26 february / 2020

The Report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation: Human Rights situation in certain countries

The human rights situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) remains generally satisfactory. The legal framework that was established in the aftermath of the 1992 – 1995 armed conflict is still deficient. Sarajevo continues to improve its national legislation and implement international human rights treaties and is committed to fulfilling its international obligations in this field.

The country's population continues to face challenges related to the ethnic differentiation in society following the 1992 – 1995 armed conflict and persistent social and economic difficulties.

The implementation of a number of constitutional provisions of BiH (Annex 4 of the 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina – Dayton Agreement), as well as human rights laws developed and adopted on its basis, faces certain difficulties due to both the continuing deep discord between the three constitutive peoples of the country (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats) and the specifics of activities in BiH by international presences. According to the annual report by the Commissioner for Human Rights in BiH, the largest number of incidents and complaints in 2018 were related to the administration of justice (primarily lengthy court proceedings) and health care (non-payment of insurance, violation of the rights of disabled persons, etc.).

This problem was also pointed out by the UN human rights treaty bodies – independent expert bodies established under the main international human rights treaties to monitor the implementation of states' obligations under these instruments. For instance, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination following its consideration of the combined twelfth and thirteenth periodic reports of BiH in August 2018, noted that more than 20 years after the end of the war and the Dayton Peace Agreement, ethnic tensions and schisms persist in the country, impeding legal, institutional and policy progress towards greater societal integration and reconciliation.[42]

The case of Sejdic-Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina before the European Court of Human Rights is a vivid practical example illustrating the above-mentioned issues. In 2006, a Roma public figure, Dervo Sejdić, and the head of the Jewish community in BiH, Jakob Finci, filed a complaint against Bosnia and Herzegovina with the ECtHR in order to eliminate discrimination and ensure the passive voting right for the "rest" of the citizens of BiH (not belonging to the three constitutive peoples) for the supreme governing body (Presidium) and the upper chamber of the BiH Parliamentary Assembly. In December 2009, the ECtHR ruled in their favor, ordering BiH to provide for a mechanism allowing national minorities to participate in these state institutions by introducing relevant amendments to Constitution and electoral law. The implementation of the ECtHR judgment has not yet yielded results, as no agreement has been reached among the leading political forces of the country in this regard. According to a study by the NGO European Academy for Education and Social Research, there are more than 100 laws in BiH with similar restrictive wording.

CERD also noted that the Constitution and electoral laws in BiH, as well as respective acts at entity level still have discriminatory provisions, despite the ECtHR ruling in the case of Sejdic-Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, which prevent the "others'' fr om running as candidates for membership in the Presidium and the House of Peoples. Furthermore, the Committee noted with concern the remaining discriminatory provisions in some laws and regulations granting special privileges to the constitutive peoples in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska over "others".

In this regard, CERD recommended BiH to take specific measures aimed at promoting a more integrated society based on the values of equality and non-discrimination, and where all citizens take part, irrespective of their ethnic, ethno-religious or national affiliations.[43]

According to estimates of the Croatian community, the discriminatory attitude of the Bosniak majority towards the legal rights of the Croatian people in BiH is still observed. It is noted that following the general elections in BiH in autumn 2018, Bosnian Croats failed once again to have their legitimate representative in the Presidium. The situation around the failure to hold municipal elections in Mostar, where the population has been unable to exercise their legitimate electoral rights since 2008, is potentially dangerous. CERD expressed its concern regarding the limited representation of ethnic minority groups in decision-making bodies and public positions at entity and local government levels. However, the number of cases of racial discrimination registered, investigated and brought before both the courts and the Ombudsman is very low[44].

Another category of vulnerable groups in BiH are returnees and displaced persons who face difficulties in their sustainable reintegration into society, full restitution of their property, and access to the labor market and social benefits[45]. The UN human rights treaty bodies have observed high rates of locating and identifying persons reported missing during the 1992–1995 armed conflict. However, the work in this area is far fr om complete. For instance, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances noted that the fate and whereabouts of about one third of the 30,000 persons reported missing as a consequence of the Bosnian conflict remained unknown. He observed the insufficient budget allocated to the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the lack of sufficient forensic experts to carry out the work in a timely manner.[46] Obstacles to the integration of returnees and internally displaced persons have been previously pointed out by the Human Rights Committee.[47]

International monitoring mechanisms expressed concern that hate speech and statements had been reported in public discourse by public and political figures and in the media, including the Internet. In particular, this takes the form of nationalist and ethno-religious rhetoric towards returnees, anti-Semitism and intolerance towards Roma and attacks against them. Only a small number of hate crimes were prosecuted in a proper manner. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination[48] and the Human Rights Committee[49], among others, drew attention to this problem.

BiH has a number of streets and educational institutions named after "figures" of modern and contemporary history. In particular, there have been cases of renaming the streets in Mostar, Široki Brijeg and Čapljina (with the majority of the Сroatian population) in honor of the leaders of the Ustasa movement – Mile Budak and Jure Francetić, Ante Vokić and Mladen Lorković. In February 2018, the students of the Faculty of History of the University in Mostar replaced the street signs with the name of Mile Budak on them at night, with the name of antifascist C.Spuzevic, but the removed signs were brought back to the place in the morning.

Due to controversies between Bosniaks and Croats over the administrative structure of Mostar, its city council cannot reach a consensus on street names. In 2018, the Sarajevo school received widespread media coverage as it was named after Mustafa Busuladžić, the bearer of anti-Semitism and fascism ideas during the Second World War. Criticism towards the authorities of Bileća (RS), where a monument to the Chetniks' leader Draza Mihailovic was erected in June 2019, has yet to subside.

Education remains an area of concern, as ethnic segregation in this field has not yet been fully addressed. The practice of "two schools under one roof" is still common, where children of different nationalities study in the same institution not only under different programs but also on different shifts is still common in areas of the Muslim-Croatian Federation BiH (FBiH) with a mixed population. Such practices are a matter of serious concern to the Council of Europe and the OSCE and require the Bosnian authorities to put an end to segregation in schools.

Many UN human rights treaty bodies have drawn attention to this issue which undermines reconciliation efforts. Thus, this was noted by the Human Rights Committee in March 2017[50], the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August 2018 (the situation in some cantons of Central Bosnia and Herzegovina-Neretva was of particular concern to the committees)[51] and the Committee on the Rights of the Child in September 2019[52].

Educational problems in BiH are often politicized. One example is the debate over the name and language instruction of the Bosniak-Muslim national language in the schools of the Serb entity. The wording used to name the subject in Bosnian-Serbian educational institutions – "the language of the Bosniak people" – is stipulated in the Constitution of the RS and dissatisfies the parents of the students who defend, with substantial political support, the right to study "the Bosnian language". In other cases, the debate is heated by the choice of the adjective "Bosnian" instead of "Bosniak", which is also seen by repatriated refugees as an act of infringement of their rights. However, such an inconsistent position has not been spread to some of the cantons of BiH itself so far.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child drew attention to broader educational challenges in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In particular, it was pointed out that many schools were not provided with teaching materials and did not have the necessary teaching equipment. In addition, many school buildings lacked heating and sewage systems. Among children fr om marginalized families, the largest number of dropouts were from schools. In rural areas, preschool attendance was low, largely due to lack of funding.[53]

The situation with regard to national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities in BiH is also complex.

Human rights organizations have noted difficulties in ensuring the rights of the country's large Roma community (up to 30,000 persons). The Roma population remains the most marginalized group in BiH.

Despite the efforts by local NGOs and the international community, this segment of the population remains under-integrated in the educational process. Only 1.5 per cent of Roma children attend preschool institutions, 69 per cent attend primary and only 22.6 per cent attend secondary school. No effective mechanisms for the social integration of Roma in BiH have yet been found. Despite the freedom of self-determination on the basis of nationality guaranteed by law, the right to organize and convene meetings to express and protect their cultural, religious, educational, social and economic, as well as economic and political rights, the freedom to use symbols, the right to use their mother tongue, including in social and legal relations in those areas wh ere they constitute more than one third of the population, the right to secondary education in the mother tongue in municipalities wh ere the national minority constitutes more than one third of the population (if it is more than one fifth of the population, education in the mother tongue is allowed as an option), in practice these rights and freedoms are not exercised. If, for example, there are enough children of certain ethnic community to attend school in their mother tongue in a particular locality, then another problem arises – the lack of teachers. Many Roma have to express themselves as Serbs or Bosniaks so that their rights are respected. Only three national minorities in BiH have their own facilities wh ere they hold meetings and events.

The situation of the Roma population in BiH, in particular the persistent marginalization of the Roma, obstacles to their integration into society, high levels of unemployment, lack of adequate housing and identity documents, difficulties in accessing health care, as well as low school attendance of Roma children and discriminatory attitudes of teachers towards Roma students, were emphasized by the Human Rights Committee in March 2017[54], the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August 2018[55] and the Committee on the Rights of the Child in September 2019[56].

The status of women in BiH is below the European average in many respects. Despite the existing legislative framework (BiH Law on Prohibition of Discrimination of 2009 and Law on Gender Equality revised the same year), the bodies responsible for gender equality lack functionality and efficiency.

The problem of violence against women was noted by the UN human rights treaty bodies. Thus, in March 2017, the Human Rights Committee drew attention to the inadequacy of protection and assistance measures to victims of violence.[57] In November 2017, the Committee against Torture noted that violence against women remained widely prevalent and underreported. The Committee against Torture also observed the inadequacy of protection measures and insufficient assistance to victims.[58] In September 2019, the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted with concern the protracted process to harmonize legislation on domestic violence in the entities and local administrations on domestic violence.[59]

According to the Agency for Statistics of BiH, about 100,000 children are in a difficult family situation, of whom 40,000 live in families with incomes below the minimum subsistence level. Despite the child benefits guaranteed by the Constitution of BiH, in 2018 there were cases of non-payment in the Una‑Sana, the West Herzegovina and the Central Bosnia cantons of BiH. The authorities hope to solve the problem by adopting a draft law on support to families with children in FBiH at the parliamentary level.

Vandalism against the facilities of all three major confessions (Islam, Orthodoxy and Catholicism) is not uncommon in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In April and May 2019, cases of desecration of the Arnaudija Mosque in Banja Luka and Serbian Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Annunciation in the village of Donje Vukovsko, municipality of Kupres, as well as arson of the Serbian Cathedral of the Birth of Mary in Visoko were recoded. In February 2019, Metropolitan Hrizostom of Dabar-Bosnia informed the Council of Europe Office in BiH on systemic cases of discrimination against the facilities of the Serbian Orthodox Church in BiH.

Persons with disabilities continue to experience systemic social vulnerability: the budget payments they receive are lower than the pensions paid to military veterans and disabled persons affected by the armed conflict of 1992‑1995 in BiH.

No mass violations of the rights of Russian citizens and compatriots were BiH. In 2018, three Russian citizens, including the writer Zakhar Prilepin, were denied entry to BiH, allegedly on the grounds that their "presence in the country threatens security, public order, peace as well as international relations of BiH".

Despite the adoption in recent years of a number of laws aimed at improving the situation with regard to the media and the right to freedom of expression, violations of journalists' rights and pressure on media have been recorded in BiH. Most of the local press, radio and television are kept under close supervision by certain national and political elites and receive grants from foreign states. As a result, there is a difference in interpretation of the same events, a biased presentation of the recent tragic past, which is a negative aspect on the way of rapprochement of the Bosnian peoples. All this suggests that free access to information in BiH is not fully ensured.

Source: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation