Bosnia and Herzegovina: chance to take steps to improve its human rights record

Bosnia and Herzegovina is now at the centre of the attention, following its elections on 12 October, the preparation of its review at the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the publication of the European Union progress report. It has a chance to take concrete steps to improve its human rights record. Little hope comes from the elections however on such steps.

Sasa Gavric, Sarajevo Open Centre (© Feda Krvavac, Geneva, human rights defenders from Bosnia and Herzegovina briefed the international community on the situation in the country: “Not much has changed since the last review of Bosnia and Herzegovina, more than 4 years ago, and that is bad enough to say that the situation in the country is not good” said Sasa Gavric, Executive Director of the Sarajevo Open Centre.

On various fronts, the situation did indeed not only stay the same but the lack of action by the authorities in the country mean continued discrimination and lack of protection of minorities. “All minorities in the country are in a difficult situation. LGBT minorities are even more discriminated and are the only minority in the country not enjoying any specific protection by law” continued Sasa Gavric.


EU: Human rights record is not satisfactory

In its 2014 progress report on Bosnia and Herzegovina published on 8 October, European Commission noted that, “during the reporting period, the European Court of Human Rights delivered 12 judgments finding that Bosnia and Herzegovina had violated the European Convention on Human Rights.” It also adds “while some further progress in implementing the Court’s judgments has been made, the judgment in the Sejdić-Finci case has yet to be implemented.”

On freedom of expression the report points out that, although legal provisions are in place, an increase in political and financial pressure on the media has been registered. In practice, this is translated in episodes of “intimidations and threats against journalists and editors and polarisation of the media along political and ethnic lines intensified prior to the October general elections”. Unfortunately there has been no consequent adequate reaction by the authorities.

The Commission also argues that, “with regard to freedom of assembly and association, there have been some cases of intimidation and violence against human rights defenders. Effective investigation and prosecution of all cases needs to be ensured.”

Following the presentation of the report, the EU Special Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Peter Sørensen underlined “the country’s inability or unwillingness, at the moment, to fulfill international obligations, that it has taken upon itself, predominantly in the context of being a member of Council of Europe, the context of implementing rulings from the European Court of Human Rights”.


Little hope that recent elections lead to change

Ballot counting in Bosnia and Herzegovina at general elections of 12 October 2014Bosnia and Herzegovina held its general elections on 12 October by which it renews its local, cantonal, regional and national authorities. In a statement following the elections, the Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland said they “appear to have been conducted in line with technical standards for free and fair elections.” However, “yet again, a significant number of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been deprived of their right to stand for the highest office because they belong to the wrong ethnic group.”

The 2014 elections are indeed the second ones following the European Court of Human Rights judgement Sejdic and Finci vs Bosnia and Herzegovina of 22 December 2009 in which the Court requested Bosnia and Herzegovina to change its constitution in order to remove ethnical criteria for electoral positions, including the country’s presidency.

The Court was the first international body to call upon Bosnia and Herzegovina to modify its constitution. Later, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Human Rights Committee called upon the authorities to undertake such a revision. Dervo Sejdic was even one of the invited speakers at a hearing of CERD in Geneva on 18 August 2010. The situation has since not changed.

At the opening of the 22nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in February 2013, Zlatko Lagumdzija, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, announced that whilst giving a high priority to the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, Bosnia-Herzegovina will “in the short period of time [fulfil its] obligations deriving from the decision of the European Court of Human Rights on the Sejdic Finci case.” This promise was repeated in December 2013 at talks led by the European Union.

With its new leadership, one could expect that Bosnia and Herzegovina has a chance to take concrete steps to improve its human rights record. “Too little renewal among politicians and too little cooperation with civil society in Bosnia and Herzegovina however makes us believe that more of the same will be the outcome of the elections and continued discrimination the result” notes Florian Irminger, Head of Advocacy and Geneva Office at the Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF).

Related articles:

UPR of Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Human Rights Council room at the Palais des Nations in GenevaThe first review of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) took place in February 2010 with 125 recommendations made to the country. The lack of implementation is a real problem in the country on core issues. Many recommendations were repeated by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The 2nd UPR of Bosnia and Herzegovina will take place on 5 November 2014, based on a report from the State, a compilation of UN information, and reports from civil society summarized into one document by the UN.

HRHF assisted the Sarajevo Open Centre in its advocacy efforts as a part of the coalition of NGOs which submitted a joint report


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