BiH fails to fully implement its international obligations
Although the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina has committed itself on numerous international documents regarding the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, on the last UPR session in June this year, on the adoption of the UPR report for BiH, out of 125 recommendations made by UN body, BiH accepted only 26 of them.
Thursday, 22 July 2010
At the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in February of this year the Minister for Human Rights and Refugees of BiH, Safet Halilovic, emphasized the full commitment of BiH to its international obligations in the field of human rights. The BiH delegation emphasized the states constant efforts to ensure that certain issues involving human rights are regulated via the adoption of appropriate legislation, but also through the adoption and immediate implementation of international treaties, both multilateral and bilateral.
Upon the adoption of the UPR Report for BiH in Geneva last month, 125 recommendations were addressed. However the state of BH only fully accepted 26 of them, partially accepting 58 recommendations and rejecting 46.
- Freedom of expression and press
At the UPR, the reviewing states conveyed their appreciation regarding the acceptance of regulations regarding press freedom in BiH. Nevertheless, they also emphasized continuing concern regarding press freedom in the country. For instance, in 2009 the Bosnian journalist association free media helpline registered 40 cases of alleged violations of journalists’ rights, including threats and/or pressure from government law enforcement officials. This trend continues in 2010.
Some media outlets have challenged the authority of the press council, a self-regulatory body for print media, and have tried to influence its work. Credible experts report that the political pressure on state level broadcast media continues. Also, few media outlets in the Republika Srpska (RS) that retained editorial regulatory independence, continue to report government interference.
Support for those recommendations made in regards to strengthening the communications regulatory agency (CRA) was also underlined, since the independence of CRA is regularly challenged on political grounds. This is particularly worrying since the CRA of BiH is the sole regulator of communications at the BiH state level and its authority extends across all aspects of communication in BiH.
At the UPR the state of BiH referred to the independence of the media and freedom of expression and more specifically the autonomy of the Communications Regulatory Agency, emphasizing the private ownership that is commonplace and the little room that is left for discussions regarding possible threats to freedom of speech and reporting. The BiH delegation also added that the Law on Communications regulates the issue of the structure and management of the Communications Regulatory Agency as an independent regulatory body, although it was recently brought under political control by placing it in the category of administrative units.
Another significant issue in BiH regarding freedom of speech is the use of hate-speech in the media and public life in general. One of the UPR recommendations for BiH entailed the strict application of criminal provisions for hate-speech and hate-crimes, and conduct awareness-raising campaigns to promote tolerance. Those rejected recommendations reflected the absence of willingness by the BiH authorities to completely commit to consistent punishment, and furthermore attempts at ‘criminalization’ are undermined. Moreover this reveals the absence of a real appreciation of the consequences of such acts.
“The discourse which stirs up ethnic and religiously motivated hatred has to be recognized and therefore this position of authority in BiH does not make promising efforts and attempts to calm the ethnic tensions and remove their basic causes’’, says Srdjan Dizdarevic, the president of the Board of the HRH Sarajevo.
- Human Rights Defenders
Assaults against journalists seriously and continuously threaten freedom of expression in BiH. These violations are aimed at silencing the investigative journalism that deals with politically sensitive information and challenges the status quo. Consequently, the situation of human rights defenders and journalists in BiH was highlighted during the UPR session. NGOs expressed their concern regarding the “escalation of assaults on human rights defenders,” particularly “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.”
Despite all of the allegations made by NGOs and state delegations alike at the UPR session, the RS entity government stated at the adoption of the UPR report that in the reporting period RS police had not recorded any cases of violence against human rights defenders. Thus the state delegation considered such remarks regarding attacks against human rights defenders to be “a mistake’’. Furthermore, in the cases so far recorded involving offences against journalists “all the steps foreseen by the RS” were considered to “have been taken’’.
Contrary to the remark made by the RS entity, in its report to the UPR the state of BiH recognized that the “violation of journalistic rights and freedom of media” is a reality in BiH documenting 54 cases in 2008. Moreover, the government refers to 25 cases of “brutal attacks on journalists”.
Nevertheless, Mr. Dizdarevic says that the absence of willingness to accept the fact that the protectors of human rights victims suffer from pressures and threats made by the political management and other parties, shows that BiH authorities are not fully ready to accept their international obligations and allow national institutions for the protection of human rights its independence.
‘’This also makes serious obstacle to Ombudsman institutions of BiH to deliver jobs to protect every citizen, which casts doubt on the commitment of BiH authorities to actually improve the human rights situation in the country’’, adds Mr. Dizdarevic.
- Racial Discrimination and discriminatory provisions in the Constitution of BiH
''Non-implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in BiH is the main generator of human rights violations in BiH over the past years'', it is stated by the members of an NGO Coalition gathered around the Human Rights House of Sarajevo. In light of this important issue, the members are currently preparing to deliver responses to those given by the government to the list of issues in regards to racial discrimination for the up-coming session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) at the UN.
Some progress was made last year when BiH government adopted legislation which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, language, religion, ethnicity, national or social origin, national minority, etc. However one should bear in mind that this law is contrary to the Constitution of BiH, which itself contains discriminatory provisions as exhibited in the ‘’Sejdic and Finci vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina’’ case of 2009. Constitutional amendments are in progress and a comprehensive law on the prohibition of discrimination was passed in 2009.
However, the removal of discriminatory provisions in the Constitution has not (yet) taken place. This has, in turn, provoked numerous NGOs and human rights organizations within BiH. Such groups claim that these provisions are a limit, on a national basis, to the realization of fundamental democratic and human rights.
One explanation for the poor implementation of ICERD is conceptual given that BiH authorities consistently misinterpret the term ‘racial discrimination’. This represents a serious stumbling block for the promotion and realization of human rights.
“BH authorities keep conceptualizing racial discrimination as discrimination based on the color of one’s skin, and do not understand that racial discrimination also encompasses ethnic and religious discrimination, segregation and intolerance. ’’, said the president of the Board of HRH Sarajevo, Mr. Srdjan Dizdarevic. ‘’Until BH authorities realize this, there won’t be significant progress made in this field’’, he concludes.
- Discrimination of vulnerable groups in BiH: Women, LGBT and Roma
Disappointingly the BiH government only partially accepted or rejected, recommendations pertaining to issues of violence against women and the trafficking of women. The existing framework of women’s rights is dominated by The Law on the Protection against Domestic Violence, which has been passed at the level of entities in BiH and entity Gender Centers regularly monitor and report on the implementation of the Laws. The Agency for Gender Equality of BiH, in cooperation with the entity Gender Centers, has started the process of implementing the Gender Action Plan of BiH having designed the five-year program for its implementation (FIGAP Program).
In recent years the Agency for Gender Equality of BiH and entity Gender Centers have made great efforts to harmonize the legislation with the Law on Gender Equality in BiH in the field of financing of political parties, civil service, media and communications. The harmonization of laws at the entity level is significant. For instance, where there has been a harmonization of labour laws, education, social welfare, and also whereupon entity laws on the protection against domestic violence have been amended. Whilst such progress is important, the situation for women has not greatly changed.
Moreover, existing legislation and apparent ‘safeguards’ are not sufficient for the full realization of international obligations.
BiH also rejected the recommendation to change laws that discriminate against LGBT population (lesbian, gay, transsexual and bisexual), which has lead critics to seriously question the sincerity of the state’s ‘commitment’ to eradicating all forms of discrimination. This inconsistency is reflected in The Law on Gender Equality (2003), prohibiting discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation (Article 2).
However in local languages’ version of this law, the word gender is not used and instead ‘sex’ is used in its place (although with the meaning of gender). Furthermore, sexual orientation is not defined and the term has been consistently and purposefully excluded from drafts of a forthcoming anti-discrimination paragraph over which parliamentarians have stalled for more than half a decade.
The functioning of the Council for National Minorities has been secured, not only at the national level but also at the level of the entities, with the participation of representatives of all minorities living in BiH. Great progress has been made in the area of national minorities and more concretely the Roma population. However, all these governmental efforts can be interpreted as somewhat redundant due to the fact that from the cantonal level and across BH entities to the state level, there is not one employed Roma person.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has a lot to achieve before it can fully realize, and implement, its international obligations in the field of human rights. Nevertheless the NGO sector must continue to monitor the implementation of the (few) recommendations that were fully accepted at the latest UPR session and lobby the authorities in light of these obligations.
/ HRH Sarajevo, Lejla Mazlic and HRHF - Geneva Office, Lotti Rose Douglas
UPR Report of the Ombudsman's Office for Human Rights in B&H (in Bosnian).
The report made by OHCHR (in English).
The report made by OHCHR (in English).
Full report of the Working Group for UPR of B&H (in English).
B&H NGO report for UPR (in Bosnian and English).