MINELRES: MRG Press Release: Bosnia ten years on: New constitution must incorporate minority rights to heal ethnic divisions

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Fri Nov 18 16:54:02 2005

Original sender: Graham Fox <GRAHAM.FOX@mrgmail.org>

MRG Press Release - Bosnia ten years on: New constitution must
incorporate minority rights to heal ethnic divisions 

Minority Rights Group International 

PRESS RELEASE           
17 November 2005                
for immediate release 

Bosnia ten years on: 

New Constitution must incorporate minority rights to heal ethnic

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Agreement,
negotiations over the new Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitution must
firmly establish minority rights and reform a discriminatory electoral
system that enhances ethnic divisions. Minority Rights Group
International (MRG) stated that such an undertaking is key to healing
entrenched divisions and fostering a pluralist society where all
existing minorities are able to fully participate in public life. 

Political structures designed along ethnic lines in the post-Dayton
Constitution 10 years ago have been blamed for creating greater ethnic
division in Bosnia. However, MRG points out that minority rights have
been largely misunderstood, and implemented within the context of a
structure established to end the war. MRG suggests that minority rights,
as established within international standards including the Council of
Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities
(FCNM), offer the greatest prospects for stability, equality, and for
building confidence amongst all ethnic groups. According to MRG, an
emphasis on individual rights should be complemented by strong minority
rights provisions to protect all vulnerable and marginalized groups.
Long-overdue reform of Bosnia’s segregated electoral system is vital to
triggering a process of gradual political and social cohesion. 

MRG, in partnership with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and the
European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), is campaigning to change the
electoral system, which violates the rights of many citizens to
participate equally in public life, and institutionalizes politics along
ethnic lines. Only individuals from the three 'constituent peoples' -
Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs - can stand for office in the House of
Peoples or for election as President, to the exclusion of Roma, Jews and
other minorities. Additionally, the choice for voters is restricted upon
ethnicity: only a Serb may be elected from Republika Srpska and only a
Bosniac or Croat from the Federation. Restrictions on
self-identification exclude individuals of mixed ethnicity who refuse to
choose one constituent people identity over another. This violates of
the right to choose to be treated or not to be treated as a national
minority, and the principle that no disadvantage shall result from this
choice [FCNM Article 3].

MRG's Head of International Advocacy, Clive Baldwin, stated: 'Minority
rights were given a bad name in Bosnia, but were misunderstood and
created an electoral system that entrenched ethnic division. Outside
Bosnia, far from creating divisions, the promotion and protection of
minority rights has been demonstrated to be one of the surest means of
conflict prevention and equitable development that there is. Bosnia must
now begin the process of transition from foreign to Bosnian governance,
and the international community must assist and support that goal, not
least through a fully consultative constitutional process.'  

According to MRG, minority rights established within a new Constitution
and fully implemented in practice will provide all citizens with equal
rights, including rights of political participation, and an equal stake
in society - crucial to a future united Bosnia. MRG stresses that by
establishing key principles relating to the protection of identity,
equality and non-discrimination, and participation, Bosnia will come
into line with acknowledged European minimum standards on minority
rights. Long-term prospects for European Union (EU) accession talks
offer stimulus for Bosnia to engage with the EU and other expert bodies
including the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities to put in
place a process of sustainable reform, economic development, and full
and effective implementation of human and minority rights. 

MRG underlines the importance of meaningful consultation with civil
society, both prior to the adoption of the new Constitution and in the
ensuing policy decisions required for current structures and practices
to conform to the Constitution's provisions. MRG fully supports and
encourages the work of numerous non-governmental organizations to engage
in consultations with government representatives, other expert bodies
and the office of the High Representative. 

Notes for editors: 

Minority Rights Group International has published numerous reports and
advisory papers on promotion and protection of minority rights and their
incorporation into domestic law, which are available free of charge on
MRG's website. MRG's July 2003 report 'Public Participation and
Minorities' by constitutional expert Yash Ghai, provides an
authoritative overview of the issue of rights to participation and the
range of devices that can be used to provide for the participation of
minorities. Download 'Public Participation and Minorities' at:
The OSCE Office of the High Commissioner for National Minorities has
produced a series of recommendations, the Warsaw Guidelines, to assist
national minority participation in the electoral process, elaborating on
the Lund Recommendations.

For further information please contact Graham Fox at MRG's Press Office
on +44 (0)20 74224205 or +44 (0) 7870 596863 / graham.fox@mrgmail.org

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental
organization (NGO) working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious,
and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide and to
promote co-operation and understanding between communities.


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