“Human Rights House Foundation warmly welcomes Human Rights House Banja Luka as the newest member of the network of Human Rights Houses. The House is established at a crucial time given the deteriorating human rights situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Republika Srpska in particular. We look forward to working alongside the newly established House on key human rights priorities in the country and the broader region.” 

– Maria Dahle, Director, Human Rights House Foundation

On 31 March 2023, the House was formally accepted as a member of the network of Human Rights Houses by the network’s Membership Review Group. This is the moment that marks a significant transition on the path of establishing a House: when a core group of founding members becomes a Human Rights House in practice.

“The Membership Review Group considers acceptance [of Human Rights House Banja Luka] to the network particularly timely. It is our hope that the membership in the network will be mutually beneficial for the network and for the House and play a positive role in the development of further regional cooperation.”

– Human Rights House network’s Membership Review Group

Human Rights House Banja Luka is established against the backdrop of an increasingly dire situation for civil society in Republika Srpska as the authorities work to stifle civil society and suppress dissenting views. 

The general situation in Republika Srpska is not favourable for civil society and independent media, nor for citizens. By passing new laws in the field of media and civil society, the authorities seek to abolish fundamental rights and freedoms and stifle independent critical voices. Therefore, it is necessary to activate and unite all international voices to prevent this and return Bosnia and Herzegovina to the path of EU integration. The House matters as it gives more focus on human rights, a synergy of NGOs, and international presence.

Aleksandr Zolja, Head of Helsinki Citizen Assembly

As this alarming situation develops, the organisations that have united under the roof of a Human Rights House are well-positioned to work on the pressing human rights issues in the country. They will continue their work to promote and protect human rights and defenders working on sensitive issues as well as to build resilience and capacity among NGOs and active citizens in the country. The House itself will facilitate a meeting place for local, regional and international civil society.

Five organisations have united to establish the House, they are Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Banja Luka, Center for Environment, Banjaluka Center for Human Rights, Hi Neighbor and Transparency International BiH. These organisations have decades of combined experience in promoting and protecting human rights with a particular focus on the rights of women, children, whistleblowers and environmental activists.

A significant milestone, but the journey is just starting

“There is no better time to complete a House than before an approaching storm. In the face of growing adversity, the new Human Rights House Banja Luka will play an important role in fostering regional solidarity and advancing human rights in the Balkans. Only together we can build foundations for a brighter future, and the region can become our shared home where human rights are respected and protected for all. Human Rights House Belgrade looks forward to future cooperation and sharing our experiences.”

– Marija Maljan, Human Rights House Belgrade

The process to establish a Human Rights House takes time, dedication, and a commitment to the Human Rights House concept as well as the common values of the network of Human Rights Houses. For Human Rights House Banja Luka, the process began in 2016 with a needs assessment for establishing a House. Since then, the founding organisations have been working towards this shared goal.

They have not been alone on this journey. Human Rights Houses Belgrade and Zagreb worked for several years to share their experience and support and advise the five founding organisations of the House, and to involve them in the initial planning of a future regional network for human rights defenders in the Western Balkans.

“Human Rights House Zagreb congratulates our colleagues on establishing Human Rights Banja Luka, and we look forward to future collaboration on protecting and promoting human rights in the region. There is a need for networking of human rights defenders from the Western Balkans region and cooperation on protecting the freedom of expression, and right to participation and securing open, democratic and pluralistic civic space that will enable the work of human rights defenders. Together with Human Rights House Belgrade, we see Banja Luka House as an integral part of our joint work on the regional level and are very keen to expand and straighten our partnership.”

– Ivan Novosel, Director of Programs, Human Rights House Zagreb

As the new House celebrates this significant milestone, the journey is just beginning. Currently, the House is looking at different opportunities to secure premises. The House plans to accept applications for new member organisations in the future and is eager to become a local hub for a wider circle of civil society in the region and beyond. 

Find out more about how to establish a Human Rights House

If you are interested in finding out more about what it takes and how to begin the application process to establish a Human Rights House in your country, please get in contact with our House Programme team.

Top photo: Human Rights House Foundation, joined by Human Rights Houses Belgrade and Zagreb, met with representatives of the founding organisations of Human Rights House Banja Luka in June 2022.