&H (in Bosnian).
Questions raised by other states to the State of B&H during the UPR (in English).
Questions raised by other states to the state of B&H during the UPR (in English).
Webcast - link to the official webcast of the UPR of B&H;
ISHR Article - Other recommendations made to B&H;
HRH Sarajevo advocating for critical human rights issues - HRH article;
NGOs in B&H critisize the National report - HRH article;
The UPR Project of HRH Sarajevo - Official webpage;
The UPR mechanism - Official website.